RUNNING DOWN SCOTT BORAS
Scott Dean Boras has a doctorate in industrial pharmacology and a law degree from the University of the Pacific. He has done quite nicely for a former minor league infielder who recognized his limitations as a player and considered baseball--as he still does for young players--to be an opportunity rather than a career. His career, he envisioned, would be in medical malpractice,
but life takes strange twists. The opportunity ultimately became the career, and now Boras spends a lot of time defending his own practice--for, at 48, he is the most renowned, and reviled, player agent in baseball.
“I hear it all,” Boras says, relaxing on a February afternoon at his office in the Scott Boras Law Corp. in Irvine. “I get booed in stadiums now, confronted by fans and yelled at by club officials. I’m the whipping boy, the guy who’s destroying the game, pushing teams to the limit. Tell me. Is this Doomsday III or IV? I keep forgetting.”
A new season is starting amid familiar concerns over soaring salaries--the major league average is now $1.9 million. A disparity in team revenue, some claim, threatens competitive balance. Another winter of high finance saw Boras again lead an assault on the salary scale.
During an 18-day span two years earlier, he established industry records with the signings of Dodger Kevin Brown and New York Yankee Bernie Williams. Then, last December, he set a record for an American athlete in any sport, signing shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers. The stunning agreement was merely one of several Boras signings that accentuated his scorched-earth reputation for squeezing the last dollar out of every negotiation.
“There are several agents I’d be willing to hand my last nickel to, knowing I’d get it back with interest,” says Seattle Mariner President Chuck Armstrong, whose team lost Rodriguez to the Rangers. “There are several agents whose honesty is such that you can bank on what they tell you. Scott’s methods work for him, but I’d prefer to deal with an agent I can trust.”
SCOTT BORAS HAS 57 MAJOR LEAGUE CLIENTS, many among baseball’s elite. He has signed players to more than $1 billion in salaries, with his current clientele guaranteed more than $800 million, of which Boras receives 5%. He also represents 35 minor leaguers. It is little wonder that Baseball America magazine ranks him as the industry’s fifth most powerful person, ahead of every owner and agent and behind only Don Fehr, head of the players union, Commissioner Bud Selig and Selig assistants Paul Beeston and Sandy Alderson.
Boras almost certainly would be ranked even higher by many general managers and owners on any Most Feared and/or Hated list. He is regarded as the Lord of the Loophole, understanding and exploiting the rules to drive signing bonuses to record heights in the draft of amateur players. His representation has sometimes prompted clubs to avoid drafting his clients. He has been accused by other agents of stealing their players and accused by clubs of creating markets where there are none by insisting he has competing offers when there are none.
“It’s as if in dealing with me teams suddenly short-circuit and become dysfunctional,” Boras says. “Did I mislead the Dodgers [when they signed Brown to a seven-year, $105-million contract]? Did I misread the market or mislead the Rangers [in the signing of Rodriguez]? I know that’s out there, but it’s a pretty arrogant and transparent position to suggest that the Dodgers and Rangers are market patsies.”
Perhaps, but San Diego Padres President Larry Lucchino suggested as much when Brown left the Padres as a free agent to sign with the Dodgers. Lucchino accused Boras of spreading misinformation about offers other teams had made for Brown, and he blasted the Dodgers for allegedly paying $40 million more than the next-highest offer--even if Colorado Rockies co-owner Jerry McMorris would subsequently acknowledge he was prepared to make an offer that would have put him in the ballpark with the Dodger proposal.
Like many baseball executives who know they will probably have to deal with Boras at one time or another, Lucchino chooses his words carefully, but his disdain for Boras is evident. “I’ve had the occasion to deal with Scott Boras several times, and I’ll save my comments and critiques for a more private audience. I have other fish to fry, but he’s one of the factors prompting the Padres to reexamine our policies in regard to dealing with players and agents.”
Armstrong is more direct. “Maybe Scott saved us a lot of time, energy and eventual heartache by the way he handled the negotiations,” says the Seattle executive whose club’s offer of $90 million over five years to retain Rodriguez fell far short. “I mean, he consistently told us he had several offers that met his parameters. I said, ‘You mean 10 years, 12 years?’ He said, ‘Yes. Several.’ Ultimately, that did not appear to be the case. Ultimately, Texas seemed to be out there alone.”
