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SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
It was in the winter of 1992 when Major League Baseball player Keith Miller realized how different his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, were from other players' agents.
Miller, a utility player, had just been traded by the New York Mets to the Kansas City Royals. The main topic of conversation among the Royals that winter was contracts and how much teams were offering.
When some of his new teammates asked Miller about his situation, Miller showed them a large analysis that the Levinsons had prepared for him, explaining his statistics and statistics of other players and their contracts and so on.
"I had this huge, 200-page brief explaining everything, and they were looking and I had guys say, 'Ask your agents where do they think I should fit in?'" Miller recalled.
Miller said he just assumed that was the kind of thing most agents did for their clients. "I didn't know they didn't, and I didn't realize that until I got traded to Kansas City," he said.
Miller was one of the first clients Sam Levinson ever signed. He signed him when Miller was in the minor leagues and Levinson was still a student at Brooklyn College.
Today, ACES, the firm owned by Sam and Seth Levinson, Sam's older brother by four years, represents 50 MLB players, including six 2003 all-stars.
In the last five years, the firm has negotiated more than $500 million in contracts. In the past year the firm negotiated Scott Rolen's $90 million deal with the Cardinals, Mike Sweeney's $55 million deal with the Royals and Cliff Floyd's $26.5 million deal with the Mets.
One of the proudest moments for the firm came in 1994, when the Levinsons won a $4.6 million arbitration grant for one of their first clients, Gregg Jefferies, making him the highest-paid St. Louis Cardinal at the time. The award was the second-highest arbitration win at the time and still stands in the top 10 ever won by a player.
But, Sam Levinson said, "Our greatest achievement is building this business from nothing."
The Levinsons grew up in Brooklyn. "Seth and I have always loved baseball. Seth and I grew up die-hard Yankee fans, and our dad took us to 25 to 30 games a year."
Sam played high school baseball and Seth played in college. By the time they realized that they would not be playing baseball professionally, they were already planning careers as agents.
Seth graduated from law school at 23 and started saving every penny toward their goal. Sam, at 19, began recruiting players, like Miller, making phone calls to clients and clubs from pay phones at Brooklyn College.
Seth and Sam share all duties at ACES (Athletes' Careers Enhanced and Secured Inc.), including client maintenance, contract negotiations and writing those enormous briefs for every player, every year, laying out where they fit in the baseball marketplace.
But, although they work together on everything, they are very different, Seth Levinson says.
"Sam and I have nothing in common," he said. "God blessed him with all the social graces and I have none. ... I would give the majority of, if not all, the success we have had to Sam's ability to relate to the players, and as a result he has signed the majority of players."
Sam Levinson tells his players that he will work as hard for them off the field as they work on the field. "You give the commitment from day one," he said.
ACES client Kevin Millar of Boston said Levinson is sincere. The Levinsons spent countless hours during seven weeks in the off-season negotiating with the Japanese baseball league to free up Millar, who had been traded by the Florida Marlins to the Japanese Chunichi Dragons, to play for the Red Sox.
Millar said he had agreed in principle to play for the Dragons when the Red Sox claimed him off waivers, the first time an MLB club had done so in such a trade. Millar wanted to stay in the United States and go to the Red Sox. This resulted in seven weeks of talks with all the parties involved and phone calls around the clock because of the time differences.
"Those nights, literally, 3 and 4 and 5 in the morning, Sam was calling me up every single night," Millar said. "Sam, I don't know if the guy sleeps, because he would talk to me from the office at 10 and 11 at night and then I would get a call at 3 in the morning, 'This is Sam.'"
When it was over and Millar was able to join the Red Sox in spring training, "I actually had to send Sam's wife flowers because I thought she was going to divorce him over me."