Not long ago, I was audited by the IRS. (I know it was not long ago because the scars are still healing.) I was required to provide infinite detail about two business trips I had taken to Europe, complete with receipts, spreadsheets, and explanatory notes regarding currency exchange rates, European tipping customs, a compendium of common Italian financial terms, and North Atlantic tidal charts.
I sent the tidal charts just to see if the IRS has a sense of humor.
I flashback to that audit as I listen to Pamela Pitts describe her job. She is the Oakland Athletics Director of Baseball Administration. A former legal secretary, she is all about contracts. Once T's are crossed and I's are dotted on a player's contract, Pam is the one who makes sure the terms of the contracts, all of them, are met. That involves myriad duties such as making sure hundreds of player paychecks arrive in the right locations at the right time. Or explaining to a Major League player why one of his performance bonuses did not kick in. Or why he's paying New York and Massachusetts state taxes when he lives in Florida and works in California. Or fighting with an apartment manager in Illinois who is trying to gouge an extra month's rent out of a minor league player just transferred to Stockton.
"Administering baseball contracts often requires me to get involved in the player's personal lives," Pam says. "I deal with their families, their agents. Something always has to be fixed."
I realize she handles the kinds and volume of details every day that I struggled with in a single IRS audit. Think about that, every day schussing your way down an administrative mountain just ahead of an avalanche of details, glitches, and regulations.
Anyway, that's what Pam does. As we talk, she fidgets. I can tell she is excited by the opportunity to tell her story but she seems ill at ease at the idea of sitting still for a whole hour. Her demeanor seems to say, "Do you know how many trades Billy Beane can pull off in a day? Do you realize how that is going to complicate my life? Well, do you?"
Certainly Pam knows because she has seen it all. She started with the A's in 1981 shortly after the Haas family acquired the A's from Charlie Finley. She answered phones for Mickey Morabito (who was then the Travelling Secretary and PR Director) and Walt Jocketty, the Minor Leagues Director. She was tasked with bringing order out of the chaos of the farm system administration. Eventually she took over the major league administration from Carl Finley, Charlie's cousin.
"There was no organization," she recalls, "No phone lists, no address lists, no contact lists for staff members or scouts. I had to set all that up."
In 1993, General Manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged Pam's contributions to the club by naming her Director of Baseball Administration, the first woman Director in MLB history to have the word "baseball" in her title. "For years, I took a lot of crap from the old baseball guys," she remembers. "They were always whining, ‘What does she know about baseball?' I didn't know anything about baseball, but that wasn't my job. My job was to manage all the business stuff associated with baseball."
To this day, she still handles the major and minor league contracts as well as international arrangements. "Oh my God!" she says. "Don't get me started on immigration!" (I don't.)
I ask to see some samples of the paperwork Pam must wrangle. Soon, the paper is flying: major league contracts, minor league contracts, transfer documents, tidal charts of the North Atlantic. The pile grows! Pam flips open page after page and provides lightspeed explanations of various clauses and handwritten notations.
Over the years, her job has become more complex as the contracts have become more complicated and MLB regulations have become more onerous. The volume of administrivia that Pam and her colleagues, Betty Shinoda and Kathy Leviege, deal with is dumbfounding.
"For each transaction, for each player," Pam says, "there's a different level of paperwork."
My head starts to throb as Pam describes endless regulations, stipulations, clauses, daily pay rates, taxing authorities, award structures, notices of dispositions, player development contracts, beneficiary statements, I-9's, W-4's, auto deposits, and God only knows what else. After 30 minutes of this, I think, "Wait! Am I doing an interview or refinancing my mortgage?"
Because Pam provides me so much detail, it's a challenge to pare down the volume, but here are a couple fascinating highlights.
For minor leaguers, trips to The Show, however short, are very important financially. Pam cites a recent example. A player for the River Cats was called up to the big club for just one day. At the time, his minor league salary was $39,900. He was on the major league roster for one game so he received one game's worth of the minimum major league salary of $490,000. But that one day's service time kicked in an escalator clause in his minor league contract that doubled his minor league salary for the remainder of the season.
"Player movement [between teams] complicates compensation tremendously," Pam says. "A single player might have four different pay rates for a 15-day pay period."
The Athletics have 250 players on the payroll, not 40.
I ask Pam about the relationship between the Athletics and the minor league affiliates. "If a player is placed on the major league roster and then is sent back down," I say, "does he get two different paychecks, one from the A's and one from the Rivercats?"
"No, all paychecks for all players come out of this office," Pam says.
Wait, I thought the A's only paid for the players on the 40-man roster. No, it turns out the A's pay all 250 players, majors and minors. The minor league teams have no cost for player payroll. Not only that, the A's reimburse the minor league teams for a big chunk of travel costs the minor league team incurs.
"So, with no cost for field talent, the minor league franchises must be very profitable," I observe keenly.
Pam laughs. "You could say that."
I get the impression Spring Training is her favorite time of year. Every February, she packs up everything in her Oakland office and takes it south to Arizona. "All the guys-Billy, David Forst, Farhan Zaidi-they can carry what they need on their laptops but I deal in paper," Pam says. I ask if she's ever heard of the paperless office. Pam has, but Major League Baseball apparently has not.
"According to MLB rules, players have to be tendered paper contracts which we must retain on file," she continues. "No scanning, no electronics. It's actually gotten a little better. Until five years ago, we were required to physically mail contracts to players in December. Each contract had to be certified return receipt. Do you know how fun it was taking boxes of specialized mail to the Post Office two weeks before Christmas?"
No, I do not. Nor do I know how much fun it is putting my head in a wood chipper. Some pleasures must be imagined, not experienced.
"What do you do during Spring Training?" I ask.
"Contracts," Pam says. "Tons, and tons, of contracts. I am the chief paper pusher down there. I also give the annual "Life in Baseball" lecture to the new players. It is nuts-and-bolts stuff about pro baseball. Of course, there are 40 or so young guys and all they want to do is horse around. One year, to get their attention, one of the trainers introduced me and said, ‘Don't piss her off or your paycheck will end up in Botswana.'
"That still makes me laugh even though, to date, no paycheck has ever ended up in Botswana."
I smile as Pam shows me her office and the hallowed file cabinets. Her administrative system is "back to the future" for me. This is the way I used to do things in the theater business way back when, manila folders, paper files, 3X5 cards, handwritten notes attached by paper clips and staples. My heart is uplifted simply knowing, in a Google universe, paper still somehow works. In fact, I used the same system for my IRS audit, and I got a $300 refund!
Now I can buy 3/10th's of one share of Google stock.