Boras, of course, denies that he has ever misrepresented offers, but “in a game of poker, I don’t have to show my hand. At the same time, I’ve been in the business for 23 years, and every time I’ve said I have something, I’ve really had it. A few years ago, the Rangers president [Tom Schieffer at the time] came into my office and called me a liar to my face, saying there was no way I had a four-year offer for [pitcher] Kenny Rogers. I said, ‘Thank you and get out.’ The next day Kenny signed with the Yankees for four years.”
Boras shakes his head, wondering exactly how he is destroying the game. Didn’t the industry set an attendance record last year? he asks. Hasn’t revenue almost doubled to more than $3 billion in the five years since owners forced the players into the devastating strike of 1994-95? Aren’t more than half the teams playing in new or renovated stadiums, with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee joining that list this year? Won’t the acquisition of Rodriguez help Texas owner Tom Hicks to develop property he owns surrounding the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, and enhance ad and marketing sales? Heck, Boras adds, isn’t the real problem mismanagement by some clubs rather than misrepresentation by a certain agent?
“People talk about a need to increase revenue sharing as a way to put teams on equal footing,” Boras says. “I think there’s a need for more intellect sharing.”
In a star-driven business, Boras has cornered his own galaxy. In addition to Rodriguez, Brown and Williams, his clients include pitchers Greg Maddux, Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho Park; outfielders Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Juan Gonzalez and Johnny Damon, and third baseman Adrian Beltre. Between November and January alone, Boras negotiated the Rodriguez blockbuster with Texas; got Dreifort a five-year, $55-million deal with the Dodgers that created almost as much industry consternation as the Rodriguez contract because Dreifort has a history of physical problems and has lost more games in his career than he’s won; signed catcher Charles Johnson to a five-year, $35-million contract with Florida; negotiated a one-year, $10-million contract for Gonzalez with Cleveland; signed Park to a one-year, $9.9-million deal with the Dodgers; and got Damon a one-year, $7.1-million contract with Oakland after he had been traded by Kansas City.
For three straight years, starting in 1996, Boras negotiated the largest contracts ever for pitchers: a $35-million deal for Alex Fernandez with Florida, a $57.5-million contract for Maddux with Atlanta, and Brown’s $105-million deal with the Dodgers.
Understandably, Boras’ record makes him a hit with the members of the players union, whose bottom line is the bottom line.
“Scott Boras is one of the great agents in the industry, and none of the slanders bandied about by clubs or agents is going to change that because the players he has serviced understand what he does for them,” says Gene Orza, the union’s associate general counsel. “The best barometer for assessing Boras is the degree to which the clubs do not like him, and there is a reason the clubs do not like him. He isn’t less honorable than other agents. He isn’t less personable. They don’t like him because he doesn’t care if they like him, and it comes down to this: However he’s characterized by jealous agents or disaffected clubs, all he cares about is the singular interest of his players.”
If Boras has exploited the star concept, he didn’t create it. Don’t the owners cater to it, Boras says, with their luxury suites and premium seats? Isn’t the business, in reality, about the 70 or 80 players who establish the scale and draw the fans, and don’t the 700 or so other players simply follow in the their wake?
“My only responsibility is to make sure my players play and play well, to provide them with the support they need to do that, and to make sure they receive whatever the market is, whether it’s good or bad, up or down,” he says. “My job is to read and define the market, not create it, and if I’m considered to be someone who’s destroying the game, then I pat myself on the back because I assume I’m also involved enough to take credit for the fact that the majority of franchises are doing very well. That’s not to say I want that credit or take it. To me, it’s a privilege to be part of the game, even a privilege to be booed. There have been Hall of Fame players booed. It’s my conduct and behavior that matters, not my reputation.”
He pauses, smiles and adds, “I just slip on a bulletproof vest and go with it.”
