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Powerful Boras Holds Many of the Free-Agent Cards

November 29, 1998|JON HEYMAN | NEWSDAY

CLEVELAND — 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.

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