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Baseball’s most feared agent does not watch many sports beyond his chosen game. Scott Boras is a baseball man, after all, consumed with the business of wresting hundreds of millions from owners worth billions. He has time for little else. Except on those autumn Sundays when the Seattle Seahawks play. Those are Pete Carroll’s days. And Scott Boras’s television always comes on for Pete Carroll.
“I have to see what that guy is doing,” Boras tells the Guardian.
They must have seemed the most random of friends when they first met all those years ago at the University of the Pacific: Carroll destined to become football’s happiest coach and Boras one of baseball’s most hated men. But in the early 1970s they were a couple of kids living in the same college dormitory, chasing athletic dreams against a clock that was running down on both of them.
Even then they were an unlikely pair. Carroll was a football free safety, a junior college transfer so desperate for one last shot that he threw his body at every ball-carrier he saw. Boras was the son of a farmer: a baseball player talented enough to lead Pacific in hitting and brilliant enough to be pursuing a doctorate in industrial pharmacy at the same time.
“Let’s put it this way, Pete never asked me about industrial pharmacy,” Boras says over the phone.
And yet Carroll had a curiosity that Boras loved. He seemed to watch everything around Pacific’s sports facilities, wondering how the other athletes worked out, what made them fast, what made them strong. At a time when people in sports barely analyzed their own performances let alone examine the physics behind them, Carroll thought about things. He wanted to know more. In Boras he found a similar mind.
Today, more than 40 years later, Carroll is famous for his unorthodox methods of motivation and study of players. He has made yoga and meditation sessions a part of the team’s offseason workouts. He encourages his players rather than berates them. He coaches them to a level he believes they can reach rather than obsess over current inefficiencies. Boras, himself long a believer in the empowering of athletes to maximize their abilities, recognizes the inspiration behind these approaches. He saw it in the wide eyes of a college junior searching for any way to be a fraction of a second faster on the football field.
Several times Carroll pulled Boras aside after a workout out in Pacific’s gym, assaulting his baseball friend with torrents of questions: What was he doing in that exercise? Why was he doing it? What did it do?
“His level of understanding was so unique for anyone that age,” Boras says. “He was so analytic. The vision he had was apparent. I would say most college athletes talk about what they are going to do 90% of the time. But Pete would come up and talk about running: ‘Hey, what were you doing?’ He would have to see it first and then he would have the interest to seek out what you do. It was just so different.”
Carroll was never a gifted football player, Boras remembers that clearly. His friend was not agile and lacked the size or power to push past bigger players. Carroll relied on his most-solid body part to bring his opponents down, wearing the marks of this pursuit for days after games. “His forehead looked like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s nose,” Boras says.
Still, Carroll managed to be named to the All Pacific Coast Athletic Conference team in both of his seasons at Pacific. He might not have been skilled but he mined every bit of talent he had in his body.
“Pete was the guy you saw leading with his forehead and leading with his helmet. That was Pete. Look, if he could play football without a helmet I’m sure he would do it. That’s who he was.”
It was something Boras never forgot.
Years later, Boras sat in a hospital room weeping because he knew the third knee operation he was about to undergo would mean the end of his minor league baseball career. He was headed back to Pacific, to law school, but there was a defiance in him that said he could never give up on baseball. The game meant too much to him. It was a part of him. It would never leave.
Looking back, he knows that will was always a part of him, but the man who re-enforced it in him was the football player he knew from college, the one with all the questions, desperate to keep playing the sport he adored. And when he was done with law school several of his former team-mates in the minor leagues asked him to be their agent. He represented them all and he filled his negotiations with piles of statistics that teams had never before considered, pouring in the level of analysis he found in that football player from his dorm at Pacific. Eventually he became the agent whose calls the teams dreaded, the one who would forever draw from them the most money of anyone in his business.
“What I loved about Pete was that no one said he was the best football player but I felt that whatever level Pete was going to play football it was going to be the highest level for Pete,” Boras says. “He was going to do everything he could. I studied pharmacology and was surrounded by geniuses. I was not one of them. I played professional baseball and I hit .290 [actually .288] but I was not as great as a guy like Keith Hernandez [who was in the same minor league system]. I went to law school but I wasn’t the best law student. I got out of it everything I could.
“That’s what I got from Pete every day [in college], He was not as big as the others and he had to hit with his head. He did not have the goods. He had to hit. But that enthusiasm, that desire was always a reminder that you can be the best you can be every day.”
They stayed friends as Carroll inched his way though a coaching career, building single-year stops through America’s college towns into three assistant coaching jobs in the NFL before finally landing his first head coaching job: a miserable year in charge of the New York Jets, who fired him at season’s end. A second chance with the New England Patriots ended after three years because he lacked the fiery, acidic presence of his predecessor, Bill Parcells. And it was Boras who was ready with a parable when Carroll was named the head coach at USC before the 2001 season.
Think about Joe Torre, Boras told him. Torre, then the New York Yankees manager, had just won four World Series in five years because of his remarkable ability to handle a roster of highly-paid tempestuous players. But before the Yankees, Torre had a losing record in his three previous managing jobs and was widely seen as prickly man unable to work with others.
“I told Pete that Joe didn’t become a great manager until he got fired and he had to become a broadcaster and learn to deal with people, then on his third try he became a great manager,” Boras says, forgetting for a moment that the Yankees job was Torre’s fourth.
“You are really ready, now,” Boras said to Carroll.
In the next nine seasons, Carroll won 97 games and two national championships. With the Seahawks the coach who was mocked for not being Parcells is coaching to win his second Super Bowl – the same number as Parcells. “What Pete does is sincere,” Boras says. “It’s authentic.”
A couple of years ago, Boras came to Seattle to watch his son play baseball for USC against the University of Washington. As Boras sat in the stands he noticed a man hobbling up the stairs. It was Carroll who had knee replacement surgery just four days before.
“What are you doing here?” Boras asked. Carroll smiled. “Hey man,” Boras remembers Carroll saying. “I thought we could hang out here and talk about kids and baseball and stuff.”
Recalling this Boras laughs. “He’s just that kind of guy,” Boras says. “He’s the kind of guy who four days after knee replacement surgery he will come out to watch a ballgame with me.”
Boras pauses. And the agent who has come to dominate baseball thinks for a moment about the coach who has changed the NFL these last five years. What a perfect day they had chatting on those bleachers. “It’s neat that we have shared a professional sports dynamic,” he says.
Who would have imagined all those years ago in that dorm at Pacific? Pete Carroll and Scott Boras?
It’s hard to imagine now.