Scott Boras spent five nights last week at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla., and the only palm he saw was the bellhop's. "I arrived on Sunday and didn't leave the building until Thursday night at 8:30, when Alex Rodriguez and his nine-months-pregnant wife rescued me and took me to dinner," says Boras, the baseball superagent who represents the Yankees' third baseman. "Until then, I was a laboratory rat inside a cage."
As cages go the Ritz is a sumptuous one, its lobby fragrant with 300 pink roses. Which explains how, while passing through that lobby last week, Boras stopped and--yes!--smelled the roses. All over the resort, which was hosting the annual meeting of baseball's general managers, jaws fell open like trapdoors.
That's because Boras, whose clients include seven of baseball's most desirable free agents, has the sleep habits of rust. In baseball he's considered more powerful than Bud Selig, if not nearly as lovable. He's been called, among many other things, Boras Badenov. Indeed, most baseball owners list him as their least favorite agent, just below Agent Orange.
"I love this perception of agents," says the 52-year-old Boras, who hates this perception of agents.
"Robert Wuhl is a friend of mine, and he would always ask me to come on his show, Arli$$"--whose title character is a no-scruples sports superagent. "And I'd say, 'That's the last thing in the world I would ever do. I hope your show gets canceled.'" (It did.)
This winter it is Boras's pitchfork stoking baseball's hot stove. His free agents include Carlos Beltran of the Astros, Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe of the Red Sox, Magglio Ordo√±ez of the White Sox, Kevin Millwood of the Phillies and J.D. Drew of the Braves. They might sign contracts this winter that are collectively worth half a billion dollars.
Earlier this month Boras signed as a client the free-agent second baseman of the Yomiuri Giants, Toshihisa Nishi, for whom Boras is now weighing offers in Japan and North America. In fact, when Boras weighs offers, he really does weigh offers--on a scale, given the vast stores of loot involved. In 2000, when ARod signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with Rangers owner Tom Hicks, Boras took 5%, or $12.6 million. "Tom Hicks made a billion dollars as a negotiator," Boras says, with incredulity, "and people think I hoodwinked him?"
He continues: "I'm a guy who played baseball and went to law school. A lot of other [agents'] personalities are the sales-leader, schmoozing types. That's never been my nature."
Rather, he sees himself as an ex-infielder (in the Cards' and the Cubs' systems) devoted to getting players their "53 or 54 percent" of the revenue pie from poverty-pleading owners. He is, in short, part Robin Yount, part Robin Hood. "I need to let owners know that when they benefit, players need to benefit too," says Boras, who then recites, by rote, a litany of figures that suggest Major League Baseball's revenue stream is, in fact, Amazonian. "People ask, 'Does it always have to be about money?'" says Boras. "Well, with owners it does. Ticket prices don't go down when a team is losing." Instead, he insists, the average cost per fan--ticket, food, parking--has increased from $28 to $51 in the past seven years.
And Boras has great confidence in his figures. To place his clients' achievements in their proper historical context, Boras employs 15 full-time researchers and keeps a computerized statistical database dating back to 1871. ("I'll ask clients, 'Do you want to be compared to Warren Spahn or Sandy Koufax?'" he says.) The database was set up by a NASA engineer. To Boras baseball is rocket science. So armed is he with statistical ammunition that workers, he has said, have had to remove his boxes of documents from arbitration hearings with a forklift.
Ask him if, as fans believe, his clients always go to the highest bidder, and he replies, "I'm so glad you asked. Let's see: Alex Fernandez signed for seven or eight million dollars less than he could have gotten elsewhere to stay in Florida. Wilson Alvarez signed for 15 percent less to play in Tampa versus a city in the Northeast. Greg Maddux took 25 percent less by not going to the Yankees in '93 and instead signing with Atlanta. Bernie Williams could have played in Arizona for 100 million but instead stayed in New York for 90 million. Shall I continue?"
After five days in Florida, Boras will spend three days visiting clients in Puerto Rico before returning home to Newport Beach, Calif., and his three children: Natalie, 16, Shane, 14, and Trent, 12. "I've missed two of Natalie's tennis matches," he says with a sigh, sounding wistful and positively benign.
But first he has business in New York City, whose Yankees Boras nakedly admires. "Without Goliaths," he says, "baseball would be the NFL, where you have no idea who's any good until eight games into the season." He doesn't mean to be talking about himself when he adds, "I think Goliaths in sports are wonderful."
• For a collection of Steve Rushin's columns, go to Si.com/writers.