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Running Down Scott Boras

Baseball Owners Hate His Tactics, Fans Despise His Influence. No Wonder His Player-Clients Love Him.

April 08, 2001|ROSS NEWHAN | Ross Newhan, The Times' National Baseball Writer, has covered the sport for 40 years. He will be inducted into the writers wing of baseball's Hall of Fame in August

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."

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