Postseason Performers

October 22, 2010Duke Law News

Rick Strouse ’81 and John Higgins ’79 had hoped to meet each other at the 2010 World Series, with their respective employers — the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays — competing on baseball’s biggest stage. The match-up between the National League East and American League East champs failed to materialize this season, but each will be doing his best behind the scenes to keep his club strong, Strouse as the Phillies’ vice president and general counsel, and Higgins, as the Rays’ senior vice president of administration and general counsel.

Rick Strouse: “Once a fan, always a fan”

Strouse had been a labor and employment attorney and litigator at Ballard Spahr for nearly 30 years prior to joining the Philadelphia Phillies in December 2009. He is a lifelong Phillies fan with ballpark memories dating back to the 1960s. He says he never envisioned working for his favorite team and explains that the opportunity evolved over time “through the luck of meeting people.”

“The current general counsel was stepping down and transitioning out. The Phillies reached out to 10 or 12 lawyers they knew who they thought might be interested working with them inside,” says Strouse, who served as outside counsel to the team while he was at Ballard Spahr. “It’s easy to say no when a head hunter’s calling about another firm if you’re happy where you are. You have to be interested when someone calls and asks, ‘Do you want to come work for the Phillies?’”

In his role, Strouse handles arbitration cases with players, manages litigation, does contract work for services ranging from sponsorships to parking, and handles compliance matters relating to Major League Baseball’s rules and regulations.

“Anything and everything that comes through here that needs legal advice or assistance I’m involved in some way or another,” Strouse says. Direct negotiations with players and agents are handled through the baseball administration department, with Strouse occasionally offering advice on contracts, he adds.

Strouse says attending playoff games is “one of the great opportunities I have.” He was thrilled to be part of the “electric atmosphere” at Citizens Bank Park on Oct. 6 when the Phillies’ Roy Halladay became only the second pitcher to throw a no-hitter in a postseason game. “Once a fan, always a fan,” he says.

Working nights and weekends never looked so good.

John Higgins: There from the start

Higgins has been with the Rays since Tampa was awarded an expansion franchise in 1995. He was the organization’s first employee, which led him throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Rays’ first-ever playoff game in 2008. Higgins says he is proud that the franchise that never enjoyed a winning season prior to 2008 has now won the American League East twice in three years. Many consider it to be baseball's toughest division.

“Anyone can say when a team wins the first one that it’s an aberration, a fluke, but when you win the American League East twice in three years it really is a credit to the players, the coaching staff, and the entire organization that you’ve done something the right way it seems,” Higgins says.

[Read a Duke Law profile of John Higgins]

In 1992, Higgins represented the city of St. Petersburg and a group of investors in litigation surrounding Major League Baseball’s refusal of an agreement to relocate the San Francisco Giants to the Tampa area. The group’s continuing efforts eventually contributed to Tampa Bay being awarded an expansion franchise in March 1995, at which time Higgins became the team's general counsel.

He experienced 10 consecutive losing seasons before the Rays made an unlikely postseason run in 2008 followed by this year’s return trip to the playoffs. While Higgins is thrilled by the team’s recent run of success, he notes that postseason baseball is not all fun and games. His sizable playoff task list included such items as dealing with ticketing and stadium issues, working with the city council to pass an ordinance protecting against counterfeit merchandising and ticketing, and interfacing with local merchants and fans. He says there are “thousands of things to be done” once a team qualifies for the playoffs and that prior experience makes those tasks less complicated.

“It’s never easy, but it seems an awful lot easier this time for all the people in our organization to get ready for the post-season because it has been done before,” Higgins says. “A lot of people don’t understand that although we play in the games we don’t control the games. Major League Baseball does. They have their own rules, regulations, and procedures that have to be followed under the postseason manual. You have a much more stringent regulatory process that has to be followed to make sure everything is followed in terms of baseball’s rules and your own rules.”

Now that the Rays season is over, Higgins and his colleagues will start gearing up for next year.

“It continues to be a busy time getting ready for next year from a financial standpoint and an overall planning standpoint,” he says. “There’s really not much of a break in baseball. Maybe a little bit between Christmas and New Years, but other than that there’s really not much of an off-season from a work standpoint.”
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