When a teenage baseball player named Kent Hrbek was on the cusp of signing a multimillion contract with the Minnesota Twins, he followed the advice of Ron Simon, a trial lawyer he met right before signing his first big deal.
“He always said, ‘You hit the fastballs; I’ll take care of everything else,’ ” Hrbek recalled.
Simon kept his end of the bargain, as did Hrbek. Their professional relationship lasted a decade longer than Hrbek’s baseball career, their friendship lasted until Simon’s death on Nov. 12. He was 84.
Simon was a Twin Cities trial lawyer with a national reputation, and a pioneering sports attorney who represented celebrated draft picks in all four major professional sports including Paul Molitor, Ahmad Rashad, Kevin McHale and Neal Broten.
Simon recounted his trailblazing career representing some of the best-known athletes and media figures, including broadcaster Pat Miles, in “The Game Behind the Game: Negotiating in the Big Leagues.”
His son, Steve Simon, said the book illustrated his expertise in making a deal.
“He used sports negotiations to drive home key negotiating principles,” Simon said. “He was really proud of that.”
Simon grew up in St. Paul, where his father ran a children’s clothing company. He went to Central High School, got his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota and graduated from the U’s law school — fourth in his class — in 1957.
After a stint in the Army, Simon started practicing law in Minneapolis. He was known for being an aggressive but compassionate trial lawyer, Steve Simon said, who was relatable and an expert at distilling complex ideas into accessible and understandable terms.
“He never talked down to people, but he was tenacious,” he said.
Simon’s interest in law stemmed largely from a passion for representing the underdog, so his favorite case was a medical malpractice suit filed on behalf of a woman from the Iron Range who became incapacitated during a medical procedure.
There was a sense during those days that doctors were beyond reproach. Simon represented her family, which had been crushed by medical bills, winning what was then the largest medical malpractice verdict in the state.
“He had been told that you’re not going to get anywhere because in that community and in that area these docs are like gods,” Simon said. “Not only did it happen, but it was a huge victory.”
Simon’s transition to full-time sports agent was a seamless marriage of his passion for contracts and sports.
In college and beyond, Simon was an accomplished athlete with a passion for tennis, skiing, running and boating.
Simon said that his father was deeply devoted to his family and friends, and had a great sense of humor, and a soothing way of making the people close to him feel like everything was going to be all right.
Often, he said, clients became friends.
Hrbek, who lost his dad in the early 1980s, said Simon kept his promise to make sure he could keep playing ball in the Twin Cities, and that he’d always have enough money to eat at McDonald’s and buy a dozen minnows whenever he wanted. He also become something of a father figure.
“He took so much weight off my shoulders,” Hrbek said. “You have to trust somebody; I trusted Ron.”
Simon, who lived with Parkinson’s disease, was preceded in death by his wife, Marlen “Schatzi.” In addition to Steve Simon, he is survived by a daughter, Andrea, and three grandchildren. Services have been held.