Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Catching up with a lot of Matt Morris mail here from the industrial fringe of the big city.

Q: Your writing Sunday on the imminent departure of Matt Morris seemed to imply a small possibility that his pride would cause him to retire and forfeit the remaining money owed on his contract. Obviously, this did not happen, and I question whether I myself or anyone could walk away from such a sum even knowing in our hearts that our performance was entirely undeserving.

Do you think this was seriously considered and have other players to your knowledge done so?

Jason Griffith of Keyser, W.Va.

KOVACEVIC: First, Jason, regarding the money being undeserved, that is a clear stance to take when an entire year of a contract is unfulfilled. Still, for a perspective on the actual salary amount, I would refer you back to Morris' candid remarks about that earlier in the month in Miami: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08095/870484-63.stm.

As for whether or not he considered retirement, the answer to that is a flat yes. He and I spoke about this late Saturday night after he pitched, and he asked me not to write about it until after a decision about his future had been made -- such requests always are honored professionally -- but that decision is done, so I can tell you that, yes, he thought about doing exactly that. When I asked about how he could leave all that money behind, he said that was not nearly as important to him as the embarrassment he was causing himself and the damage he was going to the bullpen and the rest of his teammates.

Now, remember, this was heat-of-the-moment, being right after the game and all, but it certainly sounded genuine. He actually had discussed this very thing with people close to him even before pitching that night.

What happened between then and the next morning is not known to me, but I do know this: The Major League Baseball Players Association, which always is involved in these matters, goes to extraordinary lengths to encourage all players not to forfeit any of their guaranteed money because of the precedent involved. You have seen it with other large releases this season -- Frank Thomas, Jay Gibbons -- and you have seen it with almost all of them. There is a reason for that.

At any rate, by Sunday morning, the Pirates either could have released Morris or continued to torture all concerned. They chose the release.

Q: Dejan, I formerly worked in the Cardinals organization; and the minor-leaguers' impressions of Matt Morris exactly reflect what the Pirates are saying: It's easy as fans to forget that these guys are human and they hurt, too, when they fail.

On a personal note, I sat in the bleachers at Wrigley for the Pirates' April 19 game and, during BP, Morris interacted more with the fans than any two or three other players combined. At one point, he started playing catch with fans in the first few rows.

He is a class individual, and I wish him well in his new life.

Kevin A. Gray of Indianapolis

KOVACEVIC: Matt Morris is good people. That is not opinion. It is fact.

His personality and professionalism will be missed, and let me add this from a reporter's perspective: No starting pitcher wearing the Pittsburgh uniform has any excuse all season to avoid answering questions after a tough outing after the way this guy came out after all five of his. He stood patiently as questions about his lost velocity, lost effectiveness, poor pitch selection and even his contract and future were fielded without flinching.

It is a shame for all concerned, I think, that Pittsburgh never got to see Morris at his best on the field. But we certainly did see him at his best off it.

Q: Dejan, unfortunately, Matt Morris didn't pan out, as I was hoping he'd be kept as a long man in the bullpen rather than get released. Often, pitchers have to adjust when their velocity diminishes, and sadly Morris hasn't fully adjusted yet or isn't healthy.

Thank you for the effort, Matt Morris. I wish you well.

Paul Sparks, Jr., New Castle

KOVACEVIC: There was no apparent health issue, Paul, other than the arm hitting the proverbial wall.

Q: I was at the game Saturday night, and I grimaced with nearly every Matt Morris delivery. I saw a top speed of 83 or so and, with the lineup that Philadelphia has, that did not lend itself to being a good thing. It was all the more heartbreaking to see Matt hanging his head, and the other mannerisms, and I got the distinct feeling that I was witnessing his curtain call.

I'm sure this is not how Matt wanted 2008 to go for him, but I also can say that, while as a person I feel for him, I am happy that the Pirates made the decision that they did. He was not performing, and -- stealing a line from you -- nobody on this team is holding down any prospects. I was impressed with Phil Dumatrait enough to be happy he is getting a chance.

Good luck, Matt, and thanks.

Eric Parsons of Columbus, Ohio

KOVACEVIC: Every once in a while, the submissions that come in here are 180 degrees against my expectations. I fully braced for a whole wave of glad-to-see-that-bum-gone or more Littlefield bashing, and there was very, very little of it compared to the notes like yours, Eric, and the others above.

I am very surprised, actually, but perhaps that is an error on my judgment and nothing more.

You know what?

Just to restore the Earth to its usual axis, here is one more:

Q: Somewhere, Dave Littlefield is smiling, satisfied in the thought that his one last stab in the back to the Pirates franchise turned out better than he could have ever imagined: Picture Milton on the beach in the last scene from Office Space.

No, Dave didn't burn the building down, but he certainly caused quite a bit of strife with Matt Morris. His final work of losing art.

Jeremy Carter of Charlotte, N.C.

KOVACEVIC: Never mind. You are all evil at the core.

And so am I, to fall for every quality "Office Space" reference that reaches the inbox just because it gives me a millionth reason to watch it a millionth time. For those few of you who have not seen it, your lives are tragically incomplete.

Thing No. 90 that makes Pittsburgh great, by Jim Scafide of East Liverpool, Ohio:

Dejan, watching PBS one night last week (instead of PBC), I was reminded of another reason Pittsburgh is a great place: Roberto Clemente. More generally, Pittsburgh is a sports town, but it is the players and teams that become the fabric of the city, and no player was more emblematic of that than was Clemente.

Looking back, we tend to think the city's love for Clemente was always there, but those of us old enough to remember his playing days know that, early on, it was less than mutual affection. It took a long time for the people of Pittsburgh to understand the complex and cerebral Clemente. The love was earned on both sides of the relationship, and the city and the man were both better for the process. Once understood, Clemente became as intractable from Pittsburgh as pierogies. As the Mon and the Allegheny flow to become the Ohio, Pittsburgh and Clemente have become one.

His play was stellar, even when he was on teams with records that were laughable. We tend to remember those days as if all of his playing days were spent on the those great 1960 and 1971 teams, forgetting that there was a lot of bad baseball in between.

It was a remarkably rare confluence of events that brought the talented Clemente to the Pirates at a time when Hispanic players were extremely rare in the majors, and during a time of social unrest in this country and around the world. Clemente's response to the injustice he witnessed and commitment to improve the lot of others caused him to become a leader in social causes and, ultimately, cost him his life. He became a legend: forever a humanitarian, forever a ballplayer, forever a Pirate, forever a Pittsburgher.

KOVACEVIC: The most amazing aspect of Clemente's impact on the city for me always has been its enduring nature. And this goes even beyond all the parks and roads and bridges named after him, or even the fact that, nearly four decades since he died, his No. 21 jersey remains the Pirates' best-seller in merchandise.

Seated near me on my flight here to New York on Monday were three Puerto Rican nationals, a father and two sons, who made a weekend pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to say that they got to see the place where Clemente played.

How did I know to ask?

All three were decked out in Pirates caps and No. 21 garb, just to show it off for the rest of the family when they got back here.

Until tomorrow.


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