Boras has the stocky, compact build of a catcher, his light brown hair combed neatly to one side. His office in Newport Beach is straight from the future, a silver, metallic structure in an office park of bricks. Though his business has grown and is structured much like a baseball team’s – he has researchers, a psychological staff, a conditioning coach, a sports fitness institute – it all hinges on the scouting component. That, after all, is how Boras got in this agent game.
The credential of which he’s most proud is his brief, unspectacular baseball career. Boras spent five seasons in the Cardinals’ and Cubs’ organizations in the 1970s.
“He was a very intelligent kid,” said Jim Saul, who managed Boras at Class AA Midland, Tex. “He was always wanting to learn, trying to figure out how to get better. You never had to tell him twice.”
Boras was 25 when knee surgery ended his baseball career in 1978. The Cubs paid for his schooling, and he earned a law degree and a doctorate in industrial pharmacology. He briefly practiced medical litigation for a big Chicago firm before baseball lured him back.
A young agent, Boras couldn’t sign established big-leaguers, so he sought out the best prospects possible. He built his business through the amateur draft, identifying players who might someday command big contracts, pitchers like as Steve Avery, Ben McDonald, Andy Benes. In the process, he revolutionized the draft’s pay scale. The top signing bonuses had barely budged from $100,000 in 20 years, but Boras kept upping the stakes. Last summer, he negotiated a record $8 million in bonus money for pitcher Gerrit Cole, the top pick of the 2011 amateur draft now in the Pirates organization.
For years, unless owners met his demands, Boras threatened that his clients would not sign with teams. He instead found loopholes and stashed his players in independent leagues, re-entering them in the follow year’s draft. Many stayed clear of Boras clients, figuring the trouble and asking price were too daunting.
But like Boras, the Nationals saw the future. When Washington landed the top overall picks in the 2009 and ‘10 drafts, the Nats knew the key to signing Strasburg and Harper would be effectively dealing with Boras.
An early connection
If Washington’s first taste of the major league postseason since 1933 hinged on Boras’s players, the seeds of the narrative can be traced to two pivotal events, neither of which involve players who’ve worn a curly “W” cap — but both crucial to Boras forging a relationship with Washington’s general manager and perhaps more important, the team’s owner.