How Scott Boras Became a Baseball Super-Agent

Scott Boras’s emergence as a super-agent over the past 25 years has deeply influenced the course of pro baseball. As an introduction to the man before he became (relatively) famous/infamous, here are excerpts from a couple of long profiles of Boras in the early ’90s. Since the off-season is the time when Boras and his peers are most influential, this is a good time to look at his early career. From the San Diego Union-Tribune of April 1, 1992:

Raised on a dairy farm in Elk Grove, approximately 30 miles from both Sacramento and Stockton, Boras said his dad thought of baseball as a privilege. Only after all the many chores were done was Scott allowed to play or watch a baseball game.

And, although looking more like a stockbroker, Boras still works farmer’s hours. Friends and foes alike say Boras is a tireless workaholic.

“Scott’s a brutal golfer,” said Maddux. “That’s because he works too much, puts in too many hours. We were on the golf course last October and he said, ‘I can’t believe I’ve actually taken two straight days off.’ He sounded guilty about it. I said, ‘C’mon, Scott, relax, willya?’ He couldn’t do it.”

Boras had to burn the candle at both ends at the University of Pacific. Signed by the Cardinals organization, he tried to forge a baseball career while earning a Ph.D. in pharmacology.

“I took my finals at spring training,” said Boras. “I had to have somebody monitor for me. My monitor was my manager, Jack Krol. I’m there taking my finals and he’s right there in the room with me, drinking a six-pack. It was pretty tough to concentrate with him burping.”

Ultimately, finals worked out better than spring training. A promising outfielder until his knees required two surgeries, Boras was moved to the infield, and it was a troublesome transition. He’d pay local coaches to hit him extra ground balls after practice, but in Boras’ case, practice did not make perfect.

“I averaged 32 errors a year,” Boras said. “Fortunately, I always hit .290, so they kept me around.”

For a while anyway. Boras was traded to the Cubs in 1977 and sent back for his fourth and final season in the minors.

“I was the player to be named later for Don Kessinger,” said Boras. “Apparently, the Cubs liked my bat and didn’t value defense.”

A third knee operation made a doctor out of Boras. Out of baseball, he applied his Ph.D. as a research chemist, but that lasted only four months. Ambition took hold again and he decided to seek a law degree.

“Few attorneys have medical degrees, so I thought I could be a successful malpractice attorney,” said Boras. “That, or the president of a drug company.”

Boras became the former, earning his law degree from UOP in 1981 and setting up a practice in Chicago. Two friends and former teammates who’d made the majors, Caudill and infielder Mike Fischlin, drew Boras back toward the game by asking him for legal guidance.

“I really didn’t have an agent I could trust,” said Caudill, a nine-year veteran, now retired and living in Seattle. “My first agent never had time for me, because he was too busy with the veterans. Scott and I had beach bungalows next to each other in St. Petersburg, and I knew even back then that he was honest and fair. There’s just something about him, a truth.”

There’s something about Caudill, too. Trust doesn’t come easy to him. The product of a broken marriage, Caudill said he came home one day and his signing bonus had mysteriously disappeared within his family.

“After that, it became imperative that I be able to trust someone,” Caudill said. “From Day One, I knew I could trust Scott.”

With his life. And with his wife. Caudill said Boras watched over his career, but also his personal life, providing support for Diana Caudill. She said that to this day Boras is probably her best friend.

“I’m not sure Bill and I would still be together if not for Scott,” she said. “When Bill was in baseball, that was his life. There’s not a place for women in this game. We weren’t even allowed to go into the bars the players went to. It was just real frustrating. I had no understanding of it. Scott was always there for me, though, willing to hear my side of it.”

Diana Caudill also recalled how frustrating it was to heed Boras’ advice to remain frugal. You may be making $200,000 a year, Boras told them at the time, but live like you’re only making $35,000.

“He wanted us taken care of,” said Caudill, “not just while I was playing, but for the rest of our lives.”

