Alvarez comes off badly in contract feud

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The Pirates tell me Pedro Alvarez is a good player and a good kid. I'll take their word about his potential as a big-time slugging third baseman. But that good-kid business? I'm not buying it. Not now, anyway.

Alvarez looks like a louse to me. A coward, too.

Some blame Pirates officials for the contract limbo with Alvarez, their No. 1 pick in the June draft. I asked general manager Neal Huntington point blank the other day if he had any concerns that he screwed up and missed the Aug. 15 midnight deadline to do a deal with Alvarez and he shook his head and said absolutely not. That must be true because, as we all know, Huntington and Co. are "the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe in all of sports." At least that's what Pirates owner Bob Nutting told us in an incoherent moment soon after the team thought it had a contract with Alvarez.

Many more have blamed Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, for Alvarez's refusal to come to Pittsburgh to sign the paperwork, saying Boras is after more than the $6 million bonus Alvarez agreed to either a minute before or a minute after the midnight deadline, the exact time to be determined in an arbitration hearing Sept. 10. It's always easy to blame agents for everything wrong in sports. They're hated like lawyers and the media. It's especially easy to blame Boras, who's the best at what he does and gets the most for his client with no regard for what impact it might have on the team. Excuse me, but isn't that his job?

I'm blaming Alvarez.

This mess reminds me a little of the most infamous contract dispute in Pittsburgh sports history. Just about everybody blamed agent Bart Beier for giving Franco Harris bad advice when Harris was a holdout at Steelers training camp in 1984. But Harris had only himself to blame when the team released him before the season. The player always has the final say. The agent works for him, doesn't he?

So it is with Alvarez.

There should be nothing stopping him from showing up at 115 Federal Street to sign the contract that he accepted.

If Alvarez, 21, had told the Pirates Aug. 15 that $6 million were not enough, I would have no beef with him. That's his right. He could have gone back into the June draft again next year. The Pirates would have received the No. 3 overall pick in that draft as compensation.

But all parties agree Alvarez accepted the Pirates' offer. I can't get past that. Obviously, his word isn't worth anything close to $6 million. It's worth nothing, actually.

So what happened in the hours and days after Aug. 15?

Maybe Alvarez is afraid of taking his physical or doing a drug test, although Pirates officials swear that isn't the problem. More likely, Alvarez is afraid of Boras, who is known to be persuasive with his veteran clients let alone raw draft choices.

My question: Whose career is it?

Of course, the Pirates are among the many who blame Boras and have publicly slammed him. They have to live with Alvarez if arbitrator Shyam Das rules that they have a valid deal. They don't have to live with Boras.

But that doesn't mean Alvarez isn't wrong. The question is worth repeating: Whose career are we talking about?

Alvarez couldn't get off to a worse start with his new team, if that's, indeed, what the Pirates are. Most prized prospects are regarded as heroes, especially in a town such as this where fans are begging for a savior to help their club win again in their lifetime. Instead, Alvarez will come in as a louse and a coward -- OK, at least to me -- if Das makes a favorable ruling for the Pirates.

That doesn't have to last long, though.

Hey, I'm trying to be positive.

Fans will be quick to forgive and forget if Alvarez starts swatting home runs out of PNC Park.

It happened that way with Mario Lemieux, who angered the locals when he refused to come down from the stands and wouldn't put on the Penguins' sweater after the team made him the No. 1 pick in the 1984 NHL draft. Then, he signed a big contract, scored on his first shot of his first shift in his first NHL game and, well, you know the rest.

It also happened that way with Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson, who held out as a rookie for 95 days in 1987, and, more recently, with Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was arrested twice in 2006 between the time the team drafted him No. 1 and the time he reported to training camp. In case you haven't noticed, Holmes has become one of the more popular Steelers and will be even more beloved if he catches a couple of touchdown passes against the Houston Texans in the opener Sunday.

So it can be with Alvarez.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I still think his Pirates story can have a happy ending.

That's if he ever decides to take charge of his career.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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