THE WALLS OF A CONFERENCE ROOM NEXT TO BORAS’ OFFICE ARE PAPERED in dollar signs, a seemingly appropriate logo except that they represent more than a Boras trademark. The walls are covered with the yearly salaries of every major league player for the past decade, a quick reference as Boras and staff prepare in early February for salary arbitration hearings involving four clients later that month.
The hearings are to be held in Phoenix, where Boras will establish his war room in a downtown hotel, bringing in a battery of computers, phones and associates. Preparation is essential, he says. It’s the foundation of his program (as illustrated by the $35,000 he spent on a 70-plus-page brochure cataloging Rodriguez’s accomplishments as he went on the market). Equally important, the agent says, are Passion, Persistence and Prayer.
Some in baseball shake their heads over the contracts he has achieved and insist he must also be employing a fifth P, as in Pistol. There is no evidence, however, that he has ever pointed a weapon at a reluctant general manager. If anything, it’s the man across the table who has brandished the weapon. Like the president of a National League club who was so frustrated with Boras’ demands that he pulled off a shoe, a la Khrushchev, and waved it at the agent. Like the exasperated finance officer of another National League club who used his elbow to punch a hole in the executive’s office wall.
The only way to succeed in negotiations with Boras, says Fred Claire, former Dodgers general manager, is “to try to be as prepared as he is, and that takes a lot of homework, and to be as strong-willed as he is, which takes a lot of determination. He’s going to take almost every negotiation to the last hour and use every bit of leverage he can, but I don’t find that objectionable. He’s operating within the system, and it comes down to this: There’s no way Boras can make a deal if the club doesn’t want to make a deal, so as a general manager, you have to ask yourself, ‘Are you willing to walk away?’ ”
That’s not easy. Jeanette, Boras’ wife, couldn’t do it. Boras spent six months talking her into their first date. Now they have three children and are building a house in Newport Beach that will have a batting cage under the garage for his two sons primarily, and himself, when he feels the need for some tranquilizing hacks. Of course, he isn’t home much, traveling more than 100,000 miles a year and visiting a ballpark almost every night during the season. In 1998, when Jeanette moved the family from their Newport tract house into a larger house in a more exclusive area, she tracked him down at an airport hotel with the news. “By the way,” she said, “here’s our new phone number.”
Separation is one price of persistence and preparation. The goal, Boras says, is not the last dollar but the long-range success of every client and contract. This requires that he stay on top of their situations by arriving at the ballpark in midafternoon to watch batting practice, talk with coaches and managers, get beyond the statistics, the obvious.
In that regard, says Claire, “I think Scott gives as much good off-the-field advice and cares as much about his players as any agent. There were times I ran into problems with players and called the agent to ask, ‘Is this just my problem or do you have a part in getting it resolved?’ I never had to make that call to Scott. He was on top of it.”
One of the most recent examples is Adrian Beltre. The Dodgers were concerned about their third baseman’s performance and behavior during the first half of last season. Boras sensed it, and sat with him for three hours in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after a night game, discussing focus. Beltre responded with a big second half. Similarly, Dodger pitcher Chan Ho Park enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2000 after hiring Boras, whom the club credited with helping the sometimes emotional pitcher find a comfort level. It was also Boras who talked the Dodgers into making Dreifort a starting pitcher after surgery for elbow reconstruction in 1995.
“He talked me into it as well,” Dreifort says. “I never considered myself anything but a reliever. He not only seems to be head and shoulders above the rest in preparation, but he knows the game, knows what it is to be a player, the grind, the mental ups and downs.”
Boras represents nine Dodgers. No other agent has that kind of impact and influence on any team. This spring, Boras quieted the combustible situation between Sheffield and Dodger management after the outfielder hired Boras to replace agent Jim Neader. Boras told Sheffield, who has three years remaining on his contract, that he would represent him only if he apologized for his highly public demands that his contract be renegotiated. Sheffield apologized.
