At Vanderbilt University, prized Pirates draft pick Pedro Alvarez went by two nicknames: "El Toro," the bull, and "El Matatan," which translates loosely as, the man.
Funny, because inside the Pirates' offices today, Alvarez's dual nicknames have suddenly coalesced into one sentiment: "That's bull, man."
By now you're likely painfully aware that Alvarez, who apparently had agreed to a contract with a $6 million signing bonus at or near the last possible minute Aug. 15, has gotten word to the Pirates through uber agent Scott Boras that such an agreement was not completed on time and that perhaps only some additional funding can rectify the situation.
On one level, it's astounding that Boras, a lawyer, and Pirates president Frank Coonelly, another lawyer, could bring a $6 million negotiation to a head without one or both of them knowing what time it is.
"We are good at deadlines," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in the first few minutes of Aug. 16.
Hold your tickets on that.
On another, more troubling plateau, the one that overlooks the game's cartoonish moneyscape, this whole mess is classic Boras, a burst of dramatics on the other side of midnight. For theatre, it has got nothing on his egomaniacal announcement during Game 4 of the World Series that super client Alex Rodriguez was opting out of his $252 million contract with the New York Yankees or the swindle of the San Francisco Giants, whom he convinced that Barry Zito was not merely the emerging Steve Carlton or Sandy Koufax, but, in the agent's own words, "Zicasso."
In Ben McGrath's typically riveting 2007 New Yorker profile, Boras explained his relationship with the overrated lefty for whom he got the biggest pitching contract in history: "The thing is, he wants to pitch powerfully, and I'm saying, 'No! You're Zicasso! You got to be the artist-poet-intellectual.'"
Last noted, the artist-poet-intellectual was 19-28 in most of two desultory summers in San Francisco, home of another famous Boras client, the disgraced Barry Bonds.
As in most of the Boras fiascos, no one in this one is looking particularly good as the as yet inestimable damage from yesterday continues to unfold. The Pirates put Alvarez on the restricted list to keep him from negotiating with anyone else. The players union filed a motion with the commissioner's office over what it called a unilateral extension of the midnight deadline on the night in question. Atop the list of unflattering profiles in such fallout would be that of the player himself.
It apparently just wasn't enough for "El Toro" that the Pirates agreed to pay him not only $6 million on speculation, but the balance of the young man's college tuition.
Yeah, a lot of people with $6 million in their pockets are wondering where those last 34 credit hours are supposed to come from. Tuition and fees plus room and board at Vandy is running about $46,724, so when he gets around to it I'd encourage the fledgling economics student to register for Econ 220, which discusses labor law and history, and in which he might have discovered that median household income for 2007 in this country was $56,545. You'd presume that a 21-year-old whose dad's been driving a cab to help support the family in New York could put somebody's interests ahead of his agent's.
"Regrettably, we are not surprised that Mr. Boras would attempt to raise a meritless legal claim in an effort to compel us to renegotiate Pedro's contract to one more to his liking," Coonelly said in statement even more tersely worded than the typical tersely worded statement.
"We are, however, disappointed that Pedro would allow his agent to pursue this claim on his behalf. Pedro showed tremendous fortitude and independent thinking when he agreed to his contract August 15."
Coonelly went on to say that the Pirates still believe in Alvarez the player and the person, but he made it clear that "El Matatan" is a person who's willing to be played for the greater glory of Boras.
What yesterday did was make a very tenuous period for the Pirates all the more hair-raising. New management has, within the month, ridded itself of its best players in return for nothing terribly evident. Yesterday was the day Craig Hansen, acquired in the convulsion that was the Jason Bay deal, got sent to the minors. Yesterday was another day when it was increasingly evident that Andy LaRoche, acquired in that same deal, might, in a couple of years, given patience and careful instruction, become the next Jose Bautista, whom the Pirates traded last week.
The Alvarez matter was Coonelly's turn in the harsh spotlight. He'd trained for this moment during his time as Major League Baseball's labor counsel. He knew what should be paid, and what he would pay as a club CEO, and presumably when he would agree to pay it.
If the Alvarez deal falls apart, the emotional fallout will be vast and poisonous. Boras and the Pirates, everyone knew, was a potentially noxious combination. Of all the potential sentiments involved, surprise won't be in the lineup.
Gene Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1283.