Five years ago, he got a call from Kurt Stillwell, a former client who now works for Boras. Stillwell had spotted something growing in the Las Vegas desert. “I need you to come over here right away,” Stillwell said.
“That’s usually good news,” Boras responded.
“It is, but I need to caution you on something. This kid is only 14 years old.”
Boras had seen sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr., at similar ages. The 14-year old Bryce Harper had “it.” “Best power I’d ever seen from someone that age,” Boras says.
Then, just a few months later, Stillwell called again about a 19-year old pitcher named Stephen Strasburg, who was too chubby then and relegated to the San Diego State’s bullpen. “But we saw something there,” Boras says.
He saw the future. He’d try to represent both phenoms, knowing each could change a ballclub’s trajectory. He’d even joke with some owners that if they could lose in spectacular fashion in back-to-back seasons, the future of baseball would be secure in that particular market for years to come.
That market turned out to be Washington.
As the postseason begins, the team with at least a share of baseball’s best record has Boras’s fingerprints all over it. He represents five players on the Nationals’ expected 25-man playoff roster, including Harper, outfielder Jayson Werth and second baseman Danny Espinosa. Strasburg would have been No. 6 if the team hadn’t shut him down last month. Boras also had represented pitcher Edwin Jackson and catcher Jesus Flores, but both left him in the past year. And he controls some of the Nats’ most promising prospects.
Boras played a key role in the Nats’ turnaround, though the exact level of his responsibility – the amount of credit due to him – is up for debate. Like all things Boras, it depends entirely on two things: 1) the narrative, and 2) who’s telling it.
Trusting his instincts
Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a better picture. A teenaged Boras grew up on a small farm not far from Sacramento, Calif., and would spend hot summer afternoons riding a tractor and milking cows. He’d finish for the day and race to the baseball field, playing under a bright setting sun.
Here’s a Boras story:
“My dad, he loved to plant things and grow things. I was an inquisitive kid, so I’d ask, ‘Dad, we put this in the ground. How do you know it’s going to grow? You don’t know if you’ll get enough water.’
“’Well, son, life is like this, the greatest decisions that you make will have few followers at inception. When you plant the crops, a lot of people are going to tell you they may not grow. . . . No matter what judgements you make, everyone won’t agree with you, but that’s the reason you make decisions. You make them because you have information, you have your instincts. The most important thing you must understand is why you’re making a decision.’”