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The Boras Factor 

Is super agent Scott Boras destroying the game of baseball? And what does he want now?

Tuesday, May 22 2007
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Nestled in the middle of a nondescriptoffice park in Newport Beach, just under the flight path of nearby John Wayne Airport, is the home base of perhaps the most powerful man in baseball. With its sleek, iron-and-glass façade and waterfall in the forecourt—a departure from nearby law firms—the Boras Corporation looks more like a glitzy ad agency than a sports agency. But then, it's far more than a typical sports agency.

A massive door pivots like the entrance to a secret crypt, and the first thing a visitor sees is a 10-by-16-foot display consisting of nearly 1,500 baseballs mounted on a rectangular board. Arena-size banners of stars like New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez hang from the two-story-high ceiling. On the lobby walls, cases filled with trophies, awards and players' gold-plated baseball gloves evoke a shrine. This soon yields to something more interactive: banks of TVs in glass-enclosed offices tuned to sports channels, with the ESPN crawl a constant.

This is the house that Scott Boras built: a high-tech baseball universe where the most historic—that is, the richest—player contracts in the game are signed. Boras represents only baseball players, and a high percentage of his clients are the elite, comprising current salary commitments in excess of $1 billion. Last December, Baseball America named him the most influential nonplayer of the past 25 years. He's been called both "the devil" and "the real commissioner of baseball," and there's no arguing that the former minor-leaguer-turned-lawyer-turned-super-agent has transformed careers, teams and the national pastime.

click to flip through (2) (Photos by Jennie Warren)
  • (Photos by Jennie Warren)
 
 

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How—and why—he does it is a constant source of debate among fans, commentators and even baseball players. This much is certain: Boras' free-market philosophy and client roster stocked with future Hall of Fame players give him the unmatched ability to make general managers cringe, fans simmer with rage and transient players rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Major League Baseball is a $6 billion-a-year industry, more profitable than ever. To Boras and his clients, that makes it a game of percentages on and off the field. As baseball revenues grow, so do salaries, thanks in large part to him. He was the first agent to sign players to multiyear $50 million, $100 million and $200 million contracts, as league revenues rose to $1 billion, $3 billion and $6 billion, respectively. Last year, he negotiated the largest contract ever for a Japanese player, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who signed with the Boston Red Sox for $52 million—after the Sox paid $51 million for the rights to sign him—and the largest ever for a pitcher, Barry Zito, who went with the San Francisco Giants for $126 million.

Boras works both ends of the spectrum. He revolutionized the amateur draft by signing players out of college and sometimes high school; now he has a team of former pro ball players and international associates sniffing out young talent from Cape Cod to Caracas. Because he is somewhat of a rock star, getting to Boras is not easy. There are layers to go through. And once he starts talking, getting Boras—that is, decoding his approach to baseball representation—can be an equal challenge. His critics—many of them right here in Southern California—object to his way of doing business.

"He definitely affects what happens on ball clubs," says Steve Lyons, the former major leaguer and now a Dodgers broadcaster. "No one else manipulates the game like that, like where players end up. And it's not always positive or in the best interests of the player or the game."

But some owners build their teams with his help. Which is why his place in baseball history is so perplexing.

A key trait of the Boras Corporation is the integration of former players into what often is a buttoned-down business atmosphere populated by lawyers and bean counters. Boras is a lawyer, but no lawyer-agent has the feel for the game that he has. He surrounds himself with baseball lifers who are as engrossed in the game as he is.

Jeff Musselman pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets from 1986 to 1990, and today he is one of five vice presidents in the Boras Corporation. Like a number of Boras' top lieutenants, all of whom offer bone-crushing handshakes, Musselman is a former client—one with a degree from Harvard University.

"The motive is to see that the player's work on and off the field are congruent," he says of the spacious Newport Beach complex. "We focus on serving all the needs of the athlete."

In addition to the Boras Corporation, the complex houses Boras' marketing and financial-management companies. The Boras Sports Training Institute, which includes physical trainers and psychologists, is located at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo. Overall, Boras employs 70 people with some very specific areas of expertise; a dozen employees staff the data department, with one person spending all his time "scraping" the Internet for information to develop and maintain player profiles, which are updated for Boras on a daily basis.

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