In between business trips and sporting events, Rosenthal is a wine collector. He specializes in the Bordeaux region of France and has 1,500 bottles in his own storage facility. His job also gives him enough downtime to take trips all over the globe with his wife, Jill.
Question: To a sports fan, yours sound like a dream job. Does it feel that way to you?
Answer: One of my partners, Alex Tamim, works with me once or twice week and one of us is always walking into the other's office and saying how we can't believe someone's paying us. There are millions of kids out there playing fantasy baseball and we're playing fantasy baseball for real.
Q: You said that prior to becoming a lawyer you had been a sports reporter, and had considered that as a career until you got fired from the college newspaper. How did that happen?
A: The concept that you've got to catch the reader's interest right away is one that I've used in all my legal practice.
Q: So what happened?
A: I was fired "slash" quit. I was covering football. Wesleyan was playing Coast Guard and in the football preview I said that Coast Guard had the very poorest defense and the only way they were going to be able to stop Wesleyan from scoring was if they put barbed wire across the goal line. And the Wesleyan football coach saw that line and didn't call me, he called the editor of the paper and said, "You can't put that stuff in there. That's the stuff they put up on locker room bulletin boards." The editor called the sports editor who then called me and said, "You can't write stuff like that. You have to show me your articles before you (publish) them." So much for freedom of the press. That ended my career as a sports journalist.
Q: How did you choose law then?
A: It was something I had some interest in doing. I wouldn't say it was a default career so much as I didn't know much about it. I didn't have anybody in my family who was an attorney and I figured I'd go to law school and see what it was like.
Q: How did you decide where to go?
A: David Adamany is now the president of Temple University. He was a government professor at Wesleyan and I was his research assistant. He said to me, "Where are you applying to law school?" I said, "Harvard, Columbia, NYU, Georgetown " and I can't remember where else. But he said, "They're all on the East Coast." I said, "OK, what's your point?" He said, "You grew up on the East Coast, you're going to college on the East Coast If you go to any of those schools, I can tell you what the rest of your career will be like." And this was news to me because I didn't know where I was going to be doing in three weeks much less the rest of my career. He said, "You'll go to work for a New York law firm, you'll make partner and you'll come to age 65 or 70 and you'll retire and never have seen any of the country."
Q: What did he suggest?
A: He said, "How about the University of Michigan? It's a terrific school, it's another part of the country, it's a big school compared to this small school that you've gone to. " That's how I wound up at Michigan, but also that attitude of "you only go around once in life" is one that really I took to heart. I think that's how I wound up in California, because I practiced in Washington, D.C., for the Federal Trade Commission and I came out to California almost on a lark, with the same thought in mind. If he hadn't talked to me, I probably would be at a New York law firm right now.
Q: So how did sports enter into the equation?
A: In 1988 I was a partner at Jeffer Mangels in Los Angeles and I was, and still am, the hiring partner. A resume crossed my desk from an attorney named Richard Brown who had been an in-house lawyer for Gene Autry, who owned radio stations, TV stations and what were then the California Angels. So Rich brought the Angels along with him as a client. I had always been a huge sports fan and he got me involved in doing Angels work and a year and a half later, he left to become president of the Angels and I took over as lawyer for the Angels. I kind of inherited his job as principal outside lawyer for the Angels, so that's how my sports career got started.
Q: How did it grow from there?
A: Over the next four to five years, I did a variety of things for the Angels to broaden my knowledge of the sports practice. I learned about labor laws as it relates to sports, property as it relates to sports and contract negotiations for the team with the agents for the players.
Q: What happened when Disney bought the Angels?
A: The first thing they did was fire Rich Brown and I assumed the second thing they'd do was fire me, and that my career as a sports lawyer would be over. I was lucky in that some of the Angels people, principally the general manager Bill Bavasi, insisted they needed to continue using me and so I stayed on. Not only that, but as Disney owned the Mighty Ducks, I got to do some hockey work. At the same time, I realized that if I wanted to have a career as a sports lawyer, I'd better expend my practice from just one team. And one of the things that I started doing was baseball salary arbitration.
Q: You represent baseball owners. What was the biggest make-or-break situation in terms of establishing yourself as a sports lawyer?
A: The most difficult case I had was the first one. It was a case against Luis Polonia (acquired by the Angels in 1990, a year after pleading no contest to sex with a minor while a member of the New York Yankees). I had something on the line. I had never done one before. We won, but I think if I hadn't won the first one I might not have gotten the chance to do a second one.
Q: What about more recent cases like the salary arbitration for (the Dodgers' star reliever) Eric Gagne? Did you feel like you had a lot on the line?
A: For somebody who does a lot of litigation in some ways, it was ideal because nobody expected us to win. I'd much rather have that case, where expectations were that I was going to lose. If we lost, we lost to Eric Gagne and that's no disgrace. (After winning the 2003 NL Cy Young Award while earning $550,000, Gagne sought $8 million for the next season, but arbitrators ruled in favor of the club's offer of $5 million.)
Q: Do you have a strategy in arbitrations?
A: Did you ever read the science fiction novel "Ender's Game"? It's about a 10- or 12-year-old kid and the world is going to be attacked by an alien race. The leaders decide the only way they can save the world is by finding this kid Ender and they put him through military training school starting at age six. He plays these little war games and they change the rules every single time and make it harder and harder for him. One of the things he realizes quickly is that in order to have a successful military strategy, you have to come up with a new game plan every single time and that's what makes him so successful.
Q: And that's how you defeat the aliens?
A: The one lesson I learned from that is, don't have a set format. In some of the cases we will spend a lot of time pointing out the player's flaws. In one of the cases, the pitcher was a guy named John Rocker, we spent some time talking about his off-the-field activities and that was significant. In other cases, Gagne for example, he was asking too much money too early in his career. In that case, we also picked one particular player, Mariano Rivera, and spent a lot of time talking about him.
Q: How did that work against the other side?
A: Gagne's agent, Scott Boras, had talked about the incredible pressure his client faces every time he comes into a game, because he comes in during the ninth inning with the game on the line. So when I was talking about Mariano Rivera, I pointed out that he had been extraordinarily successful in the postseason. And I said, imagine the pressure Rivera must have felt when pitching in the World Series, knowing that there were millions of people all across the world watching him coming into the game, thousands of fans in Yankee Stadium all on their feet and most of all (volatile Yankees owner) George Steinbrenner staring down from the owner's box. You want to talk about real pressure? That's real pressure.
Q: What else did you do?
A: One of the first things that we knew they were going to do was point out that (Gagne) had a fabulous year. With the Cy Young Award, we thought they might even come in and put the trophy on the table. The first exhibit that I presented had nothing to do with Eric Gagne. Instead it said, "What do these great players have in common? Barry Bonds, Mariano Rivera, Jack McDowell? Barry Bonds had been the National League Most Valuable Player in 1990, Mariano Rivera had been the World Series MVP in 1999 and Jack McDowell had won the Cy Young award in 1995. All three of them also went to arbitration the following year and all three lost their cases.
Q: What qualities does it take to be a good lawyer representing sports franchises and teams?
A: I learned fairly quickly that the sports business is a lot like the entertainment business. I negotiate contracts for the teams against the agents, the Jerry Maguires of the world. It's a relationship business and even if I'm doing an arbitration case against an agent, you have to maintain a good relationship with those people, because your paths keep crossing. It's not like other litigation or business deals where you have a one-shot deal and you never see them again. You need to have good relations with these people, so baseball agents are all people who I know very well now.
Q: And you've got to love sports, right?
A: You have to be a sports fan and have to know what's going on. There have been people who aren't really that well versed in the sport who have done baseball salary arbitrations and they last one year. The lack of background becomes painfully obvious. You can't fake it in this business.
Q: How do you balance your personal life with your job?
A: It hasn't been that difficult. I have two kids who are big sports fans, so they've been fortunate in having a father that can take them to different events. I spend a good amount of time going to sporting events. Most of the time that's not billable. But it's fun. Sometimes my wife goes with me, sometimes my kids. My personal and business lives have become intertwined.
Q: What's your proudest achievement?
A: My wife would kick me under the table, but I'd say the kids. She thinks it's ostentatious when people spend too much time talking about their kids' accomplishments. For example, my son was a Fulbright scholar. He's working part-time at the State Department. He just came back from Belarus where he was an election observer. You get the picture? My other son is a history major who, at least for a while, was an aspiring journalist, too. Now I think he's thinking about law school, but what he's really doing is trying to do is work for a political campaign.
Q: What's the hardest part of your job?
A: The most difficult part is the knowledge that the jobs of the baseball executives, the ones that we work with, are on the line every year. And if their teams don't win very often, they get fired. I get to be friends with these people, and it's very difficult to get the call from a general manager saying they've been let go because the team didn't do well. That's the part the average fan doesn't see. There is the enormous pressure on the athletes to perform and there's pressure on the front office executives to perform, to do well. It's a very competitive business.
* Mark Rosenthal
Company: Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro LLP
Born: September 1948; Norwalk, Conn.
Education: B.A. in English, Wesleyan University; J.D. University of Michigan
Career Turning Point: His firm landed the California Angels as a client in 1988
Most Admired Person: Biographers David McCullough and Robert Caro
Personal: Wife, Jill; and two sons, Michael and Will
Hobbies: Wine collecting, travel, biographies and watching movies from the '30s and '40s.
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