Contract eases JR’s mind


A few days ago, Andrew McCutchen asked John Russell for advice about where to settle in Pittsburgh. At least Russell knows it won’t be his own house that’s on the market when McCutchen goes looking.

Thursday, the Pirates revealed they’d picked up the option on Russell’s contract for 2011. GM Neal Huntington also was extended through next season.

“We know (Russell) is going to be our skipper for now,” McCutchen said. “That’s one less thing we have to worry about. It’s good to have him here.”

The decision to extend Russell into what will be his fourth year was made in October, not long after the Pirates wrapped up their 17th straight losing season.

Russell and other team officials were under strict orders from team prez Frank Coonelly not to talk about contract matters. It wasn’t until last week — after reported Russell might be fired — that Coonelly ‘fessed up.

“The contract is nice, but it still doesn’t deter what we have to do as an organization in order to get this turned around,” Russell said. “It’s a challenge, but we’re very much up to it.”

Russell tried to downplay the news about his contract. But his smiling, relaxed mood was a stark contrast to his edgy, anxious tone two days ago — the same day the story broke.

Russell was so upbeat tonight that he even stormed onto the field during that night’s game to argue a call. Undoubtedly, some fans found that a refreshing change. The players know otherwise.

“He’s a laid-back guy, but he’s got that fire and drive,” first baseman Garrett Jones said. “He wants to win. You can feel it.

“When we have meetings in here, he gets fired up. He fires the team up with speeches and things. Sometimes he doesn’t always show it on the field, but he definitely has the persona and the drive to win.”

Pitcher Paul Maholm said Russell’s extension would “ease some guys’ minds” in the clubhouse. But, he added, there’s a better tonic for that than a new contract for the manager.

“It provides stability,” Maholm said. “(The players) like to know who’s going to be here. But it’s our job to go out on the field and win. That takes care of everything, if we play like we’re supposed to and win.”

• I got an e-mail this morning from Judy Templeton, a longtime fan in Warren, Pa. Her view echoes that of many Pirates fans:

“Why are the men in (front) office so high on John Russell? It puzzles me. I realize that he can’t play the game for the men on the field, and the fans only see him from afar, but I have never felt any ‘spark’ or enthusiasm from this man. My dream is to entice Jim Leyland back to the ‘Burgh to finish his career. He was always a guy with ‘fire’ for the team and the game, and a no-nonsense leader.”

Ms. Templeton’s logic seemed OK until I reached the middle of her message, when she said too much pressure is being placed on newbie Pedro Alvarez:

“The expectations have been very unrealistic and unfair. It’s crazy to believe that any one person can raise this team from the depths it finds itself in now.”

That raises an interesting question: If no single player can resurrect the Pirates, how can a single manager — whether he be fiery, dull, loud-mouthed or quiet — be expected to do it?