Cheap Seats

Dec. 7, 1997: Boras' day of infamy

I don't know why the Cardinals feel compelled to play agent Scott Boras' games. But they should have barred dealing with him 12 years ago after one of the most spectacular contract blow ups in the history of free agency.

The Cardinals wanted to re-sign ace Andy Benes. Benes wanted to play for the Cardinals. But Boras wanted every last red cent, and it cost the club its best pitcher, the player a $30 million contract and the agent a major embarrassment.

Then GM Walt Jocketty got into a stalemate with Boras on a five-year contract proposal. The Cardinals offered $30 million and Boras wanted $31 million. Boras waited and waited to call the Redbirds bluff and at a couple minutes before midnight on Dec. 7, 1997 he called to say Benes would take the deal. Unfortunately, Boras and the Cardinals didn't get the paperwork submitted to Major League Baseball until just after midnight and the deal was determined to be void.

Under the rules at the time, if clubs didn't sign their own free agents by a set date, they were ineligible to re-sign them until May 1. Benes didn't think he could gamble that the offer would still be there in 5 1/2 months and, instead, he signed an $18 million, Three year contract with Arizona that allowed him to opt out after two seasons.

Benes did opt out. After losing $12 million ($18 million if you count that he opted out of the final year in AZ at $6 million) thanks to Boras' greed, he returned to the Cardinals in 1999 and pitched out the rest of his career in St. Louis.

Surprisingly, when Benes wanted to come back to the Cardinals for the 2000 season, he retained Boras as his agent. Not surprisingly, Boras got into another contract stalemate with the Cardinals who offered $16 million over three years to bring Benes back and Boras demanded $19.5 million.

This time Jocketty, who knew he had the upper hand, held out and the Cardinals got their man at their price. But Benes wasn't the same pitcher he was in 1997 and 1998. in the end everybody lost. But the Cardinals have continued to to deal with Boras who counts Rick Ankiel and J.D. Drew amongst his clients.

And maybe the person who should be the most upset of all is the Cardinals' new hitting coach. Mark McGwire hit 70 homers in 1998 to set what was then the much hyped single season record. But he lost the NL MVP to Sammy Sosa because the Cubs got the wild card, finishing 5 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis. In the absence of Benes, Kent Mercker was the Cardinals' best pitcher, racking up 11 wins with 11 losses. Would Benes have been the difference in the wild card race? We'll never know.