Powerful Boras Holds Many of the Free-Agent Cards
It is hard to find Scott Boras, harder still to keep up with him. Baseball’s most powerful, prepared and feared agent hops from one spartan airport hotel to the next, conducting clandestine meetings, discussing possible $100 million contracts and upsetting owners such as the New York Yankees’ George Steinbrenner and the San Diego Padres’ John Moores, almost daily. Boras has slept in the same Atlanta airport hotel four days this week, and it must feel like home.
Boras made his first appearance in his Newport Beach house on Thanksgiving. For real. His wife, Jeanette, found him recently in one of those airport hotels to deliver the news that she and their three kids had moved out of their 1,800-square-foot tract home off in Newport Beach last week and gone to a more exclusive section of that ocean town.
“She said, ‘Oh, by the way, here’s our new phone number. We’ve moved,’ ” Boras said.
Boras’ first question? “Where’s my computer?”
This is a man with a star-packed client list and few pretenses. His only jewelry is a St. Louis Cardinals watch from the ‘70s commemmorating a minor-league achievement, before his playing career was curtailed by a torn-up knee. There is no Rolex or Cartier, no pinkie ring. He bought his 1992 Mercedes used.
Boras entered the Cleveland Marriott the other day in tight warmup shorts, a T-shirt and an ill-fitting Dodgers cap that looked as if it was possibly worn by Duke Snider. Everything of value resided inside his plain, brown briefcase, enough data to keep Boras talking until he gets home for turkey. Numbers inside there make client Bernie Williams look like he’s Mickey Mantle. After 20 minutes, you start looking around for Williams’ Cooperstown plaque.
Boras quizzed his visitor in Cleveland. “The seven [center fielders] who have won Gold Gloves and gone 100-100 [runs and RBI] . . . what title has every one of the other players won?” Boras posed.
The seven are Mantle, Willie Mays, Fred Lynn, Dale Murphy, Kirby Puckett, Ken Griffey and Wiliams.
“MVP,” Boras said. “You want to know where Bernie Williams is heading. Data says . . . he’s the only one not to win the MVP award.”
Nobody would suspect such a personable man has baseball’s big-market owners alternately cowering, pleading, cringing and accusing. Competing agents despise Boras (he doesn’t talk to them), general managers fear him and owners are rattled by him. “He doesn’t concern himself with his relationship with anybody. He has a job to do, and he’s going to do it to the best of his ability,” Detroit Tigers general manager Randy Smith said. “Some guys are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Scott’s very direct.”
Boras, a youngish 46, looks as if he’s built for a fight. He’s probably fitter now than when he was a good-hitting, hard-handed third baseman, and he leads with a prominent chin. After the chin come the words. Unlike the chin, there is no end to the words.
Agents, whose take is typically 3 percent to 4 percent of their client’s contracts less expenses, are not baseball’s best-liked people (ranking near sportswriters), but whole cities despise Boras. Chicago is recovering now from the departure of Greg Maddux in 1992. The irony is that Boras’ law-school tuition was paid by the Cubs, in a goodwill gesture by then-GM Bob Kennedy. When J.D. Drew rejected the Philadelphia Phillies’ $3 million offer, sat out a year and went to St. Louis for $8.5 million, Boras was lambasted.
“I realize I may may not be popular in Philadelphia, but the truth is, that player was a premium player, and we had to extract a value the player felt, after we gave him information, was right,” Boras said. “Those kind of decisions are not going to embrace you with ownership. But once they’re done, I am most proud of the fact we’re just being honest with the game. But for baseball . . . Baseball got me a scholarship. Baseball got me into law school. And baseball has given me a livelihood.”
Some baseball executives see mostly red when they see Boras (in their eyes and financial ledgers), so they may miss the admirable qualities. When he boasts, it is usually about the successes of his players, on and off the field. His players stay out of trouble, and remarkably, not one of his 45 players is divorced, according to Boras. “Those are some of the best negotiations I’ve done,” he said.
Nobody is more dedicated to his job. “I am not a party guy at all,” Boras said. “I am not the type of guy who’s going to participate in activities not representative of a father and husband. There’s a lot of agents who hit strip clubs with players. That’s just not me.”
Strip clubs? Boras never leaves the hotel, except for the airport.
Boras grew up on an Elk Grove, Calif., farm, 12 miles from Sacramento. He would rise at 5 a.m. to plow fields before squeezing in some baseball before school. “I didn’t like it alone in that field with a tractor,” Boras said. In the days before Walkmen, he’d tuck an earplug under his San Francisco Giants cap and listen to radio announcer Russ Hodges spout about Mays.
Now it is Boras talking about center fielders, the main subject being Williams. With the help of 17 workers at the Scott Boras Corp., his computer spits out so much he is better-armed than client Kevin Brown. He talks numbers, but Steinbrenner wants to hear numbers. Steinbrenner, frustrated by Boras’ refusal to divulge hinted-at bids approaching $100 million, publicly begged Boras to come clean with them.
