Secrets Of An Agent

David M. Sloane almost died 24 years ago. That same day, he became a sports agent. He just did not realize it at the time.

It was Aug. 16, 1973, and Mr. Sloane and a friend were enjoying a final summer road trip to Phoenix before their senior year at Arizona State University. Mr. Sloane dozed in the passenger seat while his friend tested the limits of his brand new Porsche on the winding, empty road.

Disaster struck when the sports car skidded on a gravelly turn and flipped off the road.

The driver died instantly. An unknown passerby pulled Mr. Sloane from the fiery wreckage.

His lawyer won a settlement from the driver's insurance company. But Mr. Sloane, a pre-law student, was disgusted by a profession that enabled his attorney to work less than 10 hours and claim half the earnings of a client suffering through a painful hospital stay, unsightly scarring and the loss of several toes.

 "It was my first real insight into the goal I had set for myself of becoming an attorney," said Mr. Sloane, who was scheduled to take his LSATs 10 days after the accident. "I didn't like it at all."

 As he pondered his future, another friend asked him to use his smooth-talking skills to land him a spot on a professional basketball team.

 He was surprised at how easily it worked and offered to do the same for his roommates on the college baseball team. They introduced him to their teammates. So did the basketball player.

 By 1981, he had 35 clients.

 "It seemed like an interesting way to make a living," said Mr. Sloane, who dropped out of school to become a full-time sports agent.

 Mr. Sloane, 44, attributes the longevity of his 23-year-old company Taurus Sports Associates in Coral Springs, to his refusal to relax his strict moral standards.

 "There are ways that I could make 10 times more money than I am now," he said, glancing about his large, custom-built home in elite Eagle Trace. "But I'm proud of the way I do business."

 His 15-hour work days that incorporate time to play with his son are unusual in an industry described as a 24-hour job by most of his colleagues.

He gets up by 7:30 a.m. so he can kiss his 10-year-old son, Max, before he leaves for school. Two hours later, after a quick shower and breakfast, Mr. Sloane is knee-deep in contracts, phone calls, endorsement offers and statistics at his home office.

 Most mornings pass quickly as he scours the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and USA Today for news about his clients, players with similar records, and promising high school athletes. He also scans magazines such as Baseball Weekly and Sports Illustrated and television shows like ESPN's "Sports Center" for up-to-date information.

 He spends hours analyzing statistics on his laptop computer. ("If it's down, I'm lost," he joked.) And he fields as many as 50 five to 45-minute phone calls a day from the press, clients, baseball club managers and sporting goods companies.

 "Some days I may as well have my bed moved into my office," Mr. Sloane said. "I have to be available 24 hours a day."

 He makes a point of contacting his 19 players at least every two weeks. He chats with them about their families, their lives and their careers. And he makes sure they are not having problems.

 Many of them become his close friends. The Sloanes attended the 25th anniversary party of one player's parents. Another client's sister invited Mrs. Sloane to her bridal shower.

 "My clients are promised that the only person they will ever have to deal with is me," Mr. Sloane said. "I don't have a secretary or an assistant that I'll pass them on to."

 His attitude is good for his clients. But, sometimes, his family suffers.

Max told his pre-school teacher that his father worked as a phone caller because of the excessive time he spends on the line.

 "People think that when the season's over, I have a lot of time on my hands," Mr. Sloane said. "But for me, there's not off-season."

 Since the last pitch was thrown during the World Series in October, Mr. Sloane has worked ceaselessly to negotiate the best contracts for his players.

 By mid-February, spring training is underway, and Mr. Sloane turns his attention to scouting new clients and preparing for the baseball draft in June.

 He has limited his travels since his son was born. But from February through April, he cannot avoid making several five to 14-day long trips to visit clients and potential recruits.

So Mr. Sloane tries to compensate for his never-ending work load. Saturday nights are reserved for his wife. And he makes time to swim with his 120- and 90-pound Labrador retrievers several afternoons a week.

"As long as I have access to my computer and phone, I can go anywhere they want," he said.

Max is always a priority. Mr. Sloane built his office near the front door of his house so he would be the first person his son sees when he gets home from school.

He helps Max with his homework and takes him to the park for batting practice often. He asks clients to call him after Max's bedtime. And he calls his son at 9 p.m. when he's on the road to say good night.

Judaism does not play a large role in their family life. His wife of 11 years is Catholic, and Max attends Hebrew school and catechism to learn about both parents' heritage.

"My background and God are big parts of my life," Mr. Sloane said. "But to me, religion is a private matter. I don't wear it on my sleeve."

In his business dealings, it rarely come up.

 There are some people who appeal to recruits, 'I'm a Christian, you're a Christian, so let's do business together,'" he said. "People who fall for that are fools."

 But he does ascribe his strong family values to his Jewish background. In 1982, he sacrificed his thriving sports agency to care for his father, who was dying of stomach cancer. It was not until his estate was settled in 1989 that Mr. Sloane rebuilt his business.

 "The choice was easy," he said. "My family comes first."

 It's dedication like that his clients admire. "David has a Jerry Maguire relationship with his clients, including the big hug at the end," said Ray Suplee of Sarasota. "He's out for my son, not himself."

---Ronni Sayewitz  Boca-Delray Jewish Times  Feb 1997