SBJ/February 4-10, 2013/Champions

Shapiro’s first contract provides lasting lesson

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The first of many contracts that Ron Shapiro negotiated with Baltimore Orioles general manager Hank Peters taught him a valuable, lasting lesson.

Shapiro was representing Brooks Robinson, who in 1977 was entering what would be the final year of his playing career. The Orioles wanted Robinson to take a pay cut from $100,000 to $80,000, the maximum reduction allowed. Shapiro was intent upon helping him avoid that.

Brooks Robinson
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The trouble was, it was standard practice for players of that era to earn less as their skills declined. Those who moved to clubs that were desperate for a big name might maintain their salaries. But those who stayed put often took a cut.

Shapiro prepared extensively for his first meeting with Peters, reviewing the Orioles’ finances and the contracts of similar players and building a case for why the beloved star deserved better, even deserved a raise. He laid it all out, logically and passionately. Peters listened. And then, when Shapiro was finished, he said, “Ron, I’ll get back to you.”

There was no negotiation. No return of serve. Shapiro quickly realized he hadn’t even made a demand. By sitting quietly, Peters controlled the process. He heard all of Shapiro’s arguments. The next time they met, he would rebut them, one by one.

Robinson was stuck with the pay cut. Shapiro pledged never to treat a contract negotiation like a courtroom summation again.

Shapiro frequently uses that story in his SNI training sessions, applying it not only to player deals but also to sales calls. Happily, it comes with a postscript. Late in the ’77 season, the Orioles asked Robinson to give up his roster spot for the pennant stretch. Shapiro reminded Peters that Robinson had carried himself professionally throughout the season, even though he wasn’t happy with his deal.

Peters said he appreciated that. Robinson would get his $100,000 for the season.

“That was an important lesson,” Shapiro said. “I learned to speak less and listen more. And I saw the value of maintaining a relationship. I was going to deal with Hank for many, many years.”

— Bill King

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