Earlier in the week, as some of the uncouth, unwashed masses went on and took in the Baltimore-Washington makeup game at Nats Park, I decided to get my learn on and headed on down to the Smithsonian Institute of Free, Old, and Occasionally Cool Things and Stuff* to take in one of their evening seminars: The Most Powerful Man in Baseball? An Evening with Superagent Scott Boras. Boras, as many of you probably know, is the agent to many baseball luminaries and Stephen Strasburg, and is often seen as Public Enemy Numero Uno when it comes to baseball’s purported decline, given his meddling in…I don’t know, exactly.
To be honest, I’ve always admired the guy, as he has done a lot of things that I have done (or wanted to do) in my life and has done so with aplomb after coming from a fairly disadvantaged background. A former minor leaguer with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, after his playing days were over, he went on to pursue graduate studies in not only pharmaceutical sciences, but also in law, securing degrees in those disciplines from the University of Pacific, whose name is as oxymoronic as it gets, but I digress.
OK, fine, you’ve egged me on. Stockton is a turd. There, I said it. GREAT thrift stores, but yeah…pass.
Enough rambling about who Boras is, biographically—if you don’t know all the details, wiki up. More importantly, what did I learn by sitting at the feet of Boras, along with D.C. baseball stalwarts Phil Wood and Adam Kilgore?
Because my brain is feeble and my recollection of what I did an hour ago, let alone four days ago, is fuzzy, my apologies in advance for the cryptic crib notes and for the potentially bouncing format. Also, let it be known that Boras is a lawyer and as such, can ramble on and on and on in response to a question and NEVER FUCKING ANSWER IT. He’s a bang up lawyer in this respect. Caveat emptor.
His relationship with George Steinbrenner was contentious, but steeped in both parties’ desire to win.
- Given the average age of the crowd was roughly 203984390, there were a lot of questions asked about the good ol’ days, especially the Yankees. OK. Either way, he had a lot of respect for Steinbrenner and had his share of passionate calls and chats from King George through the years, especially about Bernie Williams, whom ol’ George didn’t take a shining to at the start. Winning can change a man.
He doesn’t like the draft as now constructed
- He feels that it really hurts player and organization alike, with the notion that any artificial dampening of the market is a bad thing. Forgive my lack of basic economics chops, so I will probably explain this in a very ham-handed way, but essentially, the money and the value that is applied to a player these days is wrong and it all goes to the basic premise that the player determines the market value. Thinking about some of the more esoteric aspects of sabermetric valuation of a player monetarily and the assignment of dollars to wins above replacement, I can appreciate how crazy this whole concept is, trying to slot money to particular picks and draft rounds. If Joe Bloggs is worth eleventy billion dollars, let him get it; let a team willing to give it to him do as such. Of course, that means more money for Boras if he does represent Bloggs, but it makes sense that the framing of the draft is archaic. Consider Bloggs’ Cuban counterpart, Jose Bloggas, can come in and actually get said eleventy billion smackers, just adds to the frustration of Boras and how he can operate. And his main raison d’être?
He works very hard for his clients to get them their fair value and feels that in doing so, will make players and the game the best they/it can be
- Here, Boras made a few references to clients—Greg Maddux, Jered Weaver, and Prince Fielder come to mind—and their mindsets going into free agency and signing contracts, but to paraphrase, Boras does his homework and then some to make sure the number he has in his head for his players is the correct one now, tomorrow, and five years from now. As such, he leans heavily on statistics and people who know the numbers and can make projections, which leads us to…
He has his own database(s) and even his own proprietary stats to measure and evaluate talent
- Not a huge surprise, but hey, Scott, if you’re reading this…call me!
