By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published June 3, 2012
Wouldn’t everyone like to be Justin Verlander’s agent?
If your name is Mark Pieper, you’re living the dream.
Pieper, who graduated from Michigan with a degree in economics and a law degree from Northwestern, is a part owner of the agency SFX Baseball, one of the largest in the industry. The Michigan Daily caught up with the alum and talked about baseball, representing Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander and Michigan football.
The Michigan Daily: What made you want to come to Michigan?
Mark Pieper: Ironically, I wish I had some amazing story about how I always wanted to come to Michigan. It was complete chance I was there. One of the kids I went to junior high with applied there, and I went to high school where not a lot of kids were going to that caliber of school. So I kind of reconnected with this kid and he was really excited about it and he basically said, “Hey, you should apply to Michigan and be my roommate” and I said OK. That’s how it went. It wasn’t that sophisticated. My parents didn’t go to college, my oldest brother didn’t go to college, my other brother went to a smaller Division III, so there wasn’t a lot of guidance or a long family history. But I met my wife there as a freshman and her parents both went to Michigan, so there’s some family connection there.
TMD: What made you want to become an agent?
MP: A long history of being interested in sports, combined with an interest in law kind of sparked my interest at the very beginning. As I said, I met my wife when I was at Michigan and her father was a long time baseball agent, and I pretty much learned everything I know from him. He went to Michigan and played baseball at Michigan, too.
TMD: You said you wanted to be a football agent, what made you get into baseball?
MP: Baseball was introduced to me by my father in law because that’s all he did. I think it was a better fit because baseball has something called salary arbitration and basically it’s a legal process where you represent a player through this process and write briefs and present a case orally. That kind of fit my need to do a little practicing of law. It was kind of a good fit for me to transition into baseball and use some of the legal skills right away in writing and arguing arbitration cases.
TMD: And obviously you’re still in the baseball field.
MP: Yep, that’s all I do is baseball. Our firm, which is called SFX Baseball, all we do is baseball. We grew from a two-person firm in the 1970s, and now we have around 28 or 29 employees.
TMD: What athletes do you represent?
MP: Our firm has Mariano Rivera, Justin Verlander, David Ortiz, Alfonzo Soriano, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome — that’s a pretty good mix. We have about 70 guys total.
TMD: Are there any clients that played baseball at Michigan?
MP: Yes. Chris Getz. Royals second baseman.
TMD: How did you get in contact with him? Did you watch him play in Ann Arbor?
MP: Actually he’s a guy I got later on. He was playing for the Chicago White Sox and we had a client on the White Sox named Gordon Beckham and they were friends, and I met Chris that way. So he hired me after he already left Michigan and developed a pro career. But we had Zach Putnam, and Zach was out of Michigan, and one of our agents lives in Ann Arbor. He has a lot of connections there, so he lives and works out of Ann Arbor.
TMD: Take me step-by-step through your job through the season.
MP: Being an agent years ago, (it was) primarily negotiating contracts. We started adding tax people and marketing, (and) slowly but surely it has become what it is now, which is full-service. We have a tax department, financial department, legal department, public relations (and) charity. We can be involved with anything and everything.
TMD: So during the season, are you in contact with the players a lot?
MP: All the time. During the season, I probably talk to my clients every few days, maybe I go a week at most without talking to them, but with texting, I think I’m in constant contact with them.
TMD: I couldn’t imagine the life of a professional baseball player, with 162 games and PR and Twitter and such.
MP: I think the most challenging thing, and that most people don’t realize, is people on the outside think they have a 7:00 p.m. game and roll in at the field at 5:30 p.m. But they’re at the field at like 1:30 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. The game lasts until at least 10:00 p.m., they have to shower and eat after the game, and they don’t get to bed until very late, so they have to sleep in a little bit. So they only have a very small window of time that is available every day. Everything else is baseball. There’s not a lot of free time — all their free time is at the ballpark.
TMD: Do you get to go to games often? Any just for fun?
MP: I go to games all the time. I started keeping track of the amount of games I go to over the course of the year. From the start of this season, I’ve been to 33 games, but the only games I go for fun are my son’s. Not that I don’t have fun at the games, but they’re all work related.
TMD: What clients do you represent specifically?
MP: Justin Morneau of the Twins, Justin Verlander — I work with another agent with Verlander — Chris Getz, Juan Pierre of the Phillies, Erik Bedard and Garrett Jones of the Pirates, Koji Uehara, who’s a reliever on the Rangers, Jordan Zimmerman and Tom Gorzelanny, who are pitchers on the Nationals, Brian Roberts of the Orioles. All great guys.
TMD: Tell me a little bit about Justin Verlander. What’s it like representing him?
MP: He has become such an elite pitcher. He is so dominant in what he does. Every start is such pleasure to watch because he has a chance to pitch a no-hitter every game — that’s how good his stuff is. But what comes with that is a tremendous amount of off-the-field stuff. There’s a whole team of people. There are (two other guys) who deal with the day-to-day requests to be on shows, to do commercials or ads. When you have success, that’s what comes with it. You have to pick and choose which ones you want to do and make sure you don’t do too much and neglect your baseball and family obligations.
TMD: Are there any Michigan connections between you and Chris Getz?
MP: There isn’t too much of a connection there in terms of “Oh, we were in the same fraternity” or anything like that. I think the bond over Michigan (and) just the general pride of having both gone there, but there’s certainly still the connection in the football world and rooting for Michigan football. When you went to Michigan and you meet another person who went to Michigan, it’s just a matter of minutes before Michigan football comes up. So we have that bond together.