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The man behind the megamillion-dollar players

By Paul Forrester Special to The Christian Science Monitor / April 3, 2001


Little more than 50 feet separates Scott Boras from his unsuspecting victim on this brisk October night.

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While Derek Jeter, the sterling Yankee shortstop, stands at home plate in last year's World Series, baseball agent Boras watches intently three rows behind him.

Only minutes earlier, Boras had paraded his client, Alex Rodriguez, through the World Series crowd, ushering him to this prime spot where he would be as much in the spotlight as the players on the field. Boras is responsible for Rodriguez's record-shattering 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, making him the highest-paid player in all of sports.

Jeter, oblivious to the scene behind him, swings at the first pitch, driving the ball far into Shea Stadium's left-field bleachers and grabbing back the crowd's attention. But he wouldn't keep the spotlight for long. Boras would see to that.

Not a baseball season in the past 20 years has passed that doesn't have Boras's fingerprints all over it. Single-handedly he has elevated himself to become baseball's most powerful kingmaker.

To the 55 major-league players he represents, Boras delivers fantastic wealth. To team owners, Boras is like a capricious god, at any given time providing talent or taking it away. And to many fans, Boras is known for securing salaries that seem way out of proportion with reality. Even the usually dispassionate New York Times recently crowned Boras "the most hated man in baseball."

That Scott Boras is all of these things speaks to the influence and power he wields. His client list reads like an All-Star Game ballot: San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, a three-time MVP; Atlanta Braves hurler Greg Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner; New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, a three-time Gold Glover and one-time batting champion; and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown, a four-time all-star.

These men have turned their fortunes over to Boras because of his reputation for consistently driving teams to say "uncle" in negotiations, a skill that has netted huge contracts for his clients.

For many of those responsible for paying those huge salaries, though, Boras is greed personified, a man who "sees all the devious ways you can rip people off and make a bundle on 'em," as one unnamed team official told the Chicago Tribune a few years back. It's not an uncommon assessment of Boras, a man sometimes referred to as "the Darth Vader of baseball," a man who once incited a team official to punch a hole through a wall and another to remove a shoe from his foot and slam it on the negotiating table in fury at Boras's seemingly exorbitant demands.

It's an ability born of opportunity. With the advent of free agency in 1976 came an opening to the monopoly under which baseball's owners had previously operated, an opening through which Boras would drive each new player straight to Park Place. And drive he has, helping to raise the average yearly Major League salary from $51,000 in 1976 to more than $2 million this season.

Baseball today is no more related to the 9-to-5 world than is the movie industry. And if we're willing to let Adam Sandler squirm and squeal on screen for $20 million a picture - essentially two months of work - shouldn't we accept Bernie Williams patrolling center field at Yankee Stadium for $12.5 million a season?

"My job is to take something that exists in the marketplace [a player] and determine what it really means to that marketplace," Boras says of his clients with measured conviction in a recent interview. "So when there's a $15 million increase in revenues from the TV contract, what percentage of that goes to the players? How do you calculate that? Do you just take the market from last year? No. The revenues have increased. As a representative, I know that if there's an increase, I've got to define the [new] demand and go from there."