Boras is at Dodger Stadium so often, and club Chairman Bob Daly apparently relies on his opinion so regularly, that to an outsider, Boras might seem to have a front office role. Daly says, however, that Boras has never abused their relationship, overstepped his role as an agent or tried to play one of his Dodger clients off another in negotiations with the club. “I like Scott and respect him and I may ask his opinion on a deal or trade that some other club makes, but it would be inappropriate for me to ask his opinion on a Dodger move, and he has never volunteered an opinion,” Daly says. “He has also never attempted to mix his clients, suggesting that if we’d do this or that for one of his players, he’d be willing to do this or that for one of his others. That would be a misuse of his representation and the end of our relationship.”
Yet for all his success, Boras is not immune to player defections. Among those who have fired Boras, citing dissatisfaction either with his aggressive negotiating style or the contract results, are Cleveland second baseman Roberto Alomar and his brother, Chicago catcher Sandy Alomar, Cleveland pitcher Jaret Wright, and catcher Joe Oliver, now with the New York Yankees. “There’s a lot of unprofessionalism in my business,” Boras says. “A lot of agents think only about today. To be successful, you have to be willing to confront your players and be fired.”
His approach meets with much more success than failure. In addition to Sheffield, other stars who have recently severed long ties with their agents and hired Boras include Bonds, Gonzalez and David Segui of the Baltimore Orioles.
In a potentially ugly incident at the annual meeting of general managers in November, agent Tom Tanzer, who represented Segui, angrily confronted Boras and accused him of luring his client away. Boras says he tried to tell Tanzer that it was Segui who had approached him, “but I don’t think Tommy wanted to listen. He was becoming more agitated, and I just walked away before it became worse.” Tanzer did not comment for this article.
Tony Attanasio, a respected agent, says he, too, has had clients approached by Boras or his staff and has asked the union, which certifies agents, to speak with Boras about it. Little has changed, however. “I don’t think the union is scared or intimidated by him, but I think the union appreciates his success in driving up salaries and is reluctant to get on his case,” Attanasio says. “Scott definitely pushes the envelope. I don’t agree with all his methods, but he’s willing to go where some agents only dream of going. Does he exaggerate offers? Well, there have been times when I’ve been negotiating a contract and telling the general manager that I have three or four offers, and he’ll say to me, ‘Tony, do you really have those offers or are you Boras-ing me?’ ”
THERE IS A THEORY AMONG SOME BASEBALL EXECUTIVES THAT BORAS has been determined to make the game pay because of his failure to reach the major leagues as a player, feeling he was “shortchanged, not one of God’s chosen few,” says a National League scouting director. Boras scoffs at that, arguing that he knew from the start that he was limited as a player, and his three knee operations only made it official. If he was out to destroy the game, he says, he would be sacrificing his lifelong love of it and his own clients in the process.
Boras grew up on his parents’ 800-acre farm in Elk Grove, about 30 miles southeast of Sacramento. Family and farm obligations came first, and Boras hated it. He nailed half a tire to a tree and swung a bat at it. He couldn’t wait to get to the ball field or tune in to a San Francisco Giants broadcast. One day, having wired a transistor radio in his cap, he got so excited when Willie McCovey homered to beat the Dodgers that he drove the tractor into a ditch, breaking the axle. His father arrived a moment later and angrily crushed the radio with his hand.
Ultimately, Boras received a baseball scholarship to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization after his senior year and performed well enough to receive a watch from Hall of Famer Stan Musial as the organization’s minor league player of the year. He had the foresight, however, to continue his degree work at the college, recalling that he took finals one summer with Jack Krol, his minor league manager, serving as room monitor, a six-pack by his side.
When ultimately traded and later released by the Chicago Cubs minor league system, Boras says he cried for two days and then returned to class, completing work on the law degree (he already had the doctorate). He landed at a major Chicago firm specializing in medical malpractice and worked 90-hour weeks. He was just getting his feet on the ground when Mike Fischlin, a major league player and friend from Elk Grove, called to say that Bill Caudill, a former Boras teammate, was looking for someone to represent him in negotiations with the Mariners. It was 1984, and Boras won a five-year, $7.5-million contract for Caudill, the first of his record deals. It brought so many calls from other players seeking representation that Boras soon walked out of the law firm and into a new career.
