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Pirates Pirates and Meares agree to settle grievance, cut ties

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Pat Meares ordeal is over. Except for the final payment.

The end to a long-running, combative situation came yesterday. The Pirates issued a statement that said the grievance filed by Meares against the club, which contended he was healthy enough to play, has been resolved.

Meares will spend the 2003 season on the disabled list, will not report to spring training and will not travel with the team.

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Meares will be paid for the fourth and final year of a $15 million contract, and the Pirates will pursue a disability insurance claim to recoup a percentage his salary.

The organization, which insures the contracts of its players, contends a hand injury nearly four years ago made Meares incapable to be major-league player.

Both sides expressed relief that the matter has been resolved. Meares did not comment, but his agent, Steve Comte, said, "He wants to put the thing to rest." Pirates General Manager Dave Littlefield, who inherited the situation, said: "We're moving forward."

Fans never got to see the shortstop the Pirates signed as a free agent and then gave a long-term deal to without realizing the extent of his injury.

Meares played a solid shortstop and had a batting average near .270 in six seasons with the Minnesota Twins.

For $15 million, the Pirates got 196 base hits, a .238 batting average, 17 home runs and 79 RBIs from a player who couldn't grip a bat with the two bottom fingers of his left hand.

In 1999, Meares was spraying line drives all over the ballparks in spring training. But in the last exhibition game, his left hand was injured after he fouled off a pitch. It was misdiagnosed as a sprain.

Based on what Meares had done with the Twins and in the spring, Cam Bonifay, the general manager at the time, signed Meares to a contract and announced at a news conference that he had locked up a piece of the championship puzzle.

That contract subsequently hung like an albatross for Bonifay and Meares. When the injury failed to heal, further tests showed torn ligaments and a fracture of a small bone. The surgery to repair the damage had never been done on a baseball player before.

After missing almost all of 1999, Meares struggled the next season. His left hand was 30 percent weaker than his right, and no matter how much work he did to strengthen it, the hand never recovered.

Last spring, Meares failed to show any improvement despite exhaustive rehab. He began the season on the disabled list, but his playing days in Pittsburgh were over as Littlefield considered him disabled. Meares still wanted to play elsewhere and wanted the Pirates to release him but still pay him, a decision that would have undermined any claim to recover a portion of his salary through an insurance policy.

He did not walk away from a guaranteed contract either, and, after getting differing medical opinions, he did not opt for additional surgery.

Meares filed a grievance against the Pirates in July, claiming he could still play. Yesterday's resolution drops that grievance.

"It's not fair to Pat Meares. A player has lost his career to injury," Comte said. "The Pirates never got the player they thought they had. The fans never got to see the player he was."

"The shame of it is we never got to see a healthy major-league player," Littlefield said.

"There has been a level of frustration in the lack of production because he wasn't healthy. Everybody loses."

And now it's over.

Robert Dvorchak can be reached at bdvorchak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.

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