At first glance, Alan Nero believed he had the biggest steal of 1981. After a trip to Pawtucket, R.I., the 1969 Springfield College graduate had just signed Wade Boggs, the International League Batting Title champion (.335) and future Baseball Hall of Famer, as a client. Yet an exciting phone call to the Boston Red Sox’s minor league director quickly turned to anguish when the sports agent was told that Boggs would never make it.
It could have been easy for Nero to turn his back on Boggs. The minor leaguer had no power to his swing, led the minors in errors and was simply a line drive hitter.
“‘This is his last chance,’” Nero remembers being told. “‘We’re going to keep him on the roster and on the bench, and if he can’t pinch hit and play a little first and third, we’re going to let him go.’”
Nero shakes his head as he demonstrates how his head sunk 32 years ago. However, it was still a simple decision to stick with Boggs, Nero told the crowded room of students, faculty and staff inside the Richard B. Flynn Campus Union.
Nero is a man of many analogies and mythical stories of a sports world so many of us adore, but so few experience, and on Monday, the Managing Director of Octagon’s Baseball Division shared a piece of that world during a lively and riveting Q & A session entitled, “The Current State of Professional Sports from the Sports Agent’s Perspective.”
“I met them [Boggs and his wife] and was kind of touched by the fact that they were so motivated and so determined. It appeared they were on the brink of greatness,” Nero said. “But they were so poor. So I made a commitment that I would help them get some banking and credit done so that they could eventually buy a house.”
Boggs was certainly worth the risk and learning to stick to his word has helped Nero represent over 100 major league players, coaches and Hall of Fame members such as Randy Johnson, Ike Davis, Joe Maddon, Lou Pinella, as well as former NFL star Andre Tippett.
“I made a big commitment to the [Boggs]. To me, my word means a lot,” Nero said. “One of the things I was always told is that you always do what you said you were going to do.”
It was a characteristic and a moral developed during Nero’s time as a wrestler at Springfield College underneath the watchful eye of legendary coach Doug Parker.
“He was a high character guy. He would never let anybody cheat doing anything. That just wasn’t acceptable,” said Nero.
Nero cherished his time at Springfield College, developing the spirit, mind and body philosophy and employing it in his career. After starting out as a wrestling coach at the University of Rhode Island in 1969, he also started a financial service business that eventually led to his focus on working with athletes in 1977.
The 35-year sports agent made the career switch primarily due to the economics of being a coach and trying to raise a family. Yet, Nero never lost touch with his “passion for coaching.”
“Before I knew it, I realized I didn’t give up coaching; I was still doing it but in a different forum,” Nero said. “Instead of on the wrestling mat, it was either at the kitchen table of your home or was in my office with the agents.”
Nero mentors 15 agents in the baseball division at Octagon who are all responsible for the company’s 250 baseball clients, 50 of whom are in the major leagues.
It could be easy for Nero to go against his word and become cutthroat like many of his competitors working as an agent in a sport where there is a 97 percent failure rate for aspiring baseball players to actually make it to the Show.
Yet, Nero will stick to his word regardless of the fact that it normally takes 10 years for a player to fully develop and bring in a profit…if he is part of the slim three percent who make it.
“You have to make a choice in life to either do the right thing every day or you don’t,” Nero said. “We just don’t tolerate anything but that.”
However, Nero will be the first to admit that the sports agent industry is a “nasty” business with other agents attempting to steal clients or players jumping ship to another agent.
“The best way to describe it is you go to work in the morning and as soon as you drive out of the driveway, 10 guys are in your driveway trying to seduce your wife,” Nero said.
“It’s like dating and most of us don’t really find dating fun,” the SC alum added. “We don’t like rejection. We don’t like betrayal and we’re all looking for commitment. In this day and age, you won’t find any in this business.”
Nero remembers one instance where an agent of his was the best man of a player in the Dominican Republic and two months later was fired for a new agent who offered more money.
“It’s gotten much more difficult because people are expecting more and willing to pay less,” Nero said. “Where did we go as a culture where we expect to get everything for free? We’re doing 10 times more than we did before for less, and the competition is insane.”
He also explained how the business model has changed since he acquired Boggs. Originally, agents worked from the top down, signing major league players as clients. Now, with the industry in such a boom, you have to work your way from the down up, recruiting players as young as 15-years-old, to try and stay ahead of the competition.
“Pretty soon, we’ll be pre-natal,” Nero joked. “We’ll actually be visiting with couples and we’ll be saying we have genetic information that their kid will be a star. To prove how committed we are we have our own on-staff obstetrician who only delivers superstars.
“We’re recruiting younger and younger, and that is an exaggeration,” he added. “But that is not far from the truth because the competition is getting in there younger and younger.”
Justin Felisko may be reached at email@example.com