Monday, July 23, 2007

Boras?!? Maybe more like, "Big Asshole!"

Summarizing baseball's feelings about Scott Boras, the sport's most successful player agent, the Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey once wrote, "He is a very, very bad man. Exquisitely bad, in a foreclose-on-the-farm sort of way." When Boras brokered his latest jaw-dropping contract—a 10-year, $252 million "merger" between the Texas Rangers and shortstop Alex Rodriguez—the animus only intensified. Writing in the April issue of Esquire, Scott Raab called Boras "the Most Hated Man in Baseball, the heartless bastard hell-bent on destroying our National Pastime, the keen-eyed pimp of ball-hogging, bat-whipping, splitter-hurling youth."
- "Scott Boras, Motherhood and Apple Pie," Slate, May 9, 2001

That quote wasn't really cherry-picked; I can't think of another figure — save perhaps Barry Bonds — who can inspire more instances of bobbing for epithets than Boras. A three-second Google search will bring up an overwhelming number of journalistic hatchet jobs on Boras' reputation, and very few measured pieces that actually delves into something resembling reality.

(LATE EDIT: The author of the Esquire article, Scott Raab, has clarified that his comments about Boras were taken out of context in the Slate piece. Raab was being facetious, which is kinda obvious now, and ended up arguing against the blind hatred of Boras. I wish I could read the full article myself [and link to it], but Esquire hates poor bloggers. If anyone can find a copy, I'd love to read it)

The hyperbolic reaction that he receives from columnists is absolutely insane, and serves as proof that very few men of the major metro sidebar actually think for five seconds before forming an opinion on something. Boras has done nothing in his career except represent his clients, and their interests, to the best of his ability. That's his fucking job. It's like criticizing a defense attorney for getting his or her client acquitted. Of course, many baseball writers aren't willing to accept that this is a business involving two parties attempting to get rich off the other, and without talented representation, it would be the players who get ripped off by the millionaire/billionaire owners who don't suffer for negotiating acumen or astute legal advice.

Two major issues with Scott Boras coverage, specifically:

1) This man cannot possibly dictate the terms of players' careers as much as many columnists would have you believe. How many times, during the Carlos Beltran free agency bidding war, did we hear about Boras "steering" Beltran to Queens when the player really wanted to stay in Houston? Anyone with half a brain has to call bullshit; there is no fucking way that a player of Beltran's caliber was going to do anything he didn't want to do. Frankly, the attitude many of these columnists took with Beltran, and continue to take with all of Boras' clients, couldn't be more condescending if they referred to the player as "boy." Yeah, I realize that intelligence isn't a prerequisite for a baseball player, but to suggest that Boras gets to dictate the terms of his clients' careers is insulting and unacceptable.

2) Big salaries, for the last time, are not ruining the game, unless you believe the game needs to be played for free in order for it to have any value. Yes, I know, you would play the game for free, but that's because you suck at it and no one would want to watch you play. Yes, I know, $10 million is an insane sum of money, and it just seems greedy to want $20 million when $10 million should be more than enough. And yes, I know, ticket prices have gone through the roof, and you believe it's because of outrageous player salaries. But none of those arguments are actually rooted in logic; they're the kind of emotional responses one expects from six-year-olds. Grow the fuck up. Baseball revenues are counted in the billions, and that's almost totally because of the players themselves. If George Steinbrenner is going to get rich off of baseball, the persons responsible for his team's profits should be getting rich, too. And, the fact that a lot of people are getting really fucking rich is as much proof as you need that baseball is far from ruined. In fact, I couldn't think of a better time to be a baseball fan.

More: Boras is almost solely responsible for destroying the "slot" system in the MLB draft, a system that served to move almost all the risk associated with a baseball career onto the players, leaving the owners in a situation where they were guaranteed low-risk, high-reward investments in prospects.
That the odds of any particular draftee finally making it to the league — not to mention be good enough or lucky enough to play long enough to earn a commensurate wage through free agency — are so staggeringly against any individual player is the main reason why Boras' advocacy was so needed. A player should take every opportunity he has to get paid as much as possible, since a long athletic career is so improbable. If a pitching prospect blows out his shoulder in High-A thanks to mismanagement, his career is effectively over, and teams wouldn't think twice about casting him off to the land of used auto sales. He has every right to ask a team to make a sizable investment in what they perceive as potential, big-league talent. There is strong evidence to support that the cautious, safety-oriented approach taken with most top prospects is owed almost entirely to the fact that teams are making multi-million dollar investments in top-level prospects. That's a positive for everyone involved. Furthermore, owners still stand to make huge profits for relatively low investments, even with the "outrageous" bonuses that are being given to top draft picks. Sure, paying a guy who plateaus in Double-A a million bucks stings, but paying Albert Pujols roughly $500k/season to produce DiMaggio-like makes all of those failures well worth it.

(Aside: Not all criticism of Boras is off-base; Peter Gammons recently argued that Boras' handling of prospects in his private training facility might actually be hurting the players in question. Interesting stuff.)

In short, it's flabbergasting to me that the kind of weak populism that colors the criticism of huge contract figures for baseball players serves only to benefit the fattest cats of them all, the owners. Anyone who wants to tell me that David Glass, Carl Pohlad or — gasp — the motherfucking Yawkeys are more sympathetic characters than A-Rod, Barry Zito or Carlos Beltran should be slapped in the face in that frenchy, limp-wristed, glove-in-hand way.


Anonymous said...

Recently, the MLB trade deadline has had all the excitement of the NFL trade deadline. Word on talk radio is that teams are hesitant to trade for a Boras client in a contract year, because his clients always choose free agency. Why give up several prospects for one postseason run with a Teixeira(who is eligible for salary arbitration at the end of this year)?


