Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 4/9/13
NASHVILLE, Tenn. There is a distinctive structure to the busy clutter that is the office of McKinnis Sports Management. For agency president Bo McKinnis, its a mix of preparation for an impending office expansion, the looming national tax deadline of clients, an accumulation of correspondence while constantly on the road the past few months, and an avowed packrat mentality that keeps cherished items with special meaning. Against one wall is a signed placard from late-night television host David Letterman to Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey, a McKinnis client who won the National League Cy Young Award last year. It came last year after Dickey, then a New York Met, made an appearance on the show. Leaning against the leg of the conference table is a framed and autographed starting lineup card for the first Major League Baseball start of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price, another McKinnis client who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2012. On the television, a replay shows the pitching performance Monday night of Atlanta Braves hurler Pete Maholm, another McKinnis client who limited Pittsburgh to one hit over seven innings. McKinnis quickly notes that Maholm hasnt given up a run in nearly 13 innings in two starts this season. The player cards of Mike Minor, another Braves starter and McKinnis client, are neatly stacked on the corner of his desk. But the coup de gras sitting side-by-side is the bookend Cy Young Award plaques won last season by Dickey and Price. They are among the 98 big-leaguers he has represented the past two decades. Ever see one of those? McKinnis asked Tuesday with a sheepish grin about the Cy Young Award trophies. Well, there are two of them. That distinction not only made him the first agent to ever represent the two Cy Young winners during the same season, but also catapulted him into the national limelight that he has never sought. It garnered him the title of Cy Agent among some covering the league. To be the best pitcher in baseball, you pretty much have to be great every game, McKinnis said. Of course, both of those guys want to win the World Series. And on a personal level, they both want to win another Cy Young. Ironically, both Price and Dickey were lit up by opposing bats on Sunday. Dickey (0-2) allowed eight runs, seven earned, and 10 hits in 4 23 innings in a 13-0 loss to Boston. It was the knuckleballers shortest start since last April. Price (0-1) yielded eight runs, 10 hits and three walks in five innings of a 13-0 loss to Cleveland, a team he was previously 5-0 against with a 1.64 ERA in six starts. Watching two of his famed clients struggle Sunday was a struggle for McKinnis, who felt the urge to reach out to each later that night but decided against it. They take care of it, McKinnis said. They are so hard on themselves anyway. Theres just not much to say. They are such competitors that to try to give the old pat on the back, theyve been in the game too long. They dont want the hug to make them feel better. But both Dickey and Price know McKinnis is there at every turn. It was McKinnis who talked Dickey out of playing in South Korea in 2007 that eventually set him on his resurgent path to stardom, and Price has been with McKinnis from day one after being selected the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft out of Vanderbilt. Bo is my confidant and counsel, but more importantly he is my brother and friend, said Dickey, who introduced McKinnis to his eventual wife, Nikki. Price echoed Dickeys sentiments about McKinnis. Bo is a part of my family, Price said. I chose him because I get along with him so well. I like that hes respected in baseball because of all that hes done. He gets along with everyone in my family, which is so important to me. So it goes with McKinnis, who turned his collegiate days as a student manager for the Mississippi State baseball team of famed coach Ron Polk into a career as an agent for aspiring and established baseball players. It didnt hurt that he also had a degree in accounting and was headed for a career on Wall Street before a series of unwitting events placed him on the path he still walks today. It was during my time there at Mississippi State that players kidded me that I was going to be their agent when we got out of school, McKinnis said. They all joined in. They told me I really should be an agent when I got out of there. I didnt even know what an agent was. I thought they were kidding. I was like, Yeah, yeah, whatever. I dont even know what an agent is. Leave me alone. But apparently, they werent kidding. After graduating from Mississippi State, McKinnis entered Vanderbilt Universitys prestigious Owen Graduate School of Management to get a Masters degree that would lay the foundation for his move to the financial management world. He eventually got an offer from a prestigious Wall Street financial firm, but it just so happened to come at the same time of an unlikely proposition he never saw coming. It was from the father of former Mississippi State All-American Pete Young, who had been selected in the sixth round of the 1989 amateur draft by the Montreal Expos. After meeting with a myriad of potential agents from around the country, the Youngs decided to ask McKinnis to be his agent. When they said that to me, the first words out of my mouth were, I dont know how. And I didnt, McKinnis said. Mr. Young said, Thats OK. We have had all these strangers come talk to us from all over the country, and we cant tell one from another. And we determined the No. 1 element needed is trust. And he said that they trusted me and that I wouldnt steal from Pete, but also that if there is something you dont know, you will lay your ego down and go find the answer. To this day, thats the greatest compliment ever paid me. It also started him on his way in a career as baseball player agent. Soon thereafter, two more former Mississippi State players signed with McKinnis. A year later, that number had doubled. Thats when he sought the advice of Polk on just how to become an agent, especially since he was already representing players at the spry age of 23. I said, Coach, this is getting serious. These people are handing me their lives. And I dont know what I am doing. There is not a book to read. There is not a college class to take. I asked what should I do, McKinnis said. Coach Polk told me to talk to anyone and everyone I knew in baseball. General manager, scouting director, scout, player, they all interact with agents in a different way. He told me to learn from their experiences. Using Polk as a reference point, McKinnis absorbed all the knowledge he could about what it would take to be a successful agent. He claims the best advice came from former Mississippi State and Cincinnati Reds pitching star Jeff Brantley, now a member of the Reds broadcast team. Jeff told me an agent is supposed to be a professional like a doctor or a dentist, McKinnis said. If you move to a new city and you are picking a dentist, you wouldnt have somebody knocking on your door saying, Hey, I am Babe Ruths dentist. Let me be your dentist. Instead, you would go with your neighbors, your church friends or your work friends and find a dentist. He said thats whats screwed up with the agent business right now. Agents are chasing players. He said it shouldnt be that way. The player should go to the agent, not the agent to the player. He said, Big league players know who the good agents are. The big leaguers dont have agents writing or calling them. They already know who the good agents are. To this day, McKinnis claims to have never actively recruited a player as a client. And that includes representing former Major League power hitter and eventual steroids whistle blower Jose Canseco from 1995-96. It was Canseco who sought McKinnis not only as his agent, but also to help start an agency himself that was eventually deemed against the rules by Major League Baseball because Canseco was still an active player. Those two years representing Canseco was an eye-opening experience for McKinnis. Immediately, more and more big leaguers started contacting me, he said. It started to bug me a little bit because I hadnt changed. I was the same guy. Jose at that time was bigger than big. They saw that, If Jose is with him, then he must be good. I often say that the good Lord brought Jose into my life at the right time, and he took him out at the right time, too. His brother, Ozzie, wanted to be his agent. And by that time, I was glad. These days, McKinnis likes to maintain a stable of Major League Baseball clients no larger than 25. He feels the current roster of 20 players is a good fit for his size of agency, where he is the only agent with various support staff. Its a manageable number, McKinnis said. I want to be personal with each guy. The larger agencies often time will hand a guy off to another employee. When they sign with me, they know they are getting me. I dont want another agent working here. I want the players knowing I am their agent. By nature, McKinnis wants to become involved in the personal aspects of his clients lives. In claiming to have never recruited a client, he said his clients do the recruiting for him. When I meet a new player, I think this guy may pay me millions of dollars, McKinnis said. but he also may pay me zero. And whichever one it is, he wants me to do the exact same job. I need to know I can care about this person and enjoy them and fight for them regardless of what they are paying me. That trust is why players like Price and Dickey have McKinnis representing them. Bo takes care of everything for me, Price said, and I know hell do things the way I want them done. I trust him completely. Ditto that for Dickey. I trust Bo completely, he said. He handles all of my business and is my most trusted advisor. In as much, McKinnis prefers his clients getting all the attention, so count him out from being labeled as a super agent. People always look at it from the perspective that I represent the player, McKinnis said. Well, the player represents me. If I have a player who is trouble all the time, then people associate me with that bad character. So, I like how my players represent me. You do get judged by the people you keep. I want to be known as a great agent. But if nobody knows my name, then I am fine with it.
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