I’ve decided to resurrect an oldie, but a goodie, here. I first posted this in July 2008, and it’s one of my favorites. Without further adieu…
Though it pains me to ask, I often wonder if Scott Boras is the most influential man in baseball. Not just today, but in the past couple of decades. Players like Alex Rodriquez have him to thank for their unprecedented, multi-million, multi-year contracts. Use the search terms “Scott Boras is Satan” on Yahoo! or Google and you’ll find a host of baseball fans equating Boras with the man down under. If he’s not the most influential man in baseball, he certainly might be the most hated.
As a fan, I’ve spent the past decade or so hating Scott Boras myself. I blamed everything that was wrong with the game on him and the players’ union. In reality, the pendulum has simply swung from one extreme to the other.
Let me begin with a history lesson. In the beginning, the owners literally owned the players, in every literal sense of the term. Owners could unilaterally decide when to trade or sign a player and how much to raise his salary (subject to very little limitation). The reserve clause, in its inaugural form, allowed clubs to reserve only five players. However, it wasn’t long before the reserve clause was an integral part of every player contract. Owners convinced players that the reserve clause was essential to preserve what’s been called “competitive balance” in baseball. The idea of competitive balance was best stated by sports economist Simon Rottenberg, who said, “But in baseball no team can be successful unless its competitors also survive and prosper sufficiently so that the differences in the quality of play among teams is not ‘too great’.” In fact, as late as the 1950s, baseball players testified in Congressional hearings that the reserve clause was vital to the preservation of baseball. And it wasn’t just any average player testifying, it was players like Ted Williams and Stan Musial (although, keep in mind, they were still the highest paid players of their time, even if it was a pittance). The reserve clause, by its very nature, depressed player salaries, however. Thus, as you can imagine, it was only a matter of time before the players would become discontent with the system.
Things came to a head in 1970 when Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause after being traded and refusing to report. There were cases before that, but I won’t belabor the point here (you can read my legal journal article for more detail). Unfortunately, Curt Flood lost his case and the reserve clause remained intact until Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally asserted they had achieved free agency for the 1976 season. Basically, because they never signed their contracts for the prior season, they asserted they were no longer subject to the reserve clause at the conclusion of the 1975 season. The case proceeded to arbitration within MLB instead of to the Supreme Court as Flood’s case had. The interesting thing to note is that the MLB arbitrator at the time, Peter Seitz, had previously represented NBA player Rick Barry in his successful efforts to strike down that league’s identical reserve clause. Seitz urged the players and owners to negotiate with one another to no avail. Eventually Seitz ruled that Messersmith and McNally were indeed free agents and the business of baseball (and the game) was changed forever.
Fast forward to the present where Scott Boras represents free agents and negotiates for them multi-million dollar, often record-breaking, contracts. As fans, we hate him because at one point or another he’s represented someone on our team who ended up playing elsewhere because Boras demanded more money than our team could afford to pay to keep the player. We blame him for the inflated salaries in baseball and for making the game about money and not about playing out of team loyalty or for love of the game. Former player and current baseball commentator, Rob Dibble, has said it before and I’ll say it again: “For Love of the Game” was just a movie. Yes, there are guys that seem to be more genuine and play for love of the game and not for money. For the Braves, these have been players like Chipper Jones and John Smoltz, who have given hometown discounts to the Braves in the past to facilitate their resigning.
But in the end, we as fans need to realize that baseball players have a far more finite career than the average person, so it makes some sense that they make a lot more money than we do. When their career ends, either due to an injury or retirement, their earning capacity out in the real world may be very small. Sure, some of them go on to coaching and broadcasting careers, but that’s only a small percentage of the guys who have played the game. For those who retire young, they may not have any marketable skills out in the real world and may not have amassed very much during their playing years. For others, they began the game at such a young age that they lacked the ability to manage their money wisely (although I hear baseball has made strides in this area by providing education and counseling). There are a whole host of reasons why a baseball player would want to seek to maximize his earnings during his playing years, just like any other average person does in his career. Instead, we see the multi-million dollar contracts or we lose our favorite player to another team because our team couldn’t afford him and we have to find someone to blame. We blame the player, the union…and we blame Scott Boras.
Though my gut feeling is to dislike the guy, I have to admit that he’s simply doing his job. He’s supposed to be a zealous advocate for his client and his job is get his client the deal the client wants. If the client wants the most money he can get, Boras is the man for the job. He’s a sharp negotiator and great at his job. You really can’t blame him for that. Instead, blame the owners who negotiate with him. If no one would pay the big bucks, Boras wouldn’t be the infamous character he is. If the owners really thought he was a detriment to the game, they would all refuse to negotiate with him. Instead, they fork over the big bucks to one of his clients because they believe that player can make them, the owner, more cash. I guarantee you that in the long run the owner only spends what he thinks he’ll get back in revenue from increased ticket sales, advertising, apparel, etc.
So, is Scott Boras the most influential man in baseball? Baseball America named him the most influential non-player in baseball in 2007. Is he the most influential man in baseball ever? I don’t think so. This decade? Last decade? Some would certainly say so. Is he also the most hated man in baseball? For many, he is. Love him or hate him, he certainly has shaped the modern era of baseball. For that reason, I’ll be dedicating an entire chapter of my book to what I’ll call “The Scott Boras Era.” [Sadly, for Boras, this chapter didn’t make it in my final book after all!]
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