(Originally written for Informative Sports and published 2009)
When MLB agents test the waters and eventually begin to search for the best deal, they are in touch with multiple franchises, who are not allowed to speak with one another about any of these free-agent negotiations. This is an important part of the Boras method of negotiation: control. Boras controls the manner by which information is transmitted between the players, the team and the media. A competing agent once said of Boras, “In terms of negotiation, this guy is an absolute special-forces guy. The prison interrogations — he’s one of those.” Boras is in fact very adept and skilled at manipulation and one other quality that serves him and his clients very well… patience. He has the ability, due to an intense and strong personal confidence in his skills and the fact he is forearmed with crucial information, to cut deals at the very last minute… sometimes maybe even seconds. In 2007, he finalized a contract for Max Scherzer with the Arizona Diamondbacks so close to the final moment that the Associated Press (AP) reported at 4:42 AM that the Diamondbacks had failed to sign Scherzer. Then at 5:32 AM, the AP issued a release that said the Diamondbacks and Scherzer had agreed to a four-year deal.
Critics of his controlling style and his secretive methods say it is because his negotiation tactics employ some sleight of hand (some say indiscretions with the truth) in his reputed use of phantom offers for his clients to test the waters or drive up offers from competing teams. Take, for example, the supposed six-year deal he reported to the Boston Red Sox that he had on the table for Johnny Damon in 2005. The Red Sox said, “Thanks but no thanks”, and Damon “settled” for a four-year deal with the New York Yankees. Boras has said that he operates “in the arena of truth.” He has a way of bending and portraying the facts beyond certain boundaries of rationale and plausibility. Boras’ critics have gone so far as to call him a compulsive or a congenital liar; but some of these same critics also say that he at least believes on some level what he says.
Boras uses everything to present his clients in the best possible to potential employers. He builds dossiers that he presents to clubs’ negotiating teams. Reportedly, one of these dossiers cost $30,000 to produce 100 copies for distribution to teams. He extrapolates the potentiality of his client in the grand scheme of baseball’s historical context to enhance that client’s star potential and possible “fan attraction ability” to games. Johnny Damon was described in his personal promotion package as being a player who would end his career as one of the best centerfielders to have ever played the game and will retire as having played more games than any other in center-field. Alex Rodriguez is promoted (in the reputed $30,000, hundred-copy “book”), as being probably the best since the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson or Hank Aaron to have ever played in the major leagues.
Boras is known for preparing his players not only for the world of negotiations in the monetary sense but also in the psychological sense. He has at his disposal his client’s psychological profiles and he is all about having the player promote himself both as a player and as a person. There are some things he may not be able to control — such as Rodriguez’s off-field dalliances or strong-willed players such as Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield, who have both parted with Boras because of personal disagreements. Overall, Boras’ controlling style may be better suited for less self-assured stars, like the aforementioned A-Rod, or cheery, guileless players like Johnny Damon, who says, “Scott for me was much like a psychologist…. He makes you feel like you could play another ten years.”
- “Gene Orza is a figurehead, Scott Boras is the union.” (Ben McGrath, of New Yorker magazine, quoting an agent who requested anonymity because he feared recriminations from the player’s union in his 5/12/2009 article “The Extortionist”)
- New York Daily News writer Bill Madden habitually refers to Boras as the “avenging agent.”
- Boras “stands for everything in the industry that’s gone to hell,” and, on being asked to elaborate, said, “It’s who he is, what he is, what his attitude is—it’s the kind of bastard he is.” (McGrath quoting another anonymous agent in his New Yorker article.)
- Boras on his lack of socializing with his own kind: “I have enough trouble liking myself, let alone other agents.”
Boras once said “Great players with great demand create great rumors” as a way of denying he was behind a rumor that would have given Alex Rodriguez a deferred ownership stake in the Chicago Cubs as part of a method to close a deal to sign with the Chicago Cubs. (Which, by the way is illegal, as Yankee president Randy Levine pointed out by saying, “If it was true, that would be grounds to disqualify someone from becoming an owner before even filing the application.”) But it might be said that the figuratively great agents create great rumors to promote great clients. Atlanta Braves’ president, John Schuerholz, calls some of what Boras promises in promoting his clients “voodoo economics”. He says Boras cited television ratings trends and revenue forecasts to suggest that Rodriguez is worth as much as eighty million dollars in annual cash flow, and therefore affordable to even the smallest of markets. Schuerholz further retorts during an ESPN radio interview that “When [Boras] presented us with that kind of offer with Andruw Jones, we found it so ridiculous and obnoxious we didn’t even respond.”
Regarding his relationship, both professionally and personally, with Rodriguez, Boras says it goes back to Rodriguez’ high school days, and that these are things (being a star player, StrayRod headlines, etc.) they spoke about back in that time. Boras says he told Rodriguez that “If you’re going to be the best player in the league, these things are going to happen and you’ve got to know how to deal with them.” This becomes important because if Boras’ history does go back that far with Rodriguez — and if Boras is as hands-on with his clients, especially young clients, as he himself admits — then what did Boras know about Rodriguez’s behaviors, both real and alleged, and when did he know it? And is the fact that he either now says nothing regarding Rodriguez, and by extension regarding his other PED-stained clients, or denies knowledge of Rodriguez’s involvement with illegal performance enhancing drugs germane to that discussion? It opens the door to many questions that Boras leaves unanswered and in all likelihood will purposefully leave that way because of his past track record of disguising the facts or working in the “area of truth”.
Mike Lupica, in the New York Daily News on December 17, 2007, says, “Maybe Scott Boras thinks he is some kind of expert on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball because he had four clients in George Mitchell’s report. Or maybe he’s studied up on how human growth hormone helps you recover from injuries now that Alex Rodriguez keeps throwing him under buses. Maybe that’s why Boras thought he could lecture everybody on baseball drugs in Sunday’s New York Times.
“‘Prior to 2005, a doctor had the ability to prescribe HGH for recovery from injury,’ Boras said. ‘To link players who used anabolic steroids with players that had allegedly used HGH prior to 2005 (when it went on baseball’s banned substance list) is wrong; those drugs are from two different arenas.’”
Lupica makes a key error as he steps upon his soapbox pontificating on PED-using athletes –where was his loud and vociferous voice as a member of the press when it was not so politically correct to denounce PED use in sports? — when he asks if Boras is some kind of an expert on PEDs… because Boras is some kind of an expert, or at least a hell of lot more of an expert opinion than Lupica. Remember that, in 1997, Boras received his PharmD, so he does have at least a foundation and a pretense of knowing about drug composition and drug usage. The valid point that Lupica does make is regarding the area where Boras does what he does so well: obscuring the facts with his sidewalk Three-Card Monte act and his ability to effectively apply his con-man shtick.
Boras says pointedly that, “Prior to 2005 a doctor had the ability to prescribe HGH for recovery from injury”, and that “medical practitioners widely used HGH to assist many athletes in recovery from injury and would escalate athletes’ ability to recover.” But Lupica quotes, and does so correctly and rightfully, Dr. Gary Green, a clinical professor at UCLA’s Division of Sports Medicine who also works at UCLA’s Olympic Analytical Lab and as MLB’s consultant on performance-enhancing drugs: “Drug use in sports is classified in three ways. There are therapeutic drugs, recreational and performance-enhancing. Steroids and HGH are performance enhancing. These guys aren’t going to legitimate doctors to get (HGH) because they know they wouldn’t prescribe it. To suggest otherwise is just an attempt to mislead the public.”
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