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SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
Ethan Orlinsky was working in the London office of a U.S. law firm when he heard that a position had come open in the legal department at Major League Baseball.
A rabid baseball fan since childhood, he quickly crafted a cover letter and then phoned to see if he might land an interview. Told that the position had been filled, Orlinsky explained that he would be in New York the following week and would like to drop by to meet with MLB's general counsel, Tom Ostertag, in the hope that it might help him when another opportunity arose.
Ostertag's secretary told him that her boss didn't have time to spend with applicants for phantom jobs. But she knew of need for a lawyer at Major League Baseball Properties and asked Orlinsky if he might be interested in that.
Orlinsky hadn't a clue what a Major League Baseball property was at the time, but he knew it was baseball, so he sent a résumé. Seven weeks later, he had an offer.
"For those who know me well, it was a no-brainer," said Orlinsky, an avowed seamhead who wrote his way into Stanford with an essay on Roberto Clemente. "My only real concern was about my avocation becoming my career. I feared that my passion for baseball would be negatively affected by working in baseball.
"Clearly, that has not been the case."
Orlinsky says he had no idea what to expect from a career in baseball. His job at MLB Properties, a division that since has been rolled into a consolidated MLB, was his first experience with trademarks and copyrights, the area of law in which he would spend most of his time. His background was in mergers and acquisitions and securities offerings.
"I was highly unqualified for my career choice at the time," Orlinsky said. "As I've said to others who have interviewed here, if I were interviewing me for my position, I would not have hired me. I knew little about intellectual property law. I had worked on some contracts and very few litigation matters at Simpson Thacher.
"All that I brought was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done."
Orlinsky's work habits — 14-hour days and seven-day weeks by his own admission, but considerably longer according to his boss and his peers — got the attention of others at MLB. He was named vice president and general counsel, business affairs at MLB in 1997 and played a key role in shepherding the league through the complex process of launching MLB Advanced Media, a free-standing Internet start-up. He was promoted to senior vice president last year.
"Ethan is involved in almost everything that we touch," said Bob DuPuy, president of MLB. "His role has grown into much more of a business counseling and club advisory role, as opposed to just the legal piece of it. He's the bridge between so many people. Ethan is invaluable."
In his current role, Orlinsky serves as the point person and liaison on the agency agreements that govern the use of all MLB trademarks and images and other intellectual property. That includes working with teams on their own local trademark issues as they arise, as well as working on complex internal negotiations between teams, the league and MLBAM.
"When you consider what my experience was before I arrived here, the learning curve was quite steep," Orlinsky said. "The sign of a good lawyer is somebody who is a quick study and who applies all of their efforts to try to learn the subject matter as quickly as possible. Litigators in an asbestos suit may not know anything about asbestos before they become involved in the case.