David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
INDIAN WELLS, Calif.
Thirty general managers attend their annual meetings, one from each team, accompanied by dozens of other front-office executives. But there is only one Scott Boras.
To call him a party-crasher is inaccurate. He certainly is welcomed to the event, where he is graciously accepted into the hotel villas, suites and conference rooms for plenty of binder time with numerous GMs interested in his clients.
But whenever Boras chooses to make an appearance, he tends to chew up the scenery, attracting large crowds of reporters that clog up lobbies and hallways. Boras is keenly aware of that fact, and as much as he enjoys the attention, he tends to avoid big public spaces until a time of his choosing.
That time was Thursday, the final night of the meetings, after the GMs had left campus for a cocktail hour at the Palm Springs home of Nationals owner Ted Lerner. That left the stage to Boras, and to hear him speak of what he believes to be baseball's unlimited riches, it's like listening to some ancient explorer who had just returned from El Dorado.
Few were happier with the recent sales of the Dodgers ($2 billion) and Padres ($800 million) than Boras, who loves nothing more than deep-pocketed owners. The more money Major League Baseball generates, the more trickles down to Boras. But in his case, it's better described as a deluge of cash.
"Now we've had owners that have become instant billionaires," Boras said. "Or they've made over a billion dollars by this re-evaluation because those top franchises that were worth $700 million in the early 2000s are worth well over 2 and sometimes $3 billion now.
"I don't think we need Forbes anymore to tell us what franchises are worth because we had a bankruptcy court judge say this is open season -- come tell me what this is all worth."
The only thing that succeeded in wiping the smile off Boras' face was the mention of the Yankees' mandate to get their payroll below $189 million by 2014, which is when that new luxury-tax threshold takes effect. Through the years, the Yankees always have been the ace up Boras' sleeve, the trump card to play when he needed teams to show him the money.
The idea that the Yankees will be following some kind of austerity plan in the next 14 months must scare even Boras, the fearless negotiator. And whenever teams band together to keep costs down -- in other words, save themselves from themselves -- that smells like collusion, a dirty word that he won't directly say but has to be bouncing around in his head like a ping-pong ball. Boras refers to it as a "goliath tax."
"This is about good business decisions," he said. "It's about fans coming to your ballpark. It's about you being in the playoffs annually. Certainly the model of these top teams is they're going to have salaries that separate themselves from the norm of the league, and there may be five or six of these goliaths to do that because it's good business for them to spend when they're making 500 million.
"Any metric that is artificial or placed in there for reasons other than your business model -- which is in the CBA -- that taxation system is there because of the membership dynamic of the league, it has nothing to do with good business decisions for your brand."
His rant complete, Boras paused before adding, "A very unbiased view."
Boras also touched on a number of individual teams, describing how as a franchise, the Nationals "have bloomed" with this season's playoff run. "I think in Washington baseball, it's spring," Boras said, "and there's a diamond full of cherry blossoms."
OK, so he isn't batting 1.000 when it comes to metaphors.
As for the once-down-and-out Dodgers, whom Boras ridiculed a year ago when Frank McCourt was around, they now seem to be his favorite team. "I think the Dodger ownership has made it very clear that they are very much about superstars and they understand Los Angeles," Boras said. "I think Magic Johnson was very clear about wanting to make this Dodger franchise something that is more akin to what he had when he was a Laker player."
Showtime, it was called. Something that Boras is familiar with.