December 13, 2006

A Brief Note on Business Etiquette

Imagine for a second that you’re a film producer undertaking an extremely ambitious project, and there’s this one foreign actor you really need to fill one of the lead roles.

However, his management team has a number of concerns. They’re saying things about how they’re worried about him being exposed to an American audience in the wrong context, that appearing in American movies could cheapen his appeal at home, etc., and in many ways it’s pretty obvious that what they’re really talking about is money.

So, you decide to fly over there to smooth this over. You purchase the most supremely-threaded garments and procure the most luxurious vehicles to transport you around so as to project an air of superiority. You take the actor’s management team out to the finest meals, sampling local delicacies and aperitifs with no regard for cost.

And somehow, late in the evening you all end up at some strange place you think might be a strip club or could even be a brothel (it’s not quite clear given the language differences), and a wild night ensues, parts of which you selectively decide to lose in your mind’s drunken haze because, after all, you are a family man back home.

You return from this weekend overseas beaten down, exhausted and emotionally tapped. But the important thing is, you’ve won them over, and better yet, you have their ear. You haven’t sealed the deal yet, but their client (by way of them) is ready to listen to you.

A few weeks pass, and you set up another face-to-face meeting. This time, the client and the entire management team will be there (this is how business is conducted in that country).

For this trip, you purchase even nicer clothes and secure an even sleeker car, all because it adds to your air of confidence for the big meeting.

And when you finally arrive in the conference room after all that you’ve been through to get this actor’s attention, you sit down in front of him and all of his closest advisors, and proceed to blatantly lowball the shit out of them.

Not surprisingly, they storm out of the meeting almost immediately.

* * *

Now cut to real life, present day, and think about this scenario in the context of the Red Sox’s negotiations with star Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

With time on the verge of running out for the Red Sox to sign Matsuzaka after putting $51 million on the line to secure exclusive negotiation rights, reports are swirling that they’ve made an offer of $48 million over six years.

Granted, this sounds like a lot of loot, but at this precise moment, it’s not –all you need to know about the current market is that journeyman lefty Ted Lilly and his 4.60 career ERA got $40 million over 4 years from the Cubs (an average of $10 million per year versus the $8 million annually the Red Sox have offered Matsuzaka).

And ignore for a second that by all accounts Matsuzaka is likely to be an outstanding Major League pitcher who will also have a seismic impact on the team’s marketability. The very principle of what the Red Sox are doing just makes no sense.

In The Lord of the Rings, did Frodo and Sam walk up to Mount Doom at the last minute, realize that the lava was really hot and say, “You know what? Let’s head home. This is clearly going to be a bit more taxing than we thought.”

Of course they didn’t. They may have wanted to (particularly Frodo, who was actually kind of being a whiny sissy for much of the third movie) but Sam wasn’t about to let that shit happen.

And someone on the Red Sox’s negotiating team needs to channel Samwise Gamgee, look everyone else in the eye and say in the most convincing tone: Look, you bastards. We’ve come too far to turn back now. Whatever it takes, we’ve gotta get this done.

The fact is, the Red Sox have the money to make this happen – reportedly, Matsuzaka and by extension Scott Boras are asking for $11 million over six years as opposed to $8 million annually. For the Red Sox that’s like attaching a Hershey’s Kiss to the ribbon tied around the gift.

Come on, Theo – make this happen. You didn’t make all this effort and spend all this time for nothing, did you? The OCC didn’t do an interview on Japanese television at ESPNZone just so you could turn back at the last second, and Lord knows that our fictional film producer didn’t jeopardize his marriage with one decadent night at an unseemly brothel-type establishment just so you could suddenly become fiscally concerned – fiscally concerned? – at the last minute.

You may think this is about money, and common sense may dictate that this is about money, and it may actually be about money in many ways, but above all else, this is about sitting down at the table and not getting up until you’ve gotten what you came for.

Do it for the Braves, who have become such sorry penny-pinchers that they can’t even make an arbitration offer to fan favorite Marcus Giles. Do it for those of us who consider refried beans with a spot of Mrs. Dash a proper meal in the days immediately after we’ve mailed our rent check.

Take that money, Theo Epstein, and light it directly on fire. Shove briefcases of bills in Scott Boras’ face if that’s what it takes. Don’t be a tease. Guns blazing, balls to the wall.

Make it happen for Daisuke, for Red Sox nation, for Yankees fans who will immediately mock you for spending so much money even though they’re obviously just jealous you got it done. Make it happen for bitter Braves fans, for the burned-out film producer, for Scott Boras’ unborn grandchildren, who seem doomed to suffer through decades of poverty as a penance for their grandfather's otherworldly capitalistic greed. Make it happen, Theo. Make it happen for us.


Update: Theo must have read what I wrote.


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