Tom Reich, pioneering agent who turned sports stars into multimillionaires, dies
Thomas M. Reich, a pioneering baseball agent with an ebullient, oversized personality who helped players gain multimillion-dollar salaries in the early years of free agency, has died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Reich, who died Friday, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2019. He was 82.
“Tom Reich was among the preeminent player representatives of his era,” the Major League Baseball Players Assn. said in a statement. “Players and our union benefited from both his keen intellect and wise counsel over many decades.”
Reich went to the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne’s law school, then became a lawyer in Pittsburgh. He started as an agent in 1970 representing pitcher Dock Ellis, who had a $13,000 salary at a time when players were stillfighting to gain free agency.
Early clients included Dave Parker, John Candelaria and Manny Sanguillen of the Pirates. Among his first stars was Joe Morgan, who became a Hall of Famer and remained a lifelong friend.
“The racism factor back then was awful for the players,” Reich told the Sports Business Journal in 2004. “There were a lot of incidents in Pittsburgh and other places that were not melodramatic. They were real. The Hispanic players were starting to become a factor back then. Of course, now the infusion of numbers and talent is extraordinary.
“But there were a lot of issues back then,” he said. “I was a fiery guy.”
With a beard that he sometimes grew long, especially after it turned gray, Reich was among the more colorful figures in baseball and became influential as salaries soared after arbitrator Peter Seitz’s decision in December 1975 that led to free agency for baseball players.
Reich, Jerry Kapstein and Dick Moss were among the most notable agents who drove the free agent market in its early years, courted by owners and general managers who coveted their players.
“Bring ’em some iron!” Reich liked to say, his Pittsburgh accent fully on display.
In February 1982, he negotiated the first contract with a $2 million average salary, George Foster’s $10.2 million, five-year deal with the New York Mets. Among his other clients were Jack Clark, Sammy Sosa, Mo Vaughn and John Wetteland, who pitched for the Dodgers.
Reich, more than others, had a flair he displayed in the restaurants and bars where baseball officials congregated. Chili Davis, a client, called him while dining out and asked what wines he should order.
Reich dated actress Jennifer O’Neill, who remained a friend long after they no longer were romantically involved.
Living a peripatetic life, Reich maintained a New York City apartment and a home in Los Angeles, while also commuting back and forth to Pittsburgh, where he kept ties and repeatedly returned. He kept multiple television sets at his homes so he could watch several of his clients simultaneously.
Reich became a back channel negotiator with fellow agents Randy Hendricks and Ron Shapiro during the 7 1/2-month baseball strike that started in August 1994, speaking with owners at a time when the relationship with players’ association executives and Major League Baseball was strained.
“All war is going to get is an apocalypse that will swallow everybody — including the very owners who are trying to break the union,” Reich told the Associated Press.
He branched out into hockey, where his most accomplished client was Mario Lemieux.
“I had the privilege to know Tom Reich for nearly 50 years. I often sought his counsel, particularly on difficult issues. As a strong, dedicated, passionate, articulate, and successful advocate for and representative of baseball and hockey players for decades, he worked tirelessly to enhance players’ rights,” said NHL players’ union head Don Fehr, who previously ran the MLBPA. “In addition, he represented many of the most prominent minority players with incomparable zeal and passion.”
“As one of the first player agents in baseball, he became an archetype of his profession, setting a standard that others will long strive to equal. He believed in the players’ cause and helped make their success a reality. Tom’s larger-than-life voice will be sorely missed, and he will long be remembered by all who crossed his path,” he said.
Reich mentored several young agents who later split and went out on their own, most notably Adam Katz, Craig Landis and Chuck Berry, and also Rick Shapiro, who became an executive with the players’ association.
He is survived by PK Fields Reich, his third wife, daughter Shannon and brother Sam. A son, David, died of cancer in 2019.
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