Other tips offered by the experts:
1) Don't sign long-term contracts with agents. Make sure you're free to break off the arrangement at any time. (The baseball players' union will limit player-agent contracts to one year, beginning in 1988.)
2) Compare fees. Don't be afraid to bargain with an agent to lower his fees.
3) Pay only for needed services. Matt Merola, a New York agent who specializes in endorsements, says, "I don't think every athlete needs my kind of services. Certainly not right away." Peter Johnson, the head of IMG's team-sports division, maintains, "A fifth-rounder in football or a third-rounder in basketball needs one thing: someone to negotiate his contract. He doesn't need financial management."
4) Consider spreading your business around. Negotiating contracts and handling investments involve different skills. Bert Padell, business manager for Madonna and other entertainers, says the two functions should be handled separately—"like church and state." The big sports operators—IMG, ProServ and Advantage International—can deliver both ways because each provides many specialists under one roof.
5) Be certain the agent has time for you. Agents overextend themselves not only by wearing too many hats but also by taking on too many clients.
6) Make an agent who expects a percentage of your contract explain why he won't agree to be paid by the hour, if that's your preference. Barry Rona, the executive director of the major league baseball player relations committee, says, "I would hire a lawyer from a quality firm, and I'd pay him by the hour. With an accountant or an investment adviser I'd do the same."
7) Make the agent divulge and defend conflicts of interest. Does he represent your teammates or members of other teams who play your position? Does he do business with management? Is he management himself—for example, does he put on tournaments?
8) Don't sign over power of attorney to an agent. Make him go over each proposition with you.
9) Be wary of any agent who promises to make a killing for you in investments. "If it's a rush-rush, chop-chop thing, don't do it," says Jim Riskas, president of Suttcor, an Orange County real estate and financial services company that invests on behalf of many major leaguers. "Always adopt the philosophy that you would rather miss the boat than get on a boat that sinks."