Show Me The Most Money

Scott Boras is used to having things his way. While most dads are happy to toss the ball around with their kids in the backyard, that clearly wasn't good enough for the most aggressive agent in baseball. Not satisfied with the local Little League field in Newport Beach, Calif., Boras shelled out $25,000 so his sons and their teammates could hone their skills in two state-of-the-art batting cages, complete with pitching machines. While his kids practiced their cuts on a warm and sunny Saturday last month, Boras contemplated his latest assault on the baseball establishment. As the agent for slugging shortstop Alex Rodriguez, the most-coveted player in the game, Boras is negotiating what is likely to be the biggest contract in baseball history. A-Rod, as he's known, is just 25 and seeking a long-term deal of 10 years or more. When asked if he expects the Rodriguez deal to break the quarter-billion-dollar barrier, Boras deadpans, "Don't lowball me."

It's a funny line, but Boras isn't kidding. In fact, his brash goal seemed less outrageous late last week after the Colorado Rockies nabbed pitcher Mike Hampton with a record deal worth more than $120 million. As competitive in negotiations as any of his players are on the field, Boras has helped transform baseball economics in the '90s with a series of megadeals for superstar clients, including Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams and Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown. Boras has also broken new ground by demanding--and getting--rich deals for unproved amateurs. With the contract season in high gear and Congress holding hearings on baseball's competitive imbalance, which many blame on astronomical player salaries, the dapper 48-year-old attorney has become a favorite target. Fans, sportswriters and baseball executives say his greed is wrecking the game he professes to love. "When you shake hands with him, you gotta count your fingers," says New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica.

Baseball executives give Boras high marks for his meticulous preparation, but his hardball tactics have left some feeling stung in the aftermath of deals. "Scott is hardworking, passionate, aggressive, clever, creative, aggressive, difficult," says San Diego Padres president Larry Lucchino. "Did I say aggressive?" Lucchino told NEWSWEEK his club is debating internally whether to continue dealing with Boras. The exec's hard feelings can be traced back to 1998, when star pitcher Kevin Brown left the Padres for the Dodgers and a then record $105 million deal. At the time, Lucchino suggested that Boras had jacked up Brown's price as much as $40 million by spreading "misinformation" about the contract terms being offered by various teams involved in the negotiations. Boras dismissed the charge as sour grapes, but to this day, some people in baseball insist that he did indeed mislead the Dodgers.

Boras didn't attract nearly as much attention from baseball executives as a minor-league outfielder in the 1970s. He played for four years after signing with the Cardinals organization for $7,500, rising as high as Double A. Boras says his experiences as a ballplayer make him a better agent because he understands the game from the inside. "Professional sports is a meat grinder," he says. "You're in and you're out." But some of his critics say it's really about revenge, that his failure to succeed on the diamond is what drives him to top management at the negotiating table. He earned a law degree and started handling contracts for former teammates in the early 1980s. He currently represents 55 major leaguers, including Braves pitcher Greg Maddux and Giants slugger Barry Bonds. The Scott Boras Corp. operates out of a modest suite of offices in a smoked-glass building next to the San Diego Freeway in Irvine, Calif. About half his staff of 25 works in Irvine with him, including a team of computer whizzes who maintain their own salary and performance databases covering every player in the major leagues. The rest are scouts, one of whom alerted Boras to Rodriguez when the shortstop was only 15 years old and playing in a tournament in Mexico. He also has on staff a full-time psychologist to help his clients deal with the pressures of stardom.

Landing the Rodriguez contract is now the prime objective for Team Boras. Given the handsome young athlete's stature and potential as probably the most talented player of his generation, the agent doesn't consider it just another deal; he considers it a merger. "He's going to help the entire organization get better," says Boras. To assist teams that might be interested in merging with his client, a group that includes the Texas Rangers, the Chicago White Sox, the Atlanta Braves and the Seattle Mariners (A-Rod's team since it drafted him in 1993), Boras had his staff put together a slick book (complete with embossed cover) called "Alex Rodriguez Historical Performance." The 70-page tome, which Boras says cost more than $200,000 to produce, mounts an exhaustive statistical argument to support the central idea that Rodriguez is the best shortstop at his age in baseball history.

Boras has also requested that interested teams brief Rodriguez on the state of their minor-league systems and acquaint him with their approach to personnel decisions. Rangers owner Tom Hicks didn't have a problem opening up to Rodriguez. Among other things, the team prepared for Rodriguez and Boras videotaped highlights of their top minor-league prospects in action.

But the A-Rod show didn't play so well in New York last month, where Boras's high-powered sales job backfired when the Mets held a press conference for the sole purpose of telling him, in effect, to get lost. The reigning National League champs said they weren't interested in signing Rodriguez because Boras was asking for special treatment for his client that would disrupt the unity of their team. A source with the Mets said the team took the unusual step of going public because it didn't want Boras to use it as a bargaining chip in his talks with other teams. In an echo of the Brown blowup, Boras has denied asking for perks like a private jet and an office in the stadium for Rodriguez. But the Mets move was widely seen as a clear loss for the agent and a public-relations disaster for the well-liked Rodriguez.

It was a rare misstep for Boras, but he soon had matters under control again. In the wake of the Mets fiasco, Rodriguez put out a statement on his Web site saying he was looking for stability and a commitment to winning, not a "ludicrous" laundry list of perks. "If I'm making $18-$23 million a year, I can buy anything I want," he wrote. By the time baseball's winter meetings got underway in Dallas last Friday, Boras was back in overdrive. Though the Rockies were most likely out of the running after the Hampton signing, the buzz at the start of the annual get-together of baseball executives had the Rangers very anxious to make a deal for Rodriguez. The Braves and Mariners were also still in the chase, and Boras made sure the world knew he was talking to the White Sox as well. Any time now, the biggest of the big deals is finally going to get done. And once again, Scott Boras is going to be the one who does it.