Which earned him just enough education about the law to start questioning the way Major League Baseball was treating his friends.
Which is why the business of baseball is now dramatically different than it was then.
Which is why Boras, now a multi-millionaire and the pre-eminent agent in all of sports, can sit in his spacious corner office in his 20,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building and tell you how he made this journey because he wanted to help the little guy.
Thing is, he did it so well that the little guy is not so little anymore, and even the littlest of his little guys makes more money that most Americans can even fathom. To many of those Americans, Boras is not a champion of the underdog, but a villain. He's the guy who's responsible for the high costs of everything from tickets to parking to hot dogs. He's the guy who made it so your favorite team can no longer afford your favorite player.
"It would bother me," Boras said, "if it were true."
Boras can tell a convincing story about how revenue went up first, then went to his clients, rather than ticket prices going up in response to escalating salaries. It's a chicken-and-egg debate that can't be adequately answered because a) it's not that simple and b) both sides are too biased to give you the whole story.
Boras' arguments about baseball's finances were stirred up at November' GM Meetings and will continue at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis next week, where he and his crew will be shopping the biggest free agent of them all, Matt Holliday. As usual, Boras has the top-dollar free agent, and general managers will grumble that he's asking for too much.
While there is a certain amount of friction between Boras and Major League Baseball, none of the officials contacted by FanHouse were willing to go on the record with their criticisms. At worst, Braves general manager Frank Wren conceded that GMs and agents aren't supposed to get along.
"Anytime you are on different sides of the deal, it creates an adversarial position," Wren said. "That's the nature of the business."
At best, you can find baseball officials who actually admire Boras.
"He's one of the smartest, shrewdest, keenest people I've come across, whether it's been as a friend or a business associate," Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said. "He's a very, very sharp guy. Most of the time you're dealing with Scott, you learn."
A's GM Billy Beane, whose payroll constraints keep him from wading into negotiating waters too often with Boras, has had a different sort of relationship with him. Their kids went to school together in Southern California. In fact, Beane said they were once admonished at a school recital because they were talking too loudly about a deal during the performance.
"I find him engaging, bright, challenging, obviously more than competent," Beane said. "I've always enjoyed Scott. I have no complaints about the process. I enjoy negotiating with him. I enjoy the banter with him."
Even his bitter adversaries appreciate that the reason Boras is such a pain is because he is good at what he does. Rising to the top of your field on your brains and determination is supposed to be a story that all Americans appreciate.
Boras, 57, grew up on his family's dairy farm in Elk Grove, Calif., just outside of Sacramento. In this case "farm" isn't just another word for "country." It was an actual, working farm. Boras milked cows and drove a tractor. He said he learned early how important efficiency was, because it was only by doing his chores quickly and correctly that he could have the time to pursue his passion: baseball.
He was a pretty good high school outfielder and then he moved on to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., where scouts started sniffing around. One even told him that he had potential to reach the majors. Unfortunately for Boras -- or fortunately, as it turns out -- he wrecked his knee in an outfield collision just before the draft his senior year. Boras ended up signing with the Cardinals and he played a couple years in the minors. Three knee surgeries later, his career was over. Boras went back to Pacific to attend law school. He combined his law degree with his undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical sciences to go to work for a Chicago law firm that defended drug companies against lawsuits.
"I found out later that I didn't like that," he said. "It's not my nature. I had a lot of poor people who were bringing actions against the drug companies. I'd rather work for David than Goliath."
That's an eye-opening comment from a guy whose current idea of David is Alex Rodriguez, but it fit with the way Boras first started working on behalf of baseball players. He did a favor for a friend, Mike Fischlin, by negotiating his contract. Boras said he got an icy response from major league officials, who were used to unrepresented players simply taking what they were offered.
"I hung up the phone and I thought, 'Everyone in America has a right to legal counsel? Why would they take that attitude about players?'" Boras recalled. "I said to myself, 'I'm going to look into this draft.' I started studying the draft and got inside of it."
Boras saw that Shawon Dunston, the No. 1 pick in the 1982 draft, got $135,000, not much more than the $104,000 Rick Monday got as the No. 1 pick in the inaugural draft 17 years earlier. That struck Boras as odd, so he made it his pet project to find a player to test the system for the 1983 draft. In his free time from his day job in Chicago, Boras drove around the Midwest watching baseball players. He was fortunate enough to find Tim Belcher at Mount Vernon Nazarene College, a tiny NAIA school in central Ohio. Boras had never met Belcher, but when he introduced himself, he explained how the system was stacked against him, and how he was willing to help. The Twins took Belcher with the No. 1 overall pick in '83, and Twins farm director George Brophy offered Belcher the customary $100,000, Boras said. Boras said Brophy told him: "I'm telling you what the offer is and I'll never talk to you again. Let me know when you want to take it."
