Agent Scott Boras is changing the business of baseball
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.--A few weeks into the young baseball season, a staffer delivers a sheaf of statistics--pages and pages of obscure numbers--to Scott Boras, halting him in midsentence. A minute passes in silence as he pores over the figures, as if searching for some eternal truth. He finally comes away shaking his head. "All this stuff about OPS"--on-base percentage plus slugging percentage--"nonsense," he scoffs. The problem, according to baseball's most powerful and controversial agent, is that on-base percentage depends on walks, and "it is being a great slugger and a great hitter that allows you to get the walks," he implores. So the number to watch, he explains, is slugging percentage plus batting average. And which major-league player currently leads in that category? Kansas City Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran, one of many stars in Boras's galaxy of high-profile clients and apparently next in line for a Scott Boras jaw-dropping, eye-popping contract.
It's because of just such contracts that Boras has earned titles such as "the real commissioner of baseball" and "baseball's most hated man." Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal says his hard-line negotiating and innovative thinking changed the amateur draft. Whether those titles and claims are accurate or not depends on your point of view. They do, however, attest to one truth on which the entire baseball community can agree: Boras, a former .283-hitting second baseman and center fielder in the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs organizations who never made it beyond the AA minor level, has certainly come a long way.
The 51-year-old superagent represents 65 major-league players who collectively will take home $230 million this season--an average annual salary of more than $3.5 million, well above the league average of $2.5 million. Boras's clients include a significant number of the sport's most talented, highest-paid players, including the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds, the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams, and Greg Maddux, the longtime Atlanta Braves ace who's now with the Chicago Cubs. The deals Boras has negotiated are legendary: more than a quarter of a billion dollars over 10 years from the Texas Rangers for Rodriguez (who has since been traded to New York), $105 million over seven years from the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Kevin Brown (also now with the Yankees), and $18 million a year for Bonds.
Boras's uncanny ability to coax outsize pay packages out of team owners is a force, his critics contend, behind many of the national pastime's problems: a large imbalance between rich and poor teams, distrust between players and owners, and a trend among players to judge themselves solely by the number of zeroes on their paychecks. "He makes these outrageous contract demands and always winds up getting someone to agree to them,"says Tom Schieffer, former president of the Texas Rangers and now the U.S. ambassador to Australia. "They oftentimes turn out not to be good for the player or the team, or baseball itself."
Boras sees it differently. "It's not about the amount or the number," he says. "It's the fairness."As good attorneys do, he represents his clients without reservation, doing whatever it takes to secure the most advantageous deal; to get players exactly what Boras believes they are really worth. Is that bad for baseball? "Big contracts are important. They create stars and bring people to the ballpark. Remember when A-Rod was signed" in December 2000? he asks, referring to Rodriguez. "It's basketball and football season, and he's the biggest story."