To this point, you've likely never heard of Pedro Alvarez, though you'd do well to remember his name. According to yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Alvarez, an Inwood product (out of Horace Mann, of all places) and the No. 2 pick in baseball's June amateur draft (out of Vanderbilt, of all places), has finally agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates after a protracted bit of mud-wrestling over his contract. This is a big deal for many reasons, not least because it means Alvarez can now embark on a long career of being compared endlessly to that other favorite son of Upper Manhattan (by way of some alien galaxy), Manny Ramirez. Here, then, is what the Pirates are getting: not only a third baseman who many project to be one of the best hitters New York has ever produced, but a 21-year-old who may very well change the way baseball conducts its business.
His bat's always been there. Alvarez hit 22 home runs his freshman year at Vanderbilt. Around these parts, he is talked about as a sort of Paul Bunyan in baseball cleats. "Bombs," says Dan Dougherty, the coach and dean of students at Regis High School who had Alvarez on a summer youth team. "He used to hit bombs." The team would occasionally play at Lehman High School, where a building looms over right field. "To hit a home run there, you'd have to hit it four stories up," Dougherty says. "Pedro hit one rising into the fourth story of the building. If the building hadn't been there, the ball probably would've crossed the Hutchinson River Parkway." Alvarez was about 12 years old.
Going into this summer's draft, Alvarez was being "advised" by Scott Boras, the super-agent who has done more than anyone to knock down some of the more absurd provisions of the amateur draft and who had found in Alvarez another battering ram. What happened next is still being hashed out by a major-league arbitrator, but the short version runs roughly as follows: Hours after the August 15 signing deadline, Alvarez apparently agreed to a minor-league contract with a $6 million signing bonus. Less than two weeks later, Boras declared that Alvarez would not sign the contract. The MLB Players Association then filed a grievance against the team, contending that the deadline was extended without notifying the union. Boras, after effectively destroying the draft's slotting system (implemented by baseball to keep signing bonuses down), had evidently turned his sights on the deadline (implemented to force agents' hands and, again, keep signing bonuses down).
Alvarez was swiftly vilified in Pittsburgh. "If Pedro wants to be a professional baseball player then he needs to act like it," wrote one Bucs Dugout commenter, apparently unaware that professional baseball players act like this all the time. "So far he appears to be a selfish jerk who cares only about money." In reaching a settlement Sunday, it appears Boras and Alvarez managed to wring some concessions out of the Pirates — more guaranteed money, for one thing — and now Alvarez begins his career as a vessel for yet more misdirected outrage over athlete greed (in Pittsburgh, of all places). That perception will fade with time. The same can't be said for the dent Boras and Alvarez put in the signing deadline, the rampart of management that will now have to be thoroughly reexamined. Alvarez just launched the first bomb of his professional career.