Boras, however, discovered a loophole -- the first of many that would make millions for his clients -- that allowed Belcher to reject the Twins' offer and still be eligible for the secondary phase of the draft in January 1984, when the Yankees had the No. 1 pick. Because Belcher went to an NAIA school instead of an NCAA school, he could be a part-time student, thus eligible for the January draft, and still be eligible to play baseball his senior year at Mount Vernon Nazarene. The Yankees picked Belcher and signed him for $150,000. Just as Belcher was getting ready to go to spring training with the Yankees, what amounted to a bookkeeping error allowed the A's to draft him off the Yankees roster. Boras found another loophole, though, and negotiated for the A's to give Belcher a second bonus in exchange for him dropping a grievance that could have kept him with the Yankees.
Two careers were born. Belcher ended up pitching 14 years in the majors and winning 146 games, and Boras suddenly had a reputation and was on his way to having enough clients that he could think about ditching his job in Chicago. In 1986, he became a full-time agent to baseball players.
"I decided I had enough money to begin the process of losing money for nine years in a row," Boras said.
Boras' first office was a tiny little place in Pomona, a unspectacular, smoggy, community east of Los Angeles that Boras picked because it was located halfway between Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium. The outside of his office was scrawled with graffiti from gangs.
The two-story office building sits in an office park in a classy section of Newport Beach, just between the Pacific Ocean and one of Southern California's most upscale shopping areas. The building was gutted in 2006 and remodeled to fit Boras' specifications, right down to the 15-foot high metal front door that seems more appropriate for a bank vault. Once inside the two-story high lobby, you face a wall covered with hundreds of baseballs autographed by Boras clients. Down one hallway is a display case with replicas of a dozen Gold Gloves. The walls are covered with large photos of his clients (although some of them aren't in their most up-to-date uniforms).
There are about 75 flat-screen high-definition televisions scattered throughout the building. There is a gym, a locker room and a laundry room downstairs. There is a kitchen where breakfast and lunch are served every day. (A woman was baking brownies one Monday afternoon in late November.) It all helps keep the on-site staff of about 35 happy and working hard on behalf of Boras' clients, about 70 big-leaguers and a similar number in the minors.
Boras staffers do everything from public relations to marketing to "personal services." There is a subsidiary of the company called Personal Management Consultants. They do things like help players find places to live, get their cars shipped and handle logistics when they are traded. A dozen people work in the statistical analysis and research. They sit in thick-walled cubicles 12 months a year, crunching numbers to be presented to clubs in negotiations. They pull numbers from the company's private database, stored on servers in an oxygen-sealed room in the basement.
Down another hall is Steve Odgers, who runs Boras Sports Training, a full fitness facility that operates in Aliso Viejo, about 20 minutes away. Clients come by in the winter to get personalized workout routines. Odgers also travels the country to meet Boras clients and direct their training year-round. Boras even employs sports psychologists who he makes available to his clients. It's all included in the 5 percent commission Boras collects.
Boras believes that his job is not simply to negotiate the best contracts he can, but to provide his clients with everything they could possibly need to be the best baseball players they can be.
"We have people meet with these men at a young age and say 'This is what you have to do. Your skill set is good, but it doesn't allow you to be what you want to be,'" Boras said. "In the pro world, the teams use their people to tell these players what to do, but the players look at it like it's their boss telling them what to do. It's not necessarily for you. When we give a player information, we understand it's all about them. The motivation is for them to go out and succeed."
Success and popularity, of course, are two different things. For players, they often go together, but for agents like Boras, not so much.
Although Boras has built an empire out of nothing, he knows that he's still going to hear unfriendly comments from fans whenever he shows up at a ballpark, or if he dares listen to talk radio.
Other agents and GMs snipe at him behind his back, and sometimes right in front of him. Jeff Moorad, a former agent who now owns the Padres, once bought a large sign advertising his firm and had it placed on the fence at a Southern California Little League field named for Boras because of his donation to the program. Agents use anti-Boras campaigns when trying to sign amateur players, telling the families that big-league teams will avoid their sons if they are attached to him.
Boras has been known to irritate baseball officials Once a club official resorted to banging his shoe against the table, Khrushchev-style, in a fit of anger provoked by Boras.
Boras can fire back. He's been known to call reporters and launch into 10-minute tirades about stories he didn't like. Reporters who get along with Boras do so knowing that, mostly, they are being used as part of the master plan to get the most for his clients.
All of that is just Boras doing his job, though. Get beyond that, and you'd probably like the guy. He's been married to the same woman for 24 years. He religiously attends the baseball games of his two sons, one in high school and one who plays at USC. (Boras also has a daughter in college in Arizona.) He donates money to build baseball fields and to send underprivileged kids to baseball camps. He wants to start a foundation to increase pay for teachers, who he feels are one of the most undervalued segments of society. He's got all sorts of ideas about reforming healthcare, although he's not quite sure what to do with them. His employees stick by him for years, decades. They swear he's a considerate boss who takes good care of them.
That said, one of those same employees joked that he didn't want to stand too close to Boras in public. You get the feeling that's a standard joke around the office, a fact of life when you work for a man who will win no popularity contests among baseball fans. Boras smiles and jokes when the topic of his unpopularity is broached. Although he once said that no decent Catholic can shrug off comparisons to Satan, he seems to have accepted his public perception as what it is. Don Wollett, one of his mentors in law school, gave him some advice long ago:
"If you're good at what you do in the practice of law," Wollett told him, "90 percent of what's said about you will be negative."