(On Wednesday, Williams re-signed with the Yankees, a seven-year contract worth $87.5 million.)
Moores, a calm man who is the antithesis of Steinbrenner, was so wound up after meeting Boras about Brown that Moores told Bloomberg News, “Boras is talking about absolutely crazy, wacko numbers that are going to be detrimental to the game. They will drive ticket prices up around America.”
Like no other agent, Boras gets under the skins of baseball’s rich and powerful. His clients swear by him, baseball execs swear about him (but never at him). It all comes down to what he says, and what they believe. Boras does not reveal offers to other teams, so it’s a guessing game. Almost every executive contacted by Newsday said they have doubts when Boras makes claims, but none will prove he lies. Or even say that he does, and put their name to it. It’s true Boras is not above mostly harmless exaggeration in conversations with reporters. After Brien Taylor suffered a career-wrecking shoulder injury in a neighborhood fight, Boras maintained that it was “a bruise.” Boras often will shave a year or two off his clients’ ages, and in fact said he was 45 when he actually turned 46 on Nov. 2, according to St. Louis Cardinals records.
Skeptical of Boras’ hints about bigger offers for Williams, the Yankees did not move off their five-year, $60 million bid for two weeks. They didn’t believe Boras was coming close to Mike Piazza’s seven-year, $91 million deal. It is high-stakes poker, and Boras is a champion at it.
“I love it. I had a reporter call me last night, and he said to me that the GMs don’t believe you have what you have. And I go, ‘I’ve been in this business 21 years, and the greatest thing is, find one piece of evidence to support the claim that I’ve puffed the market,’ ” Boras said. “This GM called me on the phone, and I told him six years was the market. And he told me four. And I said, ‘Fine, we’ll go in another direction.’ If you don’t have six, do you go in another direction? Do you go another way?”
This scene is played out every winter. Three winters ago it was Kenny Rogers. According to Boras, Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer called him a liar when Boras told him he had a four-year offer. Rogers signed for four years, $20 million with the Yankees. Boras said, “I called back [Schieffer], who called me a liar. He wouldn’t take my call.” Schieffer didn’t return Newsday’s calls, either.
Kansas City Royals GM Herk Robinson said he stopped doubting Boras after Jay Bell. Robinson offered Bell about $15 million, and Boras told him he wasn’t even close. “Sure enough, he was right,” Robinson said. Bell, a fading shortstop, got $34 million for five years from the new Arizona Diamondbacks. Everyone gasped. “Unfortunately, he’s been right in a number of situations,” Robinson said.
Boras’ client list is superb, particularly the pitchers, who include Greg Maddux, Andy Benes, Steve Avery, Tim Belcher, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, Jim Abbott and Brown. He has superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez, and he is three deep in potential outfield stars, with Andruw Jones, Drew and Williams. “I think Scott does a great job with his clients,” said Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti. “He’s got a certain breed of guys. They’re tough guys. They’re willing to roll the dice, and they’re willing to let him lead them. And they’ve had incredible success doing it. Look at his client list. There’s not a weak-kneed guy on it. They’re all gunslingers.”
Williams is soft-spoken with the heart of a killer, and he rejected safe multiyear offers from the Yankees three consecutive winters. Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden said of Boras, “He’s got a certain style. He’s never been real compassionate delivering players to certain clubs . . . If a player comes up through the system, loyalty is not the No. 1 priority. They’ll take the best contract if it means going to another organization. But it’s really the player. It’s unfair when people criticize an agent for a lack of loyalty.”
Said another exec, “I don’t think he cares a lot about his players’ happiness. He likes to set records for money.”
Boras denies that his players simply follow him and the money. Abbott rejected a four-year, $16 million offer from the California Angels and was sent to the Yankees in 1992, nearly moving him to tears. Boras is defiant. “The real reason Jim turned that down was the new ownership--Jackie Autry had taken over--and Bryan Harvey was left unprotected. That was Jim Abbott’s decision,” Boras said. “I just laid it out for him. They offered him John Smoltz money, and at the time he was not the caliber of Jim Abbott.”
Boras continued, “Greg Maddux took $7 million less to go to Atlanta [than the Yankees offered]. Alex Fernandez took less to go to Florida. He was offered $40 million by the Cleveland Indians. Kevin Brown took less to go to Florida. My job is to determine the market, not to decide what market to go to.”
The question now is whether Brown, 33, will get six years.
Boras makes big claims, and he usually delivers. “His track record speaks for itself,” Bowden said. “Scott knows when to act mad, when to laugh and when to cry. He’s got all the emotions. You can’t criticize anyone for trying to do his job to the best of his ability. He’s one of the best.” Boras recently left a vitriolic answering-machine message for Bowden after Bowden made public his funny, seven-year, $1-million-a-year offer to Williams [not funny to Boras, who thought Bowden was mocking him]. ‘I didn’t think it was very good, but it’s all we could afford,” Bowden said. “He laughed at me and told me I was crazy.”