Transcript of an interview Thursday with baseball agent Scott Boras, who represents Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.
Q: When other people in baseball say the Nationals are making a mistake by protecting Stephen Strasburg’s surgically repaired right arm, how do you respond to that?
A: That’s why you use case studies. These people have done no research. Who are they? I mean, you know, I listen to John Kruk or these people and I’m like, ‘Who the [expletive] are you guys? You aren’t medically trained.’ I have a Ph.D. in Pharmacology. I have studied medicine for eight years. I know how much time and effort you have to put in the examination room. These people have no medical training whatsoever, and people listen to them. ‘Oh, the game requires you to pitch.’ You aren’t a doctor! The doctor gives you the authority. If the doctor told me he could go 220 innings, I’d say great, but I’m not a medical doc.
Q: So, this was the plan from the beginning after the surgery, correct?
A: How about this — how about everyone was given notice by [Mike] Rizzo and everyone else that this was going to be what the format was. That Stephen is going to, hopefully, pitch the Nationals into position. [Strasburg’s situation coming off surgery influenced how] Rizzo and I put this team together. I got eight or nine guys on the team. I got another whole group in the minor leagues.
The answer [for Strasburg’s program to work out] was, and I went to the owner and said ‘You better start Edwin Jackson, you better do this because you are going to need these innings because we have this plan for Stephen Strasburg.’ And you know what? Ted [Lerner] did it. I had to go to his house to get the money to have to do it and say look this is the plan, but you know what, he did it.
Q: That turned out to be a great move. Pardon my ignorance, but who did you represent on the Braves?
A: Greg Maddux and Steve Avery.
Q: So the whole Avery experiment in Atlanta, what was [Former Braves pitching coach and critic of decision to shut Strasburg down] Leo Mazzone thinking?
A: You know, he forgets the people. ‘I, I, I, I’m Leo. I did this great thing.’ And you know, I’m not sure what he did. All I know is, there was no one sitting here raising the flag on this. I’ve talked to [then Braves’ GM and now president John] Schuerholz, and everybody else, and I say “look, we’ve got too many innings and I didn’t have the studies in place that I have now. ”
You can go back in Rick Ankiel’s career, and I went in and said we have got to watch what this guy does in the big leagues at such a young age. And the studies are very revealing.
Q: So, clearly, you felt comfortable that Mike Rizzo understood your thinking on this long before this happened?
A: So, good thing about Rizzo when I had Strasburg — and you know he was a 20-year-old draftee, a year early. I said, “Look, you want to draft these players? Great, but you know what? I’m not on board. We won’t sign and I’ll send them back to college. I want to make sure we have an organization that will put the health of these players first.” I saw this coming. I saw all this coming. He was too talented, and his body wasn’t yet mature. He was so young.
When Stephen got hurt, it was actually a blessing in disguise. We had nine months we could work on his core and his legs. He gained like 15 percent more strength.
Q: Is Stephen at all concerned about upsetting the clubhouse with this decision?
A: You got to remember that this is not Stephen’s decision. Stephen wants to pitch. [But] when you put your hands, your career, in the hands of a doctor, [it’s] “You saved my career, now what do I do?” Once you know this man saved your career, you listen to his protocol.
Q: And Rizzo understood all this in a matter-of-fact terms?
A: You’re not going to forget. And the fortunate thing here is, Rizzo has wisely said this isn’t your decision. We’re not going to let you do it. I told Rizzo, “I’ll be honest with you, you got a guy who is a No. 1 pitcher. There are only a few of them in the game. He’s worth $30 million dollars a year. You have four years that cost you $120 million dollars. You only have to pay him, because of the reserve system, $40 million dollars. So you have an $80 million dollar decision of profit — in an asset that you have under your control. You better look at it that way. You know what else you better look at? With your insurance coverage, if you go against medical recommendations, are you liable for negligence as an organization?”
Q: So, you’re saying there is some legal consequence involved if something were to happen to him this season or down the road because you kept pitching him?
A: The fact of the matter is, if you are forcing your player to pitch and disregarding medical doctors, are you going to be able to live with that legally and ethically?
Q: I’m thinking out loud, obviously this is Mike Rizzo’s decision. But he probably got some help from you in the back of his head.
A: Well, no. Mike and I talk all the time. Mike and I ... Look, Mike and I have been talking about this for years. You know? And Mike has steadfastly gone in and relied not on anything I have to say. The one thing he’s done is talk to the medical experts.
A: I gave him our studies with pitchers who throw, but that didn’t apply here because Stephen was injured. So the innings issue wasn’t an issue. We have a guy who had Tommy John surgery, so what do we do? We go to the doctor and we get a protocol and work it well. We got a player whose career could have been over, but it’s been revived by a medical doctor.