Now, while most of those who played ball with Caudill have had to find jobs to support their families, the Caudills are living off annuities that will pay off for the next 34 years.

Victory in a tragic Chicago malpractice case made it possible for Boras to become a full-fledged player rep. Representing the parents of a baby who developed cerebral palsy, Boras said he and another attorney proved misuse of medication by a doctor and nurse in the child’s delivery, along with fraudulent record-keeping. Matching the fetal heart rate with the mother’s heart rate and the amount of drugs injected during labor, Boras said, they deduced that the baby was denied sufficient oxygen in birth.

The couple was awarded damages of $3.8 million, one-third of which was split between the two attorneys.

“If I was just interested in money,” said Boras. “I could’ve made more as a malpractice attorney.”

A list of Boras’s clients as of early 1992 included:

Jim Abbott P Angels; Patrick Lennon OF Mariners; Sandy Alomar Jr. C Indians; Mark Lewis SS Indians; Wilson Alvarez P White Sox; Derek Lilliquist P Indians; Jack Armstrong P Indians; Ben McDonald P Orioles; Steve Avery P Braves; Joe Oliver C Reds

Carlos Baerga 2B-3B Indians; Jeff Parrett P Athletics; Tim Belcher P Reds; Bip Roberts OF Reds; Jay Bell SS Pirates; Ivan Rodriguez C Rangers; Andy Benes P Padres; Kenny Rogers P Rangers; Jeff Blauser 2B Braves; Benito Santiago C Padres

Ryan Bowen P Astros; Kurt Stillwell 2B Padres; Kevin Brown P Rangers; Todd Van Poppel P Athletics; Cris Carpenter P Cardinals; Rick Wilkins C Cubs; Alex Fernandez P White Sox; Bernie Williams OF Yankees; Scott Hemond C Athletics

And the Sacramento Bee of April 1, 1993 wrote this about Boras:

It fell to [Donald H.] Wollett, sagely professor at the McGeorge School of Law [at the University of Pacific], to give Boras’ life some definition.

“If you’re a really good lawyer, you’ll know it for one reason,” Wollett told his bright-eyed ex-pupil. “You’ll know it because everyone will dislike you.”

We can only assume, more than 10 years later, that Scott Boras is very, very good.

At age 40, the calculating kid from Elk Grove finds himself as arguably the most powerful agent in baseball. In the 1990s, that makes him an indelible part of the game’s fabric, in the way a coffee stain becomes an indelible part of your favorite shirt or black widows become co-tenants in your dream house.

The game puts up with him because it has to, because Boras simply won’t go away, and because Boras happens to hold the remote that controls everybody from Greg Maddux to Jim Abbott to Sandy Alomar Jr.

But the game doesn’t have to like it. Indeed, if not for the respect and fear they must concede him, baseball’s shakers would surely loathe Boras right off the planet.

“Within baseball circles, I don’t think he’s a guy that anyone wants to find representing their player,” says Chicago Cubs general manager Larry Himes.

“This industry is run by talent,” Boras says. “You know what talent means, and you know that the organizations cannot afford to walk away from talent.

“It has to be exceptional talent. It can’t be just any talent. The key is knowing what is what.”

Boras knows.

He is believed to be the only agent out there with both a minor-league background and a law degree, and the combination has proven electric. Able to scout and identify premiere talent while it’s still green, able to negotiate with a lawyer’s skill on that talent’s behalf, he has hand-picked an all-star roster of clients and showered the group with precedent-setting contracts.

* Andy Benes, baseball’s top draft pick in 1988, a $235,000 signing bonus with San Diego.

* Ben McDonald, a $975,000 package upon his selection by Baltimore in 1989.

* Todd Van Poppel, signed by the A’s out of high school for $1.1 million in 1990.

* Brien Taylor, 18 years old, signed by the New York Yankees out of high school for $1.55 million in 1991.

* Greg Maddux, jumping from the Cubs to the Atlanta Braves this season for $28 million over five years – and spurning a $35 million, five-year offer from the Yankees to do it.

