Why MLB Fans Need to Give Super-Agent Scott Boras a Break
If baseball fans were to pen a screenplay about Scott Boras, baseball's most infamous agent, the result would surely be a horror film.
It would open with ominous music playing over a wide shot of a haunted house. Then Boras would be shown scowling on a throne of skulls, or perhaps regenerating in one of the globe things that Darth Vader had in The Empire Strikes Back. Then he would go and do things that villains do.
For Boras certainly is a villain in the eyes of baseball fans. Even I have used the dreaded "V" word in conjunction with Boras in the past. I'm sure I've also referred to him as evil. Whenever I've had to discuss his dealings, such words have tended to come naturally.
It's past time I gave Boras a break. And if you're like me, a soul who lives and breathes baseball, it's past time you gave him a break too. He's not such a bad guy.
You're going to have to hear me out on this one.
It was Ken Rosenthal's report on FoxSports.com that got me to thinking (and then to reading and thinking some more). The word is that Boras is planning on opening up a private fitness center for his clients in South Florida, and his intentions should sit well with John and Jane Q. Baseball Fan.
Boras wants to do his part to promote baseball's integrity, and he also wants to protect players from making the kinds of mistakes that have apparently been all too common in South Florida.
In what comes off as being a direct response to Anthony Bosch and the Biogenesis mess, Boras said (via Rosenthal):
There has been recently an unusual frequency of Latin players who have been subjected to rogue information and to individuals portraying themselves to be medically trained when they’re not.
We want to make sure we’re making every effort to advance the credibility and understanding of what major league players must abide by and also to protect them from the influences of many of these supposed medical practitioners who are availing themselves to the players.
Boras said that the South Florida facility will help educate his clients about PEDs, which he thinks is a crucial first step in protecting the overall integrity of the game:
...we’re only as good as the information that we have. These processes [at the training centers] are designed to further the communication, the understanding and our knowledge so we can do our best to promote the integrity of the game, advance the careers of players and also allow the teams that employ them to have a greater sense of trust and understanding about players.
Yes, promoting integrity in a place where baseball and integrity haven't gone hand in hand makes Boras look good. And yes, he stands to benefit from a reality (or at least a perception) that his clients are the cleanest players in baseball thanks to the opportunities he's going to arrange for them.
But look at it this way: It would be a lot easier for Boras to benefit financially off his clients if he encouraged them to take PEDs. Instead, he's spending time, effort and money to make sure his clients are clean, and that should please everyone.
After all, both Major League Baseball and the fans want a clean game. It's a very, very good thing that Boras wants his clients to play a clean game, as his clients tend to be superstar players with considerable public appeal. Baseball needs as many clean stars as it can get, and Boras means to keep the league well stocked with them.
And don't think this is just some passing fancy. Boras' South Florida facility will not be the first of its kind, as he's been operating one in Southern California for nearly a decade.
The SoCal facility, located in Aliso Viejo, comes off as being a kind of secret installation, and that's because Boras prefers it to be that way. Fellow B/R Lead Writer Will Carroll told me that Boras likes to keep the SoCal center on the down-low. He doesn't brag about it. And in choosing to do so, he's long denied himself some due credit.
The SoCal facility is run by two men with legit baseball credibility. Per Rosenthal's article, the fitness program is run by Steve Odgers, who used to be a strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago White Sox. The "mental-development" program is run by Don Carman, a former pitcher who got a degree in sports psychology after his playing career.
The South Florida center will be run by Alex Ochoa, another former player.
This is characteristic of a unique philosophy Boras has for running his business. He supposedly has it imprinted on his mind that only those who have played the game can speak with those who are playing the game.
So naturally, Boras has a ton of former players working under him as agents, runners and so on. The active ballplayers getting the multi-million contracts thanks to his guidance are not the only ballplayers he's taking care of.
Boras himself is a former player. He played four seasons in the minor leagues in the 1970s, at one point making the Florida State League's All-Star team. His career was ultimately undone by health woes. If he was going to make it in baseball, it wasn't going to be as a player.
And herein lies another part of the Boras saga that fans should be able to appreciate. His rise from non-prospect minor leaguer to the most powerful agent in baseball has a unique narrative. He burst onto the agent scene like a Mike Trout or a Bryce Harper. He was an instant prodigy.
After he was done playing, Boras went and got a Doctor of Pharmacy (which gives him the authority to speak about PEDs) and a law degree and eventually decided to give player representation a go in the early 1980s. His first major client was a reliever named Bill Caudill, who became the first player to benefit from Boras' magic.
Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus penned a great piece last January about the drama that Boras and Caudill went through following the 1984 season, in which Caudill had saved 36 games with a 2.71 ERA. Boras said Caudill's contract negotiations were his "first introduction to owners and negotiators."
As you might expect, Boras owned the proceedings.
Boras started negotiations with the Toronto Blue Jays before Christmas in 1984, and he supposedly rejected a multi-million offer that would have been the largest contract in club history. After that, the two sides went to arbitration. The Blue Jays filed for $850,000.
Several months later, Boras scored a five-year, $8.7 million contract mere minutes before an arbitration hearing was set to begin. It was roughly the same contract that Rickey Henderson had gotten that same offseason, all for a reliever with a modest track record of success.
In essence, Scott Boras was Scott Boras from the very beginning.
He was even doing the same Scott Boras things that he does now that he was doing back then. With a little help from his wife, Boras poured through mountains of statistics and other information to build an airtight case that Caudill deserved the kind of money he was demanding. In the end, the Blue Jays couldn't argue with him.
That should sound familiar, especially to anyone who read the piece Jerry Crasnick wrote for ESPN in winter of 2011 about "The Book" Boras put together to sell Prince Fielder to prospective employers. He had to wait a while, but he eventually got Fielder a nine-year contract worth $214 million. All it took was for Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch to take The Book's gospel to heart.
That was a reminder that Boras always gets his deal. We get a few such reminders every year, with the latest being the $28 million deal Boras got for veteran closer Rafael Soriano. That contract was signed mere days after Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote that Boras had overplayed his hand with Soriano by having him opt out of his contract with the New York Yankees.
So it goes. There's always someone saying this or that about how Boras needs to slow down, back up and, above all, compromise. Instead, he always gets his way. He always wins.
Win once, and people like you. Win a couple times, and people sing songs of your glory. Win every time, however, and people get sick of you and learn to loathe you.
The Yankees can vouch. So can Boras. He's hated because he's just too darn good at his job. He's frustratingly good at it, in fact, and his success is all the more frustrating to behold because of how sleazy his job is by its very nature. He makes money by making other people money.
But kids these days have a saying: Don't hate the player, hate the game. That's all too appropriate in Boras' case. He should get it tattooed somewhere (assuming he hasn't already).
Boras didn't invent free agency or high baseball salaries. These things arrived thanks to the late Marvin Miller. All Boras has done since he first burst onto the scene in the 1980s is turn free agency into something almost as big in importance as the season itself, all the while making high baseball salaries increasingly higher.
Fans whine and moan about big contracts, but they're what the system allows. He's a not-insignificant reason why the average MLB salary is up over $3 million, and for why so many of the world's highest-paid athletes are baseball players.
For one man to have as much influence as Boras has had is impressive. So much so, in fact, that he would be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame if agents were allowed in (and they may be someday).
Boras is not Darth Vader. He's not the Joker. He's not a villain at all, really. He's just a guy who's really, really good at his job. He always has been, and the expansion of his Southern California operation to South Florida shows that he's only becoming more concerned with doing his job the right way.
Coming to like Boras? That may be impossible.
But ceasing to hate him? It's worth a shot.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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