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Hall of Famer's son handling Mets deal

Allen & Company, the New York-based investment firm hired by the Mets to locate "strategic partners" in the potential sale of a portion of the club, is the same firm  involved in finding a buyer for the Houston Astros.

Allen & Co.’s managing director Steve Greenberg, a former agent and deputy commissioner of baseball--and the son of Hall of Fame player Hank Greenberg--is the point man handing the Astros’ sale and will also advise the Mets on their situation.  

Allen & Co. has worked on deals for CBS' acquisition of College Sports Television, the purchase of the Cleveland Cavaliers by Dan Gilbert. Allen & Co. also facilitated the sale of the Brewers from commissioner Bud Selig's family to Mark Attanasio.

Newsday profiled Greenberg in 1990 when he became the deputy commissioner of baseball:

His father a Hall of Fame player. He negotiated contracts for some of today's high-priced major-leaguers. His background would not suggest the job profile of a leading figure in management. But that is the resume of Steve Greenberg, son of Hank, former agent of players such as Mark Langston and now deputy commissioner of baseball.

Some have called Greenberg "the agent in the commissioner's office." But most see him as a person trying to ease the historical acrimony between labor and management.

Greenberg is the second deputy commissioner in the game's history; the first, Fay Vincent, ascended to commissioner when A. Bartlett Giamatti died last summer. It might be dramatic to envision Greenberg as the next commissioner - a one-time agent in baseball's highest chair - but both Vin cent and Greenberg say the line of succession is not a question for consideration at this point.

"I will give you an absolutely honest answer," Greenberg said. "Succession is without a doubt the farthest thing from my mind and always has been. That's all I can say."

Vincent added, "The principal reason he's here is that he is so able in so many areas." Vincent did say he doesn't think there would be an owner mind-set against selecting someone who had been an agent. "I don't think that's an issue."

Greenberg was an All-America soccer goalie at Yale but wanted to try his father's sport. He advanced to Triple-A in the Rangers' organization, but a stop in a rookie league in upstate Geneva was the closest Steve would come to Cooperstown.

During that time with Geneva, Greenberg became friendly with Bill Madlock, who eventually became Greenberg's first client. Greenberg later represented Langston, Eric Show and Bill Almon.

"He was tough with the owners, but he was fair," said Madlock, who now is retired. "He never went in to rake the owners like you see some agents do. Steve wasn't like that. He was fair both ways. He talked to his players about what they should ask for. He didn't sell the players out."

GREENBERG SAID HE never would have gotten his current job if he had a bad reputation with management. "If I had been an agent who was regularly bashing ownership in the press and calling people names, when Fay floated my name as a perspective candidate, he would have gotten a lot of very long faces. So probably my style has something to do with it. The people are neutral because I haven't insulted them. The philosophy I always had is that the same people you are negotiating with today when you have leverage, you will probably be negotiating with next year or two years from now with another player when you have less leverage."

Greenberg grew up in Cleveland, where his father became general manager of the Indians and also had a minor role in ownership. Hank's affinity for owners and players alike became imprinted on his son. "You have to understand my background, and this is where I guess I am different from most of the agents," Greenberg said. "I grew up in a household where owning baseball teams and man aging baseball teams was not a devious way to make a living. Being an owner was not a dirty word. I bring to the process a very different view of baseball ownership.

"My father told me about the pitfalls and the shortsightedness of ownership. There have not been too many who have gone from the playing ranks, let alone from superstar, into ownership in baseball in any meaningful way. Here is a guy that was one of the rank-and-file and suddenly was sitting in at the ownership meetings. I learned an awful lot about . . . the kinds of things to expect. The attitudes, both positive and negative. There are still some of those people around today."

There was some question as to whether those hard-line owners - Carl Pohlad, Ewing Kauffman and Bud Selig among them - would be able to trust a former agent with their business and strategies. The owners, after all, had been found guilty of collusion. "I didn't think there was any question that they trusted him," Vincent said. "Part of that is a function of their having confidence in me, but some of them knew him very well and admired him. He had dealt with a number of the teams over the years. He came as a known commodity. People had great respect for his judgment and character. He and I sat down with a number of owners [and] we talked about all of the issues. I think he was satisfied there would be no problem. I don't think there ever was much of a concern on either his part or the owners."

FOR HIS PART, all Greenberg seeks is an honest and open relationship with all parties. Greenberg feels accountable to Donald Fehr, a close friend who just happens to be head of the Major League Players Association. "What I've told Don is that it's a clear signal to him that there is collusion if he picks up the paper one day and sees that I abruptly resigned my position," Greenberg said. "That's something I don't feel uncomfortable saying. I cannot imaging sitting back and either actively or silently being a party to collusion without doing something about it."