Anonymous said...

I'm the guy who wrote the Esquire article referred to in the Slate piece, and I can assure you that the quote absolutely was cherry-picked by a writer too lazy or stupid to actually read the fucking article.

The Esquire story was a profile of Boras and A-Rod, written after Alex signed with the Rangers. The gist of it was that Rodriguez is underpaid -- and that Scott Boras is no villain.

For what it's worth, that's the very same story that led to the feud between A-Rod and Jeter.

Diesel said...

@ Mark

I think owing the trade deadline inactivity to Boras' influence is a little facile, and probably off-base. It's not just Tex that no one wants to give up young guys for; all GMs have been forced to realize that success is fleeting — perhaps even impossible — without a farm system that continually produces inexpensive, home-grown players. And that's almost always what the teams who are selling ask for.

@ Scott

Re-reading the quotes taken from your story, it's actually kind of obvious that you weren't writing in earnest. But them's some good epithets, nonetheless.

I tried to find a copy of your original story, but I can't find it anywhere. Too bad; I'd love to read it now, knowing how things have shaken out in New York (at least so far).

Pepe B. Secessionist said...

I agree with your overall point. However, I don't think it's true that very many owners are getting rich off of baseball. Steinbrenner absolutely did not get rich off of the Yankees: he got rich by owning a shipping company.

Long ago -- as in, ten years -- I read an article that showed the total profit margins of professional sports teams. As I remember it, something like three pro baseball teams turned a profit. I'm sure revenue sharing has changed that a bit, but I'd imagine it did so in favor of cheapskate owners in KC and Tampa Bay, not George Steinbrenner.

I'm going to go look for some data on that, because I'd like something concrete myself.

$16 for upper deck? said...

Good post, Doyle. I agree with your position on Boras and think that it is a bit silly to villianize someone who represents people who have done nothing wrong. Juxtapose this to a prominent defense attorney, who, although good at their job, may be representing the interests of bad people. Club owners are not stupid people, and if they make stupid decisions, then the old adage is true: "A fool and his money are soon parted."

Although I have no beef with Boras, I am mildly irked by the large salaries that he procures. I don't blame Boras, mind you, that the Rangers were willing to forfeit the GDP of Canada for a shortstop (albeit a very good one). My concern is its impact on the fans by way of increased ticket prices et. al. I don't want to get into a chicken/egg thing here, but if the owners of the Rangers decided to negotiate a lesser amount for A-Rod in order to keep ticket prices affordable to the general public in Texas, the game and it's fans would benefit.

The concept is not lost on me that baseball owners are going to do whatever is necessary to get rich; and that includes higher ticket and concession prices anyway, regardless of what the athletes are earning. But this doesn't mean that me, the common man, has to be happy about it. Although I'm certain that this is what the 'Grow the fuck up' quip was intended for, I feel as justified in my bemoaning the conversion of our national pastime into a rich man's game as you are in constantly bitching about bad sportswriting.

Which brings me to a precarious position here on TGWNA. I really enjoy reading this blog, and have no interest in ripping the scab off of the whole sportswriting dust-up, but kvetching about overwrought, hyperbolic sportswriting is like complaining that porn is repetitive, superficial, and flashy.

Both porn and sportswriting are diversions; entertainment, if you will, and to be successful in the field of entertainment is to be as outrageous and attention-getting as possible. Calm, metered and pensive sportswriting would not, on the whole, sell papers. When the least-common-denominator sports fan sits on his toilet to peruse the daily rag, he is not looking to read a exquisitely written 10,000 word piece by William Safire or George F. Will. He wants the over-the-top rant from Joe C. Schmo (the C is for Cuuunt), so that he and the world of sports radio have something to yell about the next day. I believe that this is the reason that some of the most loud and obnoxious figures in sports media (Rome, Cowherd, and, to an extent, Screamin' A) are also the most popular. Popular commentary and column makes for increased sales, period. If it were in the sports media's best interest to devote an entire 10-hour program to John Clayton, they would have. (Aside: Does Clayton have his own show? I love that guy.) Homers buy papers and watch TV, and that is just a gruesome fact of life.

I love the sports and sportswriting related stuff, really, as it is probably the most entertaining and fun part of my typical workday. But wailing about the horrible, sloppy and preachy sportwriting that you voluntarily endure is an odd thing to put next to telling people to shut the fuck up about high ticket prices.

- Big-C

Diesel said...

@ Pepe

I think you'll find a lot has changed in 10 years; the vast majority of teams are turning not-small profits, because of the boom in baseball popularity, national/local TV contracts, and revenue sharing. And, I assure you, Steinbrenner is making a TON of money on the Yanks, even with the rest of the league rifling through his pockets. Anyway, I'll see if I can find something to substantiate this.

@ Big-C

Your point about harping on sports writing is well-taken. I honestly don't set out to make it just that, but it's hard to write about commonly held beliefs in sports without it becoming about columnists, since they're my best opportunity for substantiation. I'll take it as a challenge to not be such a broken record, though.

As for the grow the fuck up thing, it's not really intended for people who think ticket prices are too high; I'm one of those people, in fact. It's directed at people who believe that it's the fault of the players (and their salaries) that the ticket prices are so high; it's just not the case. I'm going to hunt down a BP article that speaks to this, and maybe make a post about it.

Pepe B. Secessionist said...

C-train: Kvetching! I love it!

You raise a very interesting point. I started to write a comment in response, but I think I'll just turn it into a post. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

the link above should get you to the original article...

Diesel said...

Thanks for the link. That's a hell of a story, and makes my argument much better than I can.