By KATIE MEYER
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
Early last Thursday morning, Feb. 28, a group of Fordham’s aspiring sports businessmen and women had the opportunity to eat breakfast with one of the most important men in the business: Lou Mendelez, senior advisor to the international baseball operations department in the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office. During his hour-long talk and subsequent Q&A session, Mendelez discussed his three-decade MLB career, the changing sports business industry and the best ways to get hired today.
Mendelez has been involved with Major League Baseball since 1983. He started out in the labor department, assisting in negotiating, administrating and enforcing the collective bargaining agreement between teams and players. In 1999, he became vice president of international operations.
In his 14 years as vice president, Mendelez oversaw the growth of a brand new international branch of the MLB. 1999 was the first year that the MLB began signing players from outside of the U.S., and Mendelez, a part of the newborn International Operations Office, established a satellite office in the Dominican Republic in 2000. At that point, the office was a rented house in Santo Domingo operated by three people.
Responsibilities in the Dominican Republic included fixing the poor living conditions in the Dominican housing club, stamping out fraud (mainly misrepresentation of players’ ages) and establishing a means of educating potential recruits, many of whom have only a sixth or seventh grade education.
“For the most part we’ve gotten a handle on it,” Mendelez said.
The office in Santo Domingo has grown from three employees to 30, and there are plans to move the operation into an actual office building, which will hold anywhere from 30 to 50 employees. The poor conditions in the housing club were addressed, and now the accommodations are as nice as any spring training facilities in the U.S. Fraud has been largely stamped out, and there have been aggressive reforms in educating Dominican recruits so that those players who inevitably return to their communities will be able to better support themselves. Mendelez anticipates even more positive changes on this front as time goes on.
As vice president, Mendelez was also involved in forming teams for non-MLB international events like the Olympics, regulating MLB teams’ activities outside of the U.S. and administering the Winter League Agreement between MLB and the four countries that make up the professional winter baseball leagues.
He moved from this position to senior advisor in January 2012. Melendez also served as general manager of Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classics in 2006 and 2009. This year he will serve in that capacity once again. Before 1983, he worked with both the National Labor Relations Board and the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
During his many years as a sports businessman, Mendelez has observed immense industry changes. When he was an undergraduate at the City College of New York in the early ’70s, there were no sports business programs available; the specialization did not exist.
As a result, Mendelez pursued a law degree at Rutgers University of Law instead of business after graduating from CCNY in 1974. He always had a great interest in and knowledge of baseball, but only considered a career in sports business after he formed a relationship with an MLB employee. The man got him an interview, which got him his labor department job.
However, this was in 1983. Mendelez stressed that it is considerably harder to get into the business today. There is an enormous amount of competition, and as a result it is necessary for applicants to be highly qualified, experienced and specialized.
“Your education is critical,” Mendelez said. “How much you know, what you know….”
He advised planning career goals very carefully and streamlining the college education toward those specific goals. He also pointed out that as the sports business has become more competitive, higher education has become much more common among applicants.
There is a greater number of people with graduate degrees entering the industry today than ever before. In addition, a comprehensive knowledge of baseball, knowledge of the practical applications of training and a feel for the business side of sports is vital for any MLB job.
Perhaps the most important thing, though, is networking. The very best way to get a job, according to Mendelez, is by meeting people and forming lasting relationships.
While in college, this can be done by attending seminars and events that feature prominent people in the industry, meeting professionals through professors and interning. Interning in particular is vital for finding a job, as it has become extremely rare for anyone to get a job without having held one or more internships. Like everything in sports business, these internships are competitive. Applicants should be qualified, willing to work and able to make a good impression on prospective employers.
“First thing I notice when I interview interns is appearance,” Mendelez said. “You gotta look good [and] you gotta sound good…make a good impression. Your personality and how you engage people [is vital] in this business.”
Though it may look daunting, Mendelez made sure to point out that for those who work hard, sports business can be an extremely rewarding career.
As an example, he brought up the general manager of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. In the 1998 World Series game between the Giants and the Yankees, Epstein was charting pitches behind home plate. Within four years, he was the youngest general manager ever, for the Boston Red Sox. In 2004, under his management, the team won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.
This may not be a typical career, but it exemplifies Mendelez’s point that success in sports business is hard, but it is possible. It is a job that is centered on generating revenue, and as a result it is competitive and sometimes very cutthroat. It is not a business that should be entered by people just looking for money. You have to love it, and you have to want it.
In the end, Mendelez said, “It’s up to you…be good at what you do, but do it the right way.”