The owners warned him to stay away from their high amateur draft picks; he ignored them. They tried to restructure the amateur draft to undermine him last year; he fought it, and won.

More than once they’ve threatened to freeze him out, influence all players of any value to avoid him. Former Seattle Mariners owner George Argyros once looked him in the eye across a bargaining table and called him a “young punk.”

Boras just kept talking.

“Owners control their own destiny,” Boras says. “I have no control over it. My only function in this system is market definition. And the owners have exclusive control as to accepting that definition.”

Leverage is leverage, and from the start Boras always had an amazing aptitude for building kingdoms atop the tiniest toeholds. Even before he studied law, he shrewdly negotiated his own minor-league contracts after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals out of the University of the Pacific.

“The way I negotiated my contract had nothing to do with what I had to offer them,” Boras says. “I negotiated it on the basis of what I was not earning practicing with my pharmacy degree. I said, “Hey, I’m giving up a lot of money to play professional baseball,’ which I was.

“So consequently they paid me very, very well, by (minor-league) standards. I mean, one year I made like $19,000.”

His real antagonism toward the game didn’t begin until 1983. By then he’d long since terminated his five-year stint in the minors, made a stop at McGeorge, and gone to work using his law and pharmacy degrees as a malpractice lawyer in Chicago.

Fischlin and Cubs pitcher Bill Caudill were his only baseball clients, mostly because both were former teammates – Fischlin at Elk Grove High School, Caudill in the Cubs’ farm system.

Then one day Boras approached Tim Belcher, the first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins, and Kurt Stillwell, the first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds. He sold himself as the only lawyer/ex-player they would ever find in the agent business.

Both players bit and a war was born.

“The Twins called and said, “You don’t come in and represent drafted players. If you’re any kind of a real agent, you’ll represent players who are already in the big leagues,’ ” Boras says.

“And I just kind of went, “Oh, yeah?’ ”

Boras advised Belcher to turn down the Twins’ offer of a $110,000 signing bonus, and wait for them to sweeten the pot. The Twins were flabbergasted, and indignantly suggested to Belcher that Boras was giving him self-destructive career advice.

Belcher was coming off his junior season at tiny Mount Vernon Nazarene College in Sparta, Ohio. The Twins maintained that if he spurned their offer and re-entered the June draft after his senior season, clubs would pay him far less because his college eligibility would be up and he’d have no other options.

Boras knew better.

Since Mount Vernon was an NAIA school, it was not subject to the NCAA rule that disallowed players from re-entering the draft until they’d used up their college eligibility. Belcher wouldn’t have to wait until the following June; he could turn down the Twins and still be eligible for the winter draft, where the deep-pocket New York Yankees were waiting with the No. 1 pick.

The Yankees came through with a contract some $50,000 richer than what Minnesota offered. The Twins were left with a premiere no-show and, before long, vacancies in their scouting department.

The underlying market was suddenly exposed in all its fertility, and it was Boras who had the tools to harvest it. After getting Caudill a landmark contract with the Toronton Blue Jays in 1985, he quit malpractice law and began logging thousands of air miles on scouting expeditions, all in an effort to tap the can’t-miss draftees before they were drafted.

“I had general managers telling me, “Hey, work with us. Don’t represent these drafted kids. We’ll let you know who our prospects are in the minor leagues,’ ” Boras says.

“Well, I don’t need you to let me know who the prospects are. I can go out and watch them for myself.”

Two years ago, the Cubs liked what they saw from Maddux and offered him a four-year contract worth $7 million. Boras spent three days in a hotel room with Maddux, persuading him not to lock into a long-term deal because his marketability hadn’t peaked.

“It takes a great amount of guts on the part of the player to do that,” Boras says. “But that’s the magnitude of the decisions in our business. If Greg had signed that contract, he’d be guaranteed $7 million over four years. Right now he’s got one for $28 million. So that’s a $21 million decision.”


Published in: on December 4, 2010 at 10:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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