Jerry Kapstein, the 32-year-old attorney who represents more high-priced playing talent than any other agent in baseball, found himself in a most unusual situation last week: he agreed completely with Oakland's Charles O. Finley. In fact, he not only supported Finley's right to make the Sale of the Century, he also applauded the price tag. Finley's deal had given a market value of $1 million each to two of Kapstein's clients, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers, which Kapstein says he will keep in mind the next time he negotiates their contracts.
Kapstein and Finley have been regular adversaries. Kapstein represents five unsigned A's ( Rudi, Fingers, Bert Campaneris, Gene Tenace and Don Baylor), and he has beaten Finley in four out of five arbitration cases. When Finley blamed "astronomical salary demands" for forcing the sales of Rudi, Fingers and Vida Blue, Kapstein was very much on his mind.
Measured against $3.5 million, however, "astronomical" seems a slight exaggeration. Last February 27th, in response to Finley's original contract offers, Kapstein submitted a counterproposal of about $145,000 a year for Fingers and $125,000 for Rudi. Finley stubbornly kept his offer at approximately one-third less for each player, so Kapstein withdrew his proposal on April 2. Finley did budge and slightly increased his offers in May, even agreeing to multi-year contracts, but the changes did not satisfy Kapstein.
Rudi and Fingers are only two of the 18 potential free agents whom Kapstein represents. Other prominent Kapstein clients among the 58 major league players who have not signed 1976 contracts include Boston's Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk and Rick Burleson, Baltimore's Bobby Grich and everybody's Ken Holtzman, who has moved from Oakland to Baltimore to the New York Yankees so far this season, with a short stop in Kansas City for contract negotiations with the Royals. Approximately 20 Kapstein clients have signed their contracts, including Steve Garvey of Los Angeles and George Brett of Kansas City. In almost every case, the players have let the cool, well-informed Kapstein do all their talking, a tactic that has irritated baseball officials, who prefer face-to-face discussions with their chattels.
A graduate of Harvard University and Boston College law school, Kapstein entered the agent business four years ago, soon after he left the Navy. His office is in his Springfield, Va. town-house, just outside Washington; his only partner is his younger brother Dan, who lives near Providence, R.I. Armed with individual statistics, comparative salaries and court decisions outlawing the reserve clause, Kapstein is a major influence on the economic structure of the game. "My demands reflect the changing times, but are hardly excessive," Kapstein insists.
Still, owners such as Finley and Minnesota's Calvin Griffith consider Kapstein a menace. Marvin Miller considers him a threat to his own position as the players' chief representative. But if Kapstein is guilty of anything, it is overwork. His 18-hour days probably cost him his marriage, which ended in divorce, but they endear him to his players. He inspects the daily box scores, listens to a half-dozen radio broadcasts and attends some 90 games each season.
"All owners aren't like Finley," Kapstein says. "And even with him my problems are professional, not personal. Most owners will be fair, but they have to recognize that times have changed. A player can now become a free agent and seek his fair price on the open market. Owners will continue to make a profit, but it will have to be smaller."
According to Kapstein, the Finley sales that Commissioner Bowie Kuhn aborted will affect all future contract negotiations. "Players will compare themselves to the three A's in order to determine their own worth," he says. "The same thing happened after Andy Messersmith signed. He raised the ceiling for everybody. When Boston agreed to give Finley $2 million for Rudi and Fingers, it wasn't an act of charity. The Red Sox think they are worth more than that in terms of the money they can make for the club."
After Kuhn's decision, Kapstein understandably had a more immediate concern. For business and professional reasons, Finley's "lockout" of the three reinstated players was "unfair and wrong," Kapstein said. "Rollie had been pitching very well, and Joe had just gotten his timing back after an injury layoff. This delay also hurts their negotiating positions because they are losing opportunities for saves or RBIs."
Kapstein is contemplating legal action against Finley. Charlie complains he never sees Kapstein in person, but now he may find him, along with everyone else, in court.