Now under his business umbrella are Impact Sports Marketing and Impact Management Consultants. A staff of 25 at the Irvine-based representation division includes a noted sports psychologist, Harvey Dorfman, a former NASA computer engineer who designed a data program spanning 118 years of baseball, and 10 former players in the United States and Caribbean who--under the direction of Fischlin in Atlanta--help monitor high school players and scout the top amateurs. Boras studies their reports and then personally scouts the top 25 to 30, identifying those who fit his criteria of high developmental potential and the determination to learn and succeed. For instance, Boras first saw Rodriguez when he was 15 and playing in a tournament in Mexico, and first saw Bernie Williams at 16 in Puerto Rico.
Over the years, he has represented seven players who were the top picks in the annual June draft of high school and college players, and 35 who were selected in the first rounds of those drafts. He also has worked with international players not governed by the draft. His signing of 16-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Jackson Melian to a $1.6-million signing bonus with the Yankees helped open the financial door for indigent Latino players.
Yet with these young players, too, suspicions swirl in Boras’ wake. Two years ago, for example, he charged that the Dodgers had signed Beltre before the legal age of 16 in the Dominican Republic and forged documents in the process. After an investigation, the Dodgers were fined, sanctions were leveled against their Dominican operation, and Boras had the leverage to negotiate a three-year, $5.05-million contract for Beltre.
Boras said he came forward soon after learning of the age violation and it was strictly coincidental that the disclosure--made several years after Beltre’s initial signing--didn’t come until after his impressive first full season in the big leagues had greatly enhanced his bargaining power.
In 1997, after Philadelphia picked Florida State junior outfielder J.D. Drew--the No. 2 player selected overall--Boras and the team conducted a volatile negotiation before he and Drew rejected what Boras says was a one-year minor league contract with a $3-million signing bonus. Boras encouraged Drew to play the 1997 season with the St. Paul Saints, an independent league team. He was re-drafted by St. Louis in 1998 and signed a four-year, $8.5-million agreement, a record for a drafted player.
Philadelphia General Manager Ed Wade still doubts Boras was sincere in the original negotiations. “One of the principles we live by is you play by the rules or you work to exact change in the rules, but you don’t spend your time trying to circumvent them or find loopholes. Scott uses any ammunition at his disposal to get his client what he wants and where he wants to be, and I think he went into the Drew negotiations with a hidden agenda. There was no way we could have signed him, no matter what we offered.”
IN BORAS’ VIEW, BASEBALL has to pay top dollar to get today’s multitalented young athletes in light of the lure of other sports. He also believes all the controversy and conversation over high salaries are good for the game.
“When Alex Rodriguez signed his contract,” Boras says, “I’m praying that every mother tells her son, ‘Get out that bat and ball.’ I know fans are puzzled by that kind of money, but I also think people recognize that it’s a healthy industry overall. A majority of people have said to me, ‘If they’re going to pay it, they must have it.’ ”
In Rodriguez’s case, the team expected to pay it was the New York Mets, providing the star with the Big Apple stage on which it was thought he wanted to perform. But negotiations with the Mets never got off the ground. Steve Phillips, the Mets’ general manager, went public early, accusing Boras of seeking too many special marketing privileges and potentially divisive perks, such as the use of a private jet similar to the arrangement he had negotiated for Brown with the Dodgers.
The normally controlled Boras went ballistic, angrily denying that he had made such demands. Phillips ultimately recanted in large measure, leaving the perception that the Mets’ owners simply didn’t want to contribute to a record negotiation. New York’s withdrawal, Boras says, started the phone ringing. How many clubs were actually involved in the Rodriguez negotiation? Was Texas bidding against itself or did Boras really have other cards in his hand?
The questions linger, as they frequently seem to do when Scott Boras is involved. The only certainty is that no other agent has achieved the results, wields as much influence or, as agent Alan Meersand puts it, “continues to fleece the same owners and general managers. It’s beyond impressive. The man has no fear, goes right for the throat, drains every ounce of blood from every deal. Anybody in the player rep business not impressed by the type of contracts and results [he’s achieved] should get out.”