And now he’s a franchise pitcher. Now he has a value that is extraordinary. The team is saying, look, we are so fortunate. Stephen feels so fortunate to have a team that has his back. We’re going to monitor this closely.
Q: Are you worried that guys are not on board with this in the clubhouse?
A: Like [Adam] LaRoche? I would expect every player on the team would support Stephen and say, “We want you.” Of course they would. But the reality of it is, players, former players, evaluators, pundits, all these people, they’re not covering this game. None of them have medical training. None of them have case studies. None of them just performed surgery on Stephen. Who, of all people, would know? I’ve heard people say, “Yes, you can test him. You can evaluate them, you can see if their velocity is good.” Healthy pitchers like Steve Avery — that was not the case. This guy was healthy, no problem. And then all of a sudden his career is, in effect, over at 25. So even with healthy pitchers, you can’t make those diagnostic statements. When evidence starts getting in the way of wives’ tales, when medical experts are being frowned upon, they’re not against the team, they’re not against winning. But those components don’t go into medical judgment. There’s nothing in the factor that says the durability of the players, players’ ability to do things, the protocols are not based upon anything to do with team conduct. Protocols are based on medical health.
Q: Back to the legal ramifications.
A: My point is, can you look back at this and say, that we didn’t not follow expert medical opinion? What’s the liability for that, ethically and legally? I know, for me, I’m going to my client and saying, “Look, I know. I know how bad you want to pitch. But, you have to remember, this doctor saved your career. This doctor is the one that knows what’s best for you. This doctor has all the studies. This doctor knows how to summarize and review the information to create the protocol. No one else but someone with expert medical opinion has any position to say anything about this because they’re not qualified.”
I guess when you studied medicine in some form or fashion as I have, that is so resoundingly clear. Outside the medical community, this would be like someone who built the hydrogen bomb coming in and saying, “You know, to be honest with you, I really don’t think the fallout from that is going to affect anybody. I know some people that after one year and they’re fine. Don’t worry about radiation. Don’t worry about it.”
Q: It sounds like Rizzo and you bonded over this early, and that’s the reason why you felt comfortable sending guys to Washington to be developed. Is that an overstatement?
A: Mike was a developmental guy. Why did I have all these draft picks go to Washington? Why? The answer is I had [Max] Scherzer and Stephen Drew with Arizona. I got to know Mike from there. Mike was like me, a former player. You played pro ball, you understand. And Mike understands the benefit long-term of making sure medical health, a player’s health, and the development of a player is appropriately done. He gets that.
Once I knew that, boom, I started putting players into his system that I knew would benefit the player, benefit the team. And the reality of it is, we had this mutuality. Sure enough, in the Strasburg case, he sat down, listened to the doctors. Going into the season, he said early on, this is what we’re going to do.
Q: Both of you are clearly on the same page with this.
A: And you know what, the other thing is, when I looked at this, I said, ‘Riz, we need more innings.’ He agreed. And we went to ownership, and Ted complied. The Nationals, they brought in Edwin Jackson, they brought in the extra innings, they’ve got a couple extra pitchers in [Ross] Detwiler and [John] Lannan sitting back there. And they also have the ability to acquire more pitching if needed. But not at the risk of, you know, the longevity of Stephen Strasburg’s career to the Nationals, to the organization, to baseball — that’s something that is extraordinary important because he is a unique talent. We want to monitor him for the best interest of the game, long-term.
Q: You sound more certain about this than anything. Is that fair?
A: This is the only industry I know where people are saying, ‘Excuse me, I want to risk a benefit of years of performance, years of productivity, for a one-month, two-month benefit. What industry would someone say they would risk the weight of that with what they think is their only opportunity to win? First of all, when you’re talking about the postseason, talking about all these things, the fact of the matter is, the importance of a No. 1 starter is, no doubt, it’s profound. It’s proven.
But on the other side, there are a lot of other factors that go into what players can and can’t do. And the only thing I know is, that if this doctor gave Stephen clearance then he’d be out there doing it. But you know what? I’m sorry. You’re asking me, you’re taking severe risks if you violate the protocol.”
Q: You still seem bothered by the fact that Mazzone pitched Avery so many innings at such a young age.
A: With healthy pitchers, I’ve heard the testimony by many who say we have the ability to judge their effectiveness. And the fact of the matter is, in the short term, they’re fine. Their velocity is great. But in the long term, a career ended, a brilliant career ended prematurely, due to the taxation of innings, where this pitcher threw a season and a half more than [Tom] Glavine and a full season more than [John] Smoltz by the age of 23. And largely because he pitched extra innings in the postseason every year when he was 21, 22 and 23.