The Boras Factor

Some fans and team officials think hes the devil. His player clients think hes an angel. Everyone agrees that super agent Scott Boras has changed baseballbut for better or worse? And what does he want now?

This time, it wasn't just the Dodgers and their fans who were unhappy. The team's decision to not match Boras' demand and to let Maddux go to the Padres, their National League West rivals, for little more than what they offered still irks Boras. Though not at the top of his game anymore, the 41-year-old Maddux is one of the greatest pitchers in history. Boras felt justified asking the Dodgers for a two-year contract worth $21 million, and it wasn't just about his Hall of Fame stats: "He's what we shoot for every time: instinct is fully formed, self-identification realized, discipline absolutely defined, goals are absolutely achievable . . . "

"We think he's old," came the reply from the Dodgers, according to Boras, along with a counteroffer he once again found insulting. To make matters worse, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti—perhaps in anger over the Drew debacle—sent subordinates to the meeting, something that had never happened to Boras in 30 years, he says.

Boras rarely has trouble when he shops a player, though in Maddux's case, the market yielded just $3 million more than the Dodgers were prepared to pay. "How can you tell Greg . . . " Boras says of the Dodgers' offer, cutting himself off. The offer lacked proper respect for Maddux in a number of ways, Boras contends, but here is where he steps over the line—at least what is the normally accepted line—and sounds as if he's telling teams how they should conduct their business. "Not only are you getting [Maddux's] influence on the field and in the clubhouse, you're getting a coach," Boras says. To offer Maddux less money than he is worth, "Now you've done something that you should never do."

Scott Boras. Photo by Jennie Warren
Scott Boras. Photo by Jennie Warren

General managers might resent such statements. But one way Boras gets into their heads is to pit them against their owners. "The process is informational," he says. "There are GMs who are information sensitive, and their opinions are in the rear. There's a whole group of GMs who put their opinions out front, and they view me as an obstacle. I tell them, 'Let me help you and your owner make good decisions. Why wouldn't you want good players?'"

As for the financial pressures of running a baseball team, Boras finds the topic irritating. "You might [as a general manager] keep your budget eight years in a row, but that doesn't mean you're going to keep your job," he says. "Your job is to win. You have to cater the franchise to winning. That means I'm not the most difficult person to negotiate with. It's your owner. He's going to give you the wherewithal to do what you have to do. Then you just have to have the confidence and the skill to do it effectively."

*   *   *

The banner hanging above the Vero Beach, Florida, spring-training complex reads, "It's Great to Be in Dodgertown." About 10 miles inland from the barrier islands off Florida's central coast, the casual spread of playing fields, training facilities and vintage bungalows is the class of the Grapefruit League. The Dodgers' offices are in a modest two-story office condominium overlooking well-groomed Holman Stadium; on the second floor the walls are adorned with black-and-white photos of the Boys of Summer hamming it up for the camera; on the grounds below, players, coaches and front-office personnel zip around on golf carts, from practice sessions to media events to pregame warm-ups.

The Dodgers have been coming here since 1948, when they were still the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the place is imbued with tradition and intimacy. Many of the old-timers who direct traffic, provide security, staff the snack bars and greet visitors sound as if they come from Brooklyn. Out of a crowd one March day comes Manny Mota, a lifetime .304 hitter from the 1960s to the 1980s, wearing a Dodgers uniform and pedaling a vintage bike; visitors huddle outside the Dodgers' offices to watch base-running legend Maury Wills do a TV interview; former manager Tommy Lasorda stops his golf cart occasionally to chat up visiting players and coaches.

As much as Dodgertown represents the pleasures of baseball tradition, there are grumblings of discontent, especially at the mention of Boras' name. Jan Hunsley, a Seattle resident who has traveled across the country for a taste of spring training, says the Mariners spend more money each year without improving. "You fall in love with these guys and they leave. There's no loyalty on either side. Scott Boras is ruining the game."

There may be a few people who agree with her inside the Dodgers' offices, where Ned Colletti is still shaking off the turbulent off-season and pondering the Dodgers legacy he is trying to restore. Colletti is the fourth general manager in the past six years, to go along with the team's third owner in the last decade, including six years of corporate ownership by Rupert Murdoch and Fox Entertainment Group—a contrast from 50 years of O'Malley family ownership that produced six championships.

The Dodger Way always meant good scouting, player development and team continuity. Colletti is trying to balance those values with pressure to stay at the top of the market, while answering to the Dodgers' relatively new owner, Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt. Colletti seems to feel the weight of judgment—from the fans and the front office. "The history of this franchise and the expectation is to win," he says solemnly, "but I wouldn't be doing it properly if I didn't develop the youth in our system."

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