Tuesday, May 31, 2005 | “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
We’re a week and a half out from the Chargers’ mini camp and four days away from San Diego’s high school baseball championships. Those two events, seemingly worlds apart, have me wondering what Shakespeare would say about sports agents.
There is a comparison when you consider the cases of Shawne Merriman, the Chargers’ first-round draft pick on April 23, and Mission Bay High’s Henry Sanchez Jr., who has been projected as a first-round pick in the amateur baseball draft on June 7.
When does a sports agent, a.k.a lawyer, cross the line by making sports a business too early in a young athlete’s career?
Merriman has already sat out the Chargers’ rookie orientation camp and eight off-season workouts with his teammates-to-be. He is expected to miss mini camp for the full squad June 10-12 at Chargers Park.
The fear, say Merriman’s agents, Kevin and Carl Poston, is that he might suffer an injury. But Merriman is the only player among 255 NFL draft picks to sit out his club’s off-season workouts.
By contrast, Sanchez risked millions of dollars in bonus money when he came back earlier than expected – five weeks instead of eight – from hand surgery on Jan. 24 to remove a floating hamate bone. But the senior first baseman says it hurt too much to not play the game he loves while watching his teammates struggle without him in the lineup.
“The high school season is more important to me than the draft,” Sanchez said. “I’ll worry about the draft later.”
Sanchez gambled with struggling at the plate and watching his draft stock plummet. In fact, he did struggle with his swing early on, but by the end of the regular season the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder hit .526 with 13 home runs.
Mission Bay plays today in the CIF San Diego Section Division III semifinals with the hope of winning and defending its title on Saturday in the finals at Tony Gwynn Stadium on San Diego State’s campus.
“It was a pain issue in his hand, and he was cleared by his doctor to play,” said long-time Mission Bay baseball coach Dennis Pugh, a Purple Heart veteran in Vietnam who isn’t about to risk the future of one of his players. “It was hurting Henry too much not to play.”
How long before we see a sports agent rob an athlete of the experience Sanchez enjoyed in his senior year? We already see sports agents advise college football players to sit out the NFL Combine so they don’t risk hurting their stock in the draft.
The workouts Merriman is missing are practices in helmets and shorts – no pads. But even if he were to suffer a serious injury, the Chargers would be expected to pay him what he would have been offered if he hadn’t been injured. The practice in the NFL is known as slotting.
There is precedence for the Chargers and NFL clubs reaching such settlements with injured draft picks. To not reach an agreement in full faith would result in the case going to arbitration and the NFL club no doubt losing.
Merriman left Maryland after his junior year to cash in on a pro contract worth millions and to achieve the dream of playing in the big leagues. But he’s sitting at home on the advice of a sports agent.
Shakespeare’s line about lawyers appears in Henry VI, Part II. What would Shakespeare have written about the social ills of sports agents if one had advised Mission Bay’s Henry II to sit out his senior year?
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the Media Coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (