By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The year after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, center fielder Johnny Damon's contract came up for negotiation. Damon was a god in Boston, a durable lead-off hitter who was the team's spiritual leader. But his body was showing signs of wear, and Boras asked the Red Sox for more than they wanted to pay. "I told the Red Sox, 'If you don't sign Johnny Damon, you won't win.'" Damon moved on to the Yankees and would haunt the Sox at the end of last season.
Last year, another longtime Boras client, Jeff Weaver, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after a poor start with the Angels in Anaheim. Weaver was dominant in the postseason, and the Cardinals won the World Series, but St. Louis offered Weaver only a one-year, $5 million contract—which Boras found insulting. "That's what you'd offer a relief pitcher," he says.
Weaver eventually signed with the Seattle Mariners for $8.3 million. "You have to respect that teams have a right to make their own decisions," Boras says, before turning around and passing judgment on Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty. "Here's a GM who never played the game saying, 'We're going to go with our young guys,' and I go, 'You can't.'"
The Cardinals simply blew it, Boras concludes. "The Cardinals not signing Jeff Weaver is how you don't win divisions, and my prediction is the St. Louis Cardinals won't win their division this year." (At press time, the Cardinals were near the bottom of the National League Central.)
Behind his attitude are two tenets Boras lives by: When you know the market, don't embarrass the player; and don't assume the player will sign for less because he likes the city he is playing in. In response to critics who say it's all about money, Boras says, "Really? I think it's about respect."
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In December, when Baseball America named him the most influential nonplayer of the past 25 years, Boras says the honor caught him by surprise. "I show up at the banquet, and they ask me to speak. Every person in the industry is there. Plenty of them are not happy I'm receiving this honor. I look around the room and ask, 'As caretakers of the game, what have we accomplished?'"
With the leaders of that game listening, Boras traced baseball's financial trajectory: "In 1980, baseball was a $500 million industry. By 1990 it went to $1 billion. In 2000 it went to $3 billion. Now we're at $6 billion and attendance is up, interest in the game is at its highest level. Collectively we've installed a system of checks and balances that has allowed this game to achieve grand success. We should look at each other and say, 'We're honoring the game.'"
Boras insists he honors the game even when his deals go sour. He points to former Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park, for whom he got a five-year, $65 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2002, but who was injured five weeks into the 2003 season and couldn't pitch for the next two and a half years. Boras' response: "I invested millions of dollars of my company's money and developed a sports-fitness institute, with five full-time trainers, so this never happens again."
Some of Boras' most famous deals, however, are hard to swallow. Take the lucrative but painful journey of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. In 2000, A-Rod was a popular member of the Seattle Mariners, who won 91 games that season. After the season, A-Rod's free-agent year, Boras negotiated a 10-year, $252 million salary with the Rangers, convincing them that A-Rod would become the best player in history, not to mention put fans in the seats. A-Rod then had the nerve to claim he was looking to join a winning team.
The Rangers did not win, nor did attendance go up. Within three years, Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, where his woes were just beginning. Booed mercilessly, even in Yankee Stadium, he put up impressive regular-season numbers but slumped in the playoffs—three years in a row. By 2006 he was known as a high-paid choker. In three postseasons, he had just four hits in 41 at-bats.
The Dodgers have a particularly contentious history with Boras. LA fans recall former third baseman Adrian Beltre, a Boras client, belting 48 homers, hitting .334 and driving in 121 runs in 2004. But when the Dodgers wouldn't meet Beltre's market price, he signed with Seattle for $64 million, spending the next two years underperforming for the Mariners.
More irritating was when the team needed a new slugger, and Boras served up J.D. Drew, another of his high-priced clients. Drew played for three different teams in seven years, struggling with injuries until a breakout year in 2004 with the Atlanta Braves led to a five-year, $55 million deal with the Dodgers. But after driving in 100 runs last year, the most in his career, Drew chose to exercise an escape clause in his contract and forgo $33 million for the final three years of his Dodgers contract and sign instead with the Red Sox, for five years and $70 million. Dodgers brass and fans alike were furious.
Drew wasn't the only Dodger and Boras client to go for more money this past summer: Closer Eric Gagne, the injured but one-time heart of the team, and veteran pitcher Greg Maddux left for greener pastures.