The next uncharted frontiers in baseball are injury analytics and what pharmaceutical agents can be used to improve player health and performance
- I know it’s crazy that a guy with a pharmacy background would be interested in what we can use SAFELY AND LEGALLY to improve player health, with the secondary perk of improved performance. Again, he goes back to taking care of his client and their health, both physically and financially. A question was also posed about sports psychology and its role in his activities and he kinda lawyered the answer, talking about his playing days and telling a story about Stan Musial (or some other Cardinal old-timer) and never answering the question. Reading between the lines, yes, he probably uses it. And again, Scott, if you’re reading…*makes universal hand gesture for ‘call me’*
- No real hot takes on Peter Angelos and he did a great job of extinguishing the majority of the flaming torches (thoughtfully provided by the Smithsonian!**) at the ready at the mention of anything Baltimore, MASN, or Angelos related. But here’s a couple of thoughts: they are both Greek lawyers, so yeah, you can guess their relationship is one of respect at the least; also, Boras made a point to show Angelos in a light that showed his earlier ways of being heavy-handed with the team and the decision-making processes were history, so again, an even-keeled, lawyer answer and discussion, with some pearls of wisdom there if you *really* dig.
- Someone asked his thought on the Redskins name. This was the first goddamn question the audience asked (albeit, on an index card, so who knows if the order got shuffled to the moderator’s liking). One of the most polarizing and influential people in baseball in the last 50 years and you ask this question. I honestly lost all senses in a fit of rage and disillusion for a few seconds, so I didn’t hear his whole answer, but again—LAWYA’!—he answered with a measured response, putting the decision in the respective tribe(s) hands.
And the last take home message?
No matter who’s playing, Boras always wins.
- His influence and reach in the game is such that he always wins out. A silly story to (sort of) prove this point; he mentioned getting to the Nats-Orioles game, as he had a few clients playing; I want to say the number of Boras clients on both teams sums up to about 12-14 players. Two of those players are each team’s respective closer. Nats win? Boras wins. O’s win? Boras, yet again, wins. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Where you there? Did I miss something? I know I did, since the seminar lasted two hours, but hopefully, this provides a taste of what Boras’ thoughts are on the game. Either way, the more we understand his rhyme and reason, the better attuned we will be to the idiosyncrasies of the game; in the end, we become better fans. Then, we all win.
*may or may not be official name
** may or may not be true
Much has been discussed about the ‘premature’ shutdown of Stephen Strasburg, as the Nationals head into the last month of the regular season with a commanding lead over the Atlanta Braves for the top spot in the NL East. I won’t inundate you with links for the thoughts, and opinions of many who have weighed in on the matter; a bit of googling or 30 seconds of listening in to the sports talk radio show of your liking will give you all of the fodder you need to keep abreast of the situation. In the end, the decision to keep Strasburg at what many consider to be a pedestrian 160ish innings for the season, postseason be damned, rests with but a handful of people; those people will continue to toe the company line, and say that this decision was done with the best of intentions, not only for Strasburg, but for the collective futures of those affiliated with the Nationals.
While Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, and in some respects, super agent Scott Boras bear the brunt of the decision-making, and the vitriol revolving around ending Strasburg’s season, there remains one other person implicated, with of an opinion that bears enough weight to be considered in full, and the only man of this brain trust that has experienced the mental and physical dilemmas that predicate the decision to shut down Washington’s ace.
Steve McCatty, more than most, can and will vouch for the need for a franchise to protect the arms of their pitchers, not only as a pitching coach, but also as someone who wishes to prevent history repeating itself – his own.
While known now as the no-nonsense mustachioed pitching coach, and a man who has nurtured and re-energized the careers of many a Nats pitcher, he himself was a pitcher, and one who enjoyed success, albeit fleetingly.
A member of the Oakland A’s in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, during the reign of Billy Martin, McCatty was part of a feared starting rotation that embodied, and fell victim to, BillyBall.
The early 80’s provided a renaissance of sorts for Oakland baseball, and McCatty was an integral part of this rejuvenation. As much joy as the early ’70s A’s teams brought the East Bay in the form of 3 World Series titles from 1972-74, the late 1970’s brought as much anguish, culminating in a harrowing 54-108 record in the ’79 season. However, as with any managerial changing of the guard, and of a philosophy, growing pains will prevail, and prevail they did under the helm of Martin.
