Mugger: GREAT SCOTT
Consider this a plea to the country’s sportswriters, especially those in New York: Scott Boras, the abrasive, cunning, obnoxious and brilliant agent whose most famous client is currently Alex Rodriguez, will not be retiring in the near future. In fact, as Major League Baseball’s revenues continue to increase each year, Boras, who’s about as shy as Donald Trump, will loom even larger in the sport’s landscape, so if his negotiating tactics are so outrageous and offensive, why not just ignore his theatrics and simply report on his transactions?
That won’t happen, of course, because every subset of American popular culture is required to have a villain, and now that pumpkin-headed Barry Bonds has surpassed Hank Aaron’s home-run record, his ability to create a commotion within the sanctimonious community of baseball writers and analysts has deteriorated almost as severely as the former San Francisco Giant’s legs. Even if Bonds is indicted on tax evasion charges—as has been rumored for several years—that won’t knock Boras off the back pages of the Daily News and Post for more than a day or two, since an ongoing legal battle isn’t nearly as compelling as the continuing saga of the 54-year-old agent who is now held responsible for besmirching the game’s integrity.
As anyone who follows baseball is well aware, Rodriguez will apparently not be returning to the Yankees next year, because he and Boras have decided to gamble that the socially insecure slugger can make more money with another team. Fair enough, it seems to me, and though the howls of disloyalty to the team that some writers still, unfathomably, refer to as the “class” of sports franchises would’ve been loud in any case, it was Boras’ timing of the announcement that propelled a sudden cottage industry built on self-righteousness.
The News’ Mike Lupica, whose columns I generally like, was beside himself, claiming that A-Rod was being “used” by Boras, as if the MVP is completely brain-dead. He wrote on Nov. 4, “If A-Rod doesn’t think so, then he ought to check the reaction he’s been getting since Boras made the announcement about A-Rod becoming a free agent during Game 4 of the World Series, when the Red Sox were about to win again because a cancer survivor named Jon Lester was pitching the game of his young life.”
Now, that’s just cheap, pulling out the cancer card to make a dig at Boras. (And, for accuracy’s sake, when FOX passed on the A-Rod news to its audience, Lester had already given way to his bullpen.)
ESPN’s Peter Gammons—a former Boston Globe baseball writer who’s a member of the Hall of Fame, even while far more worthy and historic figures like Curt Flood and Marvin Miller are not—took the opportunity to crucify Boras and A-Rod upon last week’s news that Boston’s Curt Schilling would return to the team for another year at a reduced guaranteed salary. According to Gammons, “This is admirable, because there isn’t anyone who cares about the game who still doesn’t have a hangover from the vile announcement of the A-Rod opt-out as Jon Lester closed out the World Series.”
What nonsense. As some readers might remember, I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, through thin and occasionally thick since 1962, and while watching Boston polish off the Rockies on Oct. 28 the A-Rod news didn’t strike me as “vile.” Sure, Boras’ timing was calculated, maybe out of the Elmer Gantry playbook, but that’s his style of business, one that has made millions over the years for those athletes he represents. And it’s worth noting that Boras, as The New Yorker’s Ben McGrath wrote in a recent profile headlined “The Extortionist,” while far from a pauper, has a take-home salary that’s “far less than that of his veteran clients.”
Besides, the perceived transgressions of Boras pale next to any number of truly abominable aspects of MLB in the 21st century.
Such as: Televising post-season games at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, thus making it impossible for kids to watch more than a few innings. Or the fact that the American and National Leagues still can’t agree to have a uniform policy on designated hitters. Or that with all the gnashing of teeth by management over escalating salaries, most owners are tremendously wealthy and, unlike their counterparts 60 years ago, didn’t acquire teams to put bread on the table.
For example, the Minnesota Twins continually plead poverty and will most likely trade their star pitcher Johan Santana since he’s expected to land a contract of more than $20 million a year when he becomes a free agent a year from now. The Twins, as a small-market team, complain they can’t compete with the likes of the Yanks, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers and Mets. What isn’t emphasized enough by those who pillory a relative minnow like Boras is that Twins owner Carl Pohlad is a billionaire who could, if he desired, sign or retain any player he wanted.
Likewise, the Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos is another billionaire who refuses to woo high-priced free agents on the grounds of fiscal integrity, even as his team has now suffered 10 consecutive losing seasons and has seen attendance drop precipitously.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who once upon a time occupied the “villain” niche in baseball for his blustery and often irrational behavior, nevertheless spent millions upon millions of dollars to give New York a winning team. Now approaching 80 and in declining health, Steinbrenner has largely handed over the team to his sons, one of whom, Hank, promises to continue his father’s legacy of headline-grabbing pronouncements. After A-Rod opted out, Hank said, “He doesn’t understand the privilege of being a Yankee… I don’t want anyone on my team that doesn’t want to be a Yankee.”
That’s posturing, obviously, for if Boras finds no takers for the services of his marquee client, he’ll go back to the Yankees and the Steinbrenners and both sides will concoct some elaborate spin to save face.
It’s called doing business. And no matter what fans and, more important, baseball owners think about Boras’ aggressive strategy, he’s not evil, he’s not the devil, just a sports entrepreneur who happens to be better than his peers at performing his job.
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