Agent of power

The Baltimore Sun

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.-- --The steel and glass building located off an innocuous side street in this bustling Southern California beach town is, in many ways, like the man who owns it.

Observe the sloping architecture, see the emblazoned B on the windowless, tomb-like door and know this place is different - it's a combination of baseball museum and sleek modern office.

There are the life-sized banners of major league stars hanging from the rafters and baseballs, some autographed, stacked 10 feet high in the middle of the lobby.

There are replica Gold Gloves and Most Valuable Player trophies adjacent to a gleaming employee dining room, complete with stainless steel appliances, flat-screen televisions and a stadium-worthy electronic ticker that continuously scrolls updated baseball scores.

It's a one-of-a-kind building designed by someone equally unique, a hard-charging, relentless attorney and ex-minor league infielder who can be considered a pariah and innovator all in the same breath.

This is the headquarters of the Boras Corp., and since renovations were completed in September, it's where baseball super-agent Scott Boras calls home. In a sense, this metal edifice is the epicenter of baseball in mid-August. It's where Boras, cell phone and BlackBerry constantly in hand, is advising his group of about a dozen drafted amateurs throughout the country - including Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, whom the Orioles selected fifth overall - as tonight's midnight signing deadline nears.

Boras has already secured a mind-numbing $7 million bonus from the Detroit Tigers for high school pitcher Rick Porcello, the 27th pick in June's draft, and he's angling for a big league contract worth about $11 million for Wieters. The Orioles have bristled at a sum that would be about five times the $2.25 million suggested by the commissioner's office for the fifth pick, and, consequently, the sides look headed for an impasse. If there is no agreement by 11:59 tonight, Wieters will return to school and the Orioles will lose his negotiating rights.

So for many baseball fans and executives, Boras would be better suited inside a towering, Transylvanian castle with continuous storm clouds looming and lightning bolts zapping overhead than his posh new digs - he was, after all, once referred to in a national magazine as the most hated man in baseball.

But step into his multimillion-dollar building, which is completely paid for because he says debt can compromise an agent's focus, and the dark clouds dissipate. It's exceptionally casual inside. Employees wear jeans, and breakfasts and lunches are catered every day on the boss' dime.

Boras, who grew up on a farm near Sacramento, Calif., listening to baseball on the radio while doing his chores, dreamed of being a lasting part of the game. Now 54, married and the father of three teenage children, he's probably the sport's most powerful figure next to commissioner Bud Selig.

Sitting in his renovated offices, he's direct and friendly, defending his reputation and his empire without ever altering his conversational tone.

"We are only known for the money part. An agent is quote-unquote about money," Boras said this week. "The truth of the matter is 70 percent of what we do has to do with preparing and evolving and growing the people we work for."

This is whom he works for: baseball players, no one else. He represents about 150 major and minor league players, including some of the game's biggest and wealthiest stars, such as the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, San Diego Padres' Greg Maddux and Atlanta Braves' Mark Teixeira.

Surely, it's his reputation for consistently securing landmark deals - such as Rodriguez's unprecedented $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2000 - that has helped build his impressive stable. But loyal clients say they stay because of the personal services and detailed attention he provides. The Boras Corp. has about 75 employees in four separate branches: negotiation and core business; sports training and fitness; off-field marketing; and personal and business management.

The range of services spans from structuring workouts to counseling with one of two on-staff sports psychologists to providing money-management education. It's a one-stop shop for an athlete's self-improvement.

"He's got everything," Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "He goes over different statistical stuff. They'll look at film if you want to. If you are going well, they'll talk to you about what you are thinking. ... Ultimately, it's all to help."

On several occasions, Varitek has used the Boras Corp.'s video database, which may be the most impressive part of the operation. The company records every televised game available each night and archives its clients' at-bats and pitches. In the Boras executive offices, each game can be watched with the click of a button, and the lunchroom ticker will show, for instance, how center fielder Corey Patterson or pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, Boras' two Orioles' clients, are faring in-game.

Furthermore, a client's at-bats and pitching line are updated by e-mail to employees every 30 minutes, and a full report on each client - minors and majors - is compiled by a staffer and e-mailed each night. Other staffers use the stats to unearth numbers and trends that could help a client's pending arbitration or free agency case.

"The guy sleeps four hours every night and watches every game that's played," said Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, for whom Boras has negotiated more than $130 million in contracts. "I guess you call it work ethic. I don't know if it's that or if he is just crazy about the game of baseball."

Boras, who has a private box for Los Angeles Angels' home games, played baseball professionally, something that sets him apart from most prominent agents.

He was an overachieving walk-on at the University of the Pacific and eventually became team captain. He signed an $8,000 contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and played four years in the minors, reaching Double-A, before knee injuries curtailed his career.

He returned to school for his law degree and specialized in medical litigation. Eventually, former teammates asked him to help with their contracts, and he merged his baseball and legal expertise.

"I have a legal education, and I have been in their world. And when I go and talk to them, we talk like baseball players," Boras said. "Sometimes, a lot of agents are intimidated by their clients. They think they are stars. They represent them like they are going to lose them. To me, I represent them as if I have a fiduciary responsibility. We talk as peers about their careers and what they need to do."

Players see his experience in the game and that of his employees - five of the six Boras vice presidents played professional baseball - as integral.

"He knows what it is like to be us," Seattle Mariners pitcher Jarrod Washburn said. "He has seen it firsthand, and so have the guys who have worked for him. He knows the grind of the season and the demands we have."

The loyalty between Boras and his clients seemingly goes both ways. Several of his current employees are former clients.

But there have been some high-profile players, such as the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds, Tigers' Gary Sheffield and San Diego Padres' Jake Peavy, who have left Boras for other agents. The outspoken Sheffield was quoted in the book License to Deal, by Jerry Crasnick, as saying Boras "has an ego the size of L.A."

Boras is no stranger to criticism and has an answer for all comers.

There have been allegations he steals clients (an inevitable accusation when a player switches agents, he says), questions about whether he invents mysterious suitors to jack up the price of his free agents (he contends he always presents a satisfied bidder in the end) and the assumption he pushes clients toward the biggest payday without finding the best fit (he stresses his clients have the final say).

Several club executives declined to comment about Boras for this article, but throughout baseball, there is a grudging respect for Boras - even if some in the game consider him a bully.

"He is a target for other agents and front office types largely because he is the best at what he does and he's often in an adversarial role," said Crasnick, the author and ESPN.com baseball writer. "If you're a good agent, a lot of people probably aren't going to like you. And if everybody loves you, you probably are not a very good agent."

For his part, Boras said he's only concerned with the opinions of his family, clients and close friends, who don't include any competing agents.

He's planning to keep up his business into his 80s. It's too much fun to quit, no matter how much money and prestige he has.

"As a kid, I had to milk the cows and do my chores before I could play baseball ... " he said. "Now, I watch baseball every day. And I don't ever have to milk cows."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

The Boras file

Age: 54

Hometown: Elk Grove, Calif., near Sacramento

Occupation: President, Boras Corp., a firm representing about 150 professional baseball players.

Education: Undergraduate and law degree from the University of the Pacific.

Prominent clients: New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and outfielder Johnny Damon; Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, outfielder J.D. Drew and pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka; New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran; San Diego Padres pitcher Greg Maddux.

Athletic career: Captain of the University of the Pacific baseball team. Minor league infielder-outfielder in St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs organizations.

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