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‘Who is Scott Boras?’

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It’s a slow news day so I’m going to tell you a story about a conversation that I had this morning.

My brother, Curt, who lives in San Diego, called me at 6AM his time. I was worried that, at that hour, it was some sort of an emergency. I answered.

“Who’s Scott Boras?” he said. He pronounced it with the accent on the wrong syllable — “Scott borAS” which made it pretty clear he had literally no idea. I explained that he is baseball’s most famous agent and that he’s kind of a big deal in my world.

“Oh, OK, that makes sense,” he said. “He’s blowing up in K-Pop circles right now.” K-Pop, referring to pop music coming out of South Korea, is my brother’s world.

At least at the moment. My brother tends to cycle through musical obsessions with a fierce, singular passion for a given genre for a period of time before moving on to something new. When we were kids it was speed metal, then Rush of all things (in case you were wondering why I feel about them the way I do), then hardcore punk. There was some rap in there too (old stuff like Whodini, The Boogie Boys and Kurtis Blow). After he went into the Navy it was industrial/dance, then hardcore goth stuff (complete with dressing up and makeup when he “went to club”), then some throwback 80s synth, back into his old punk/hardcore stuff and now he’s super, super into K-pop. He’s 48. I don’t know. People like what they like.

My brother was calling me because Scott Boras got a shoutout this morning on the Facebook page of, what I have learned in the past couple of hours, is probably the most popular band on the plant: BTS. BTS is what we’d refer to here as a boy band, along the lines of NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys, but I gather they’re considerably bigger and have a worldwide reach.

The short version of the Boras/BTS connection is that, on Tuesday, Suga — a rapper/producer/member of BTS — was in Los Angeles and wanted to watch his countryman Hyun-Jin Ryu‘s start against the Braves. Suga’s people reached out and eventually got to Boras, Ryu’s agent. Boras, who has seats right behind home plate at Dodger Stadium, obviously, gave Suga his seat. Pretty simple story, but it’s way cuter the way the person on the BTS Facebook page wrote it:

SG needed ticket to see Ryu Hyunjin’s match so he contacted RHJ’s former interpreter Martin Kim, who requested help from RHJ’s agency Boras Corporation. The agency’s presisent [sic] aka legendary sports agent Scott Boras then willingly gave SG his seat at Dodger Stadium.

According to s/o close to Boras Corporation, Scott Boras was unaware of BTS’ full popularity at first. Only after the Dodgers’ SNS channels announced SG’s visit & BTS’ fans from all over the world showed fervent response did he realize how popular SG/BTS was.

Scott Boras took a photo w/ SG after the match & it’s said that was the first time he took a photo w/ a celebrity who’s not a baseball player. Said source showed the reporter the photo & said “Even SB was astonished at BTS’ popularity.

He didn’t know a Korean idol group would generate such popularity in the US. It so happened that RHJ pitched a shutout, which gave RHJ & SG’s meeting an even bigger spotlight. Even Scott Boras, who witnessed it on site, couldn’t help but smile delightedly.

The photo in question:

Back to my brother.

Curt was once a pretty big baseball fan but he’s let it slide over the years. He knows the broad strokes of what’s going on but he doesn’t know who Hyun-Jin Ryu is and doesn’t know Boras, obviously. As we were talking about all of this, his girlfriend, also not a baseball fan, grabbed the phone, just as excited as he is because she’s totally into K-pop too, and yelled out something about HOW COOL IT WAS THAT THE PITCHER THREW ONLY 93 PITCHES IN THE GAME AND SUGA WAS BORN IN 1993!!” At this point I will note that Curt’s girlfriend is also around 50 as well. We’re not talking teenyboppers here.

My brother took the phone back at this point and explained to me that, perhaps, I should “bond with Boras” over his BTS/K-pop connection and that it “might be good for [my] career.” I have spoken with Boras before — I have interviewed him and he has called me when I’ve messed things up to make sure I knew that I messed things up — but I let the sheer implausibility of me ever initiating that conversation with Scott Boras slide. I left it at telling my brother, for the 20th time, that I am not now nor will I ever be into K-pop. I had to do that because part of his obsessive dives into new genres of music involves him erroneously assuming that everyone else is just as into it as he is, so he forgot.

The call ended and, amused by it all, I tweeted about it this morning. My mentions have since been inundated by hundreds — by this point likely thousands — of BTS/K-pop fans liking and responding to my posts. I’d say 99% of it has been cute and amusing, even if there was a bit of chafing at me calling BTS a “K-pop” band which, apparently, is VERY controversial among hardcore BTS fans as K-pop, in their minds, is manufactured and soulless while BTS is LOVE AND THE TRUTH AND THE WAY, etc. It reminded me of some old traditional or two tone ska fan getting insulted if you asked them if they liked Reel Big Fish or something. Every fandom has its . . . politics. Either way, I still can’t use my Twitter at the moment because of “The ARMY.” Which, by the way, is what BTS fans call themselves, God love ’em. It’s all caps, too.

At this point one might think I’m offering all of this up as some gentle mockery of my brother and his obsessions and, perhaps, some mockery of a Korean boy band or their fans. Nope. Not in the slightest. I’ve found the whole thing to be absolutely lovely on a number of levels. Why?

  • There aren’t a lot of stories about Scott Boras in which he’s not the biggest name in the story, so it was enjoyable to see such a thing;
  • It’s also fun because everyone talks about Boras being a hard-nosed negotiator, but you can’t be an agent without doing people a solid from time to time, and it’s nice to see that side of him as well. Also: Boras smiling, as he is in the photo above, is not something we see every day. At least not a genuine smile. His “I just got my client $180 million” press conference smiles seem a tad sinister at times;
  • It’s lovely because my brother, even though he’s a 48-year-old boy band fan, apparently, is still the same guy he’s always been. His life is not easy. He has worked 2-3 jobs at a time, constantly, for twenty years, yet he never complains and has never gotten jaded despite having some reasons to become jaded. He works 15 hours a day and, when he’s not working, he dives into some pop band and it makes him as happy as a pig in slop and there’s something amazing and instructive about living your life like that;
  • It’s refreshing because, even if they’re totally messing my my social media feeds right now, the BTS fans seem impossibly sweet and positive. They want you to like their band but they’re not pushy about it. They think Scott Boras is a saint. They think my brother is wonderful. They think Hyun-Jin Ryu is the best pitcher on the planet. Given how ugly the world is right now and given how ugly fandom of a given thing can get at any time, it’s positively adorable. Maybe it’s because they’re mostly young. Young people are better than us olds, even if it doesn’t always seem like it to us olds.

Anyway, that was my morning. Here’s hoping Hyun-jin Ryu can convert some of those K-pop fans into baseball fans too.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.