Scott Boras, baseball’s super agent, was at Target Field for the Twins’ introduction and formal signing of Royce Lewis, the No. 1 selection in the 2017 major league draft. He is a Boras client, as is Hunter Greene, the second selection that went to Cincinnati.
Boras played four seasons of minor league baseball. He was an infielder and had a batting average of .288. He also had multiple knee surgeries. He was finished with baseball after 1977 and went to law school.
Boras was working in Chicago in 1982. As a former player, he was aware that bonuses for drafted players had not changed since 1965.
“There was a great deal more money in the game and there was free agency for veteran players,’’ Boras said. “I said to people that year, ‘I’m going to represent entry-level players and get them to be compensated commensurate with the dramatic financial changes that have taken place in the game.’’
Boras’ first foray into the amateur draft came in June 1983. The Twins had the first overall choice. They selected Tim Belcher, a pitcher from tiny Mount Vernon Nazarene College in Ohio.
“I had the players who were the first two selections in the draft – Belcher, and Kurt Stillwell, a high school shortstop from California,’’ Boras said. “Both had long and excellent careers in the big leagues. We were able to agree with Cincinnati on Stillwell without much problem.’’
The Twins were another matter. They were coming off a first season in the Metrodome when they went 60-102. Attendance was awful in Year 2 in the Dome and owner Calvin Griffith was hurting for income.
Calvin’s negotiator was George Brophy, a vice president and by then the man fully charged with procuring talent at minimum prices for his boss.
“Broph’’ was one of my all-time favorite guys, but then again, I never had to negotiate with him.
“Broph was an excellent baseball man, but he had what I would describe as a unilateral view of negotiation,’’ Boras said. “I kept saying to him, ‘The reason they call it a negotiation is because it involves at least two people.’
“He wasn’t into my insistence that it was time for baseball’s signing structure for drafted players to change.’’
The Twins offered what had become a traditional $100,000 for the first overall choice. Boras said that it would take more to sign Belcher.
College players in a four-year school that did not sign would have to wait for the following June to re-enter the draft. Except, Boras had taken note of this opening in the draft rules: If the player was from an NAIA school, not an NCAA school, he could go back into the January supplemental draft for amateurs that baseball had from 1966 to 1986.
“Nazarene was an NAIA school,’’ Boras said. “I don’t think the Twins were aware of the NAIA exception.
“Broph kept saying, ‘There’s no team in baseball that will pay you more than $100,000 next year, when Belcher is out of college. This went on all summer, until it was time for Tim to go back to school.
“I said, ‘George, don’t do this. The Twins are going to regret this in four months.’ ‘’
Belcher went back to school and was lost to the Twins. That’s when Boras’ strategy became clear: The NAIA exception made Belcher eligible for the January 1984 supplemental draft, where the Yankees had the first choice.
The Yankees selected Belcher and quickly agreed to a $150,000 bonus. This was during a period in the early ‘80s when there was a compensation pool in major league baseball.
There was Type A, Type B and Type C free agents. Teams losing a Type A free agent were allowed to selected from a pool of players, after other clubs protected 26 players for their organization.
“Belcher was a Yankee for less than a month, and Oakland selected Tim as its compensation player,’’ Boras said. “Then, I pointed out to the A’s that this was not within the rules, to draft a player who had not yet played. Tim got another bonus from the A’s to agree to the assignment.’’
Belcher was traded by Oakland to the Dodgers for pitcher Rick Honeycutt, before he started a long big-league career with Los Angeles in 1987.
The 1983 draft is ignominious for the Twins not only due to failure to sign Belcher but also the next two draft choices: pitcher Billy Swift and outfielder Oddibe McDowell Jr.
There is another excellent yarn for the Twins’ failed Belcher negotiation with Boras:
The Twins had added some staff and the office space was minimal in the Metrodome, creating a congested work area.
Brophy’s temper got the best of him (as it could) during a phone conversation with Boras. He described Scott’s baseball skills in a loud, vivid and profane manner, and described Scott’s ability as an agent in an even louder, more vivid and more profane manner.
And then Broph slammed down the phone and shouted more disdain.
A young woman new to the Twins walked over to Jim Rantz, Brophy’s assistant, and said: “Mr. Rantz, is Mr. Brophy OK? He sounded very upset.’’
Rantz assuaged her concerns by saying, “Broph’s fine. He was just talking to his wife.’’