When Ryan Dempster vetoed a proposed trade to the Braves last week, some Cubs fans complained: What’s wrong with the guy? Why is he getting in the way of the team’s rebuilding plan?
My brother, a Cubs fan himself, didn’t look at it quite the same way, though. He had some empathy for Dempster.
“It really is weird that players are able to just be traded to some random city they have no desire to live,” said my brother, who lives in Chicago and works as a consultant. “I mean, it doesn’t really happen in any other profession, right? KPMG can’t trade me to Deloitte …”
But what if KPMG could?
What would it be like to go through what Dempster, Alfonso Soriano, and others are going through this week, sweating today’s trade deadline? How would you prepare? What would you need to know? And how could a trade affect you, both professionally and personally?
Athletes are people, after all. Well-compensated people who work on a public stage, to be sure. But people, nonetheless. So, to get a sense of what they go through when they’re traded, I reached out to Darren S. Weiner, managing member of Antigen Realty LLC, a Miami Beach-based agency that bills itself as the leading provider of premium real estate services for the sports and entertainment industry.
According to Weiner, Antigen has helped about 2,000 celebrities and pro athletes relocate throughout North America during the past six years. In the event of a trade, they move fast.
“When players are traded, fans often see them in them in one uniform one night and a new uniform the next,” explained Weiner, 43, who spent 18 years as an agent before founding Antigen in 2006. “But they don’t see all the dots connecting those things, all the steps that are taken, all the phone calls made.
“From a real estate standpoint, how does an athlete pack up all of his belongings and leave his old home behind or find a new home in his new city? There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. And that’s where we come in.”
The logistics of a trade can be especially difficult in baseball, Weiner said, because players play so many games in a row with so few days off. Basketball and hockey players, meanwhile, most often deal with midseason trades that can interrupt a school year and throw their family life into turmoil. Often, there’s no time for house-hunting.
To make matters more difficult, many traded players are bitter. They didn’t want to move, and, therefore, the last thing they want to deal with is the hassle of changing addresses on their magazine subscriptions and setting up cable service.
“When trades are made, it’s not always a pat on the back from the team,” Weiner said. “Often, there’s a bad taste in the mouths of the players and their franchises. I actually had an NBA client a few years ago whose team just let him go in the middle of a road trip. They wouldn’t even pay for him to get back to his home city.”
Weiner said some teams bring Antigen on to serve as a resource in an informal capacity, but his company gets the bulk of its clientele from word of mouth. He said most pro sports’ collective bargaining agreements require teams to assist with relocation expenses, but “all organizations handle things a little differently.” Another twist is that many players, particularly veterans, rent homes in the cities where they compete, while maintaining their permanent residence elsewhere.
“And sometimes,” Weiner explained, “we have situations where they never go back to their apartment.”
In those cases, Antigen Realty assumes the responsibility of packing up all of a client’s belongings—including their vehicles—and shipping them to a new city. Weiner said some traded players wind up trading apartments, too.
“Some leases are even worded that way,” he said.
Weiner added that the most important thing for anyone facing a trade situation is to be prepared for it. “But no matter how much you prepare and your family prepares, it’s still shocking,” he said.
Rob Davison is a member of the faculty at the Rawls College of Business and the Institute for Leadership Research at Texas Tech University, where he specializes in the field of social identity. A trade, he said, can be a real blow to an athlete’s sense of identity.
“We all have a social identity and it adapts to our situation,” he said. “For example, you may tend to most often view yourself as male, and that’s the biggest part of your daily persona. But in a different setting, say a sports locker room, that wouldn’t play into it. And you’d view yourself in another way, such as tall or short.”
A New York native and dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fan, Davison used baseball superstar Ichiro Suzuki—who was dealt last week from Seattle to the Big Apple—as a sports-world example.
“Suzuki, he’s a player coming out of a smaller market where he was the proverbial big fish in a small pond,” Davison said. “But now he’s in New York, where Derek Jeter is already the face of the franchise, along with A-Rod, (Mark) Teixeira and (Robinson) Cano, to lesser degrees. For a while at least, Ichiro is going to have to adjust his identity. But this kind of phenomena does also exist in business.
Davison related how prior to entering academia, he began his career working at IBM, where he “migrated from small business unit to small business unit.”
“I was able to differentiate myself,” Davison said, “and by working at a major company, I was with the Yankees, if you will. But I was still playing triple-A ball, and my goal at that time was to become the CEO of IBM. But I wasn’t going to get there by playing triple-A ball, so I had to get ‘traded’ from my smaller business unit and move up.”
After 11 years, Davison left IBM and entered the consulting industry where he eventually became a partner at a major agency, “And during my career working as a consultant, you might have a project manager who would tell an employee, ‘You’ve been doing great work, but I’ve got to let you go to another project so I can beef up my resources in another area. We’ll have to get along with a lesser version of you.’
While that person wasn’t “traded” from their company, Davison said they still had to adapt their identity to a new project team within it—a lesser adaptation than sports deal, but with “a similar dynamic.”
Changing teams can also affect performance, which “comes down to the concept of fit,” Davison said. “If you go to a team that’s a better fit, it improves performance. Or vice versa for a team that, for whatever reason, is a worse fit. That all depends on the individual and the team they’re joining.”
So, to hear Davison tell it, my brother the consultant has been “traded” many times. Same goes for many other business professionals.
“I don’t think most people think about it that way,” he said. “But, yes, I believe there are some really good analogies between sports and business. And if you look for it, you can see them.”
The biggest difference, of course, is the money. It’s more palatable to accept a trade when you’re getting paid millions of dollars a year to play baseball. That’s why you won’t hear Dempster complaining too much about leaving Chicago.
But when it comes to leaving his home of the past eight seasons, I still feel for him.
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DAVE WISCHNOWSKY is a Chicago writer and columnist who currently writes a sports blog for CBSChicago.com and formerly worked as a Metro reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune. His other work can be read here and at wischlist.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @wischlist.
STORY ART: Made image made in-house using screenshot from chicagotribune.com; Icihiro photo courtesy TheDamnMushroom/cc.