The ’79 season gave way to a hopeful 83-79 1980 season, which then brought a great, albeit shortened 1981 season for the A’s, not only due to a player’s strike, but a poor showing in the American League Championship Series, seeing the A’s being swept by the New York Yankees.
Coinciding with this resurgence of winning in Oakland came the progress and apex of McCatty’s pitching prowess. Aside from a handful of innings in 1977 and 1978, Cat’s career didn’t really take off until the ’79 season, which saw him jump from 75 innings pitched in the majors and minors in ’78 to 205.2 innings pitched between Oakland, and AAA Ogden in ’79. Ending the ’79 season with a 11-12 record, good for 19% of the A’s win total that year, McCatty’s innings saw about a 175% increase from 1978. Just looking at his MLB numbers for those two years, Cat saw an 828% increase in workload. Take into consideration the Nationals policy for increasing a pitcher’s workload during the formative years, and the numbers further astound.
While his workload increase from ’79 to 1980 was a more tolerable 7%, and more inline with the natural progression of a young starter maturing into his role as a top flight starter, the wear and tear that BillyBall brought to the arms of the A’s was starting to show. However, McCatty soldiered on, and was rewarded with a fantastic 1981 season, which saw the A’s take the AL West, and McCatty go 14-7, good for a second place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting. He did this to the tune of 185.1 innings pitched, which at first glance, isn’t that much. However, given the strike shortened season, this is deceiving. Were it not for the strike, McCatty was on pace for a 20 win season, with around 250 innings pitched, assuming a typical starter making 30 starts in a season.
That’s not all that was impressive about his 1981 season. For ’81, Cat averaged over 8 innings PER START, with an astounding 16 of his 22 starts completed.
*16* complete games, with two of his starts seeing him go 10 innings.
This was par for the course for Oakland pitchers under the BillyBall philosophy, and it served them well…for two years.
As the calendar turned over to a new year and baseball season, the A’s saw their good fortunes of 1981 fizzle away in 1982 – a 68-94 record, and arm injuries to the starters signified the beginning of the end. As his fastball velocity went down, so did McCatty’s innings. Acknowledging pitching through pain most of those halcyon years, and those following them, Cat became nothing more than a junkballer after 1981, getting by on changing speeds, and veteran guile, his once mighty fastball all but a memory, post 1981.
In the end, McCatty’s promising career careened to a halt in 1986, spending most of his remaining years and innings as a reliever, and mop up man, his days of almost Cy Young caliber dominance exactly that – days past. No one remembers who came in second, and that point is driven home when it’s your middle reliever holding that uncrowned achievement.
Time heals all wounds, and to this day, Steve McCatty doesn’t speak ill of how Billy Martin used him, or the rest of the pitching staff during his days as a Oakland Athletic. He was paid to pitch, and that’s exactly what he did, to the detriment of the team in the end, and to the detriment of his arm, and baseball legacy.
The siren song of taking your horse and using him in a maximal fashion each start is alluring, but the rocks off of the shore of championships, and the glory bestowed upon those who achieve it, are too craggy to navigate without an unfailing compass of knowledge, which is lacking when it comes to the handling of post Tommy John surgery hurlers.
The Nationals have not been there yet, to set foot on the sandy beaches of World Series glory, but the shore is in their sights for the first time in their voyage as DC’s team. There is much to be said about being in the always troubling position of being the one who sets a precedent, be it successful, or a warning to others to not follow in their footsteps; this is the position that the Nationals find themselves in, and their every move along their course to the postseason without Stephen Strasburg is being eyed with hawk-like acuity by others.
The desire to be first is all-encompassing, but it should not be at the cost of the livelihood of any player, and his long-term health, and his career. Steve McCatty has tread those waters before, and drowned in the vortex of winning now, at all costs, all hands and arms on deck.
One can only hope that his career provides enough of a warning to Washington to stay true to the course they have set out on, as the siren sings on.