Attorney Richard Moss, a highly regarded player agent, credits Greenberg for taking the job. Moss said he and many of his brethren could not work directly with ownership. "He is a bright fellow and a voice of reason," Moss said. "I'm all for voices of reason on the other side. For 23 years that I've been involved, I've seen a lack of that. Any help they can get is terrific. I wouldn't work with those people [owners]. When I was a kid I thought the two best jobs in the world were Pope and commissioner of baseball. I quickly learned there are serious, serious limitations to both of them.

"I think Steve feels he is trusted on both sides, [but] there are those who feel he is not trusted on either side," Moss said. "It's unclear as to whether you can effectively cross the line. Soon after he took the job I said, 'Steve, how does it feel to wear a black hat?' He said, 'You don't understand, I'm not wearing any hat at all.' I said, 'No, no, you don't understand.' "

Greenberg said his varied background gives him the ability to view both sides. "When Dick Moss or anyone else says I am wearing the black hat, my knee-jerk reaction is that no, I am not, because I grew up with the likes of Hank Greenberg and Bill Veeck around the house, who were in management. I don't view those people as having black hats. People like Jerry Reinsdorf and Fred Wilpon and Bud Selig I now count among my friends."

Greenberg's duties under Vincent will be broadly based, ranging from input on major decisions regarding television contracts to advising on disciplinary matters. That brings up the subject of Greenberg's objectivity. Can the former agent who once represented a player such as Langston fairly judge a matter that could someday involve his former clients?

"I would do what any lawyer would do under the circumstances - I would disclose the fact that there was a prior relationship," Greenberg said. "I would then at the same time say that I thought the relationship would not color my decision or my ability to deal rationally.

"I don't know what the protocol is. I've already sent [complimentary] notes to a couple of players. One of the nice things about my job is I feel like I am part of baseball . . . I can purely root for the game. If Mark Langston pitches a no-hitter or if Nolan Ryan pitches a no-hitter, I fully intend to write them a note and say, 'Boy, that was a great game.' I don't feel that protocol stands in my way there at all.

"Mark Langston is a friend of mine. I've represented Mark for a number of years. He was a 20-year-old kid when I met him. Do I want him to do well? Absolutely. I would be lying if I told you that I didn't take very much to heart causes of the clients that I represented in all those years that I represented them. There are a lot of guys out there that I will secretly be rooting for on an individual basis because I feel like I am a part of their career because I've negotiated their contracts. I was with them when they had arm problems, the ups and downs. Yeah, I am pulling for Mark Langston. The fortunate thing is whether I am pulling for Mark Langston, or any other player for that matter, really doesn't impact on my job, and there is nothing I can do to influence whether Mark Langston gets a better contract or worse contract or whether he wins 20 games or not."

Arn Tellem, another friend of Greenberg's, took over representation of Langston when Greenberg became a managing partner of a sports management firm in Los Angeles. "He was a player, lawyer, player-agent, now he's on management's side," Tellem said. "He's been the managing partner of a major law firm. When you add that to the family lineage, the package is as complete as you can find. I think he's always commanded the respect of ownership."

Greenberg was already in the commissioner's office when Langston signed his big contract with the Angels. Even though one of Greenberg's goals as an agent for the owners, so to speak, is to worry about such fiscal irregularities as multimillion-dollar long-term deals, Tellem said, "I'm sure he has some vicarious enjoyment in what I've done [with Langston]."

What Greenberg now has to do is help prevent the owners from becoming a warring faction with the players. Some believe the spring training lockout, lengthy as it was, would have been longer if not for Greenberg's influence. "Steve Greenberg is one of the brightest, most refreshing breaths of fresh air," said Wilpon, the Mets' co-owner. "They [both sides] trusted him. There were times when Steve went out and parts of the conversation were confidential and there was no way, I mean no way, he would divulge what was said [with Fehr]."

In those very private Player Relations Committee meetings, the owners had to take Greenberg into their confidence. "I think if I was uncomfortable, it didn't last very long because . . . my style is to speak my mind and the people at least listened to me," Greenberg said. "I felt like I contributed something during that process and got to know those six people pretty well, and you will have to ask them whether they thought I made a positive contribution or not . . . Now there are still other owners that I have had very little contact with and it may take some time for them to get to know me."

Fehr said Greenberg's presence on the owners' side should prove worthwhile to the collective-bargaining atmosphere. "Until there is a demonstration to the contrary, hopefully I won't have to worry about whether he is telling me the truth . . . In the past, that hasn't been true with other owner representatives."

A warmer climate between labor and management may hinge on the Greenberg effect. Does Greenberg believe labor peace can be achieved? "Well, I can't answer that with a yes or a no," he said. "I think that one of the mistakes historically with the relationship has been that it has been viewed as gearing up to do battle every four years."

He said the time to talk is now - or else baseball is in for the same scenario of labor trouble. "When four years from now does roll around, and if the last time we spoke to each other was during the labor negotiations, I guarantee you we will pick up where we left off."
 

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