After a number of productive years with the White Sox, Alvarez was sent to San Francisco as the centerpiece of Jerry Reinsdorf‘s infamous “White Flag” deal of July 1997. By trading three productive pitchers — Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, and Danny Darwin — for a handful of minor leaguers with his club just 3 1/2 games out, Reinsdorf was widely criticized for surrendering a playoff berth so early in the season.
But the Sox’ patience with the talented lefty had run out. Alvarez had pitched well in Chicago, but inconsistency and poor conditioning continually kept the free-agent-to-be from realizing his considerable potential. The trade to San Francisco didn’t help. Complaining of a stiff shoulder, Alvarez’s ERA ballooned in the second half as the Giants took the NL West. After the season, he decided to sign with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
After arriving in the majors with Texas in 1989, it took Alvarez a while to get his act together. He gave up two homers and three earned runs without retiring a batter in his major league debut with the Rangers and, five days later, was traded with Scott Fletcher and Sammy Sosa to the White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique.
In just his second major-league start — on August 11, 1991, at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium — Alvarez showed his potential by becoming the eighth-youngest pitcher in history to toss a no-hitter. But it wasn’t until 1993 that he managed to break into the White Sox rotation permanently. That season, he won 15 games (including seven of his last eight starts after a brief demotion in August) but led the league with 122 walks.
Continuing to win in spite of his wildness, the Venezuelan-born Alvarez established himself as the ace of what had been one of the better staffs in the AL. His one fault: allowing runners to get on base. He had a career year with 15 wins and 181 strikeouts in 1996, despite allowing a startling 13 runners to reach base per nine innings. Fortunately, the potent Sox lineup supported him by scoring over six runs per start — more than for any other pitcher on the staff.
Alvarez began his career with a reputation as a thrower, not a pitcher, and although he learned to outsmart hitters rather than overpower them he continually fell victim to mental lapses on the mound. A notorious perfectionist, Alvarez would often lose his focus when things weren’t going well, and during the 1996 season Alvarez’s lack of concentration prompted frequent wake-up visits from shortstop Ozzie Guillen.
Poor conditioning caught up to Alvarez in San Francisco and marred his time in Tampa Bay. He missed six weeks of the 1998 season with tendinitis in his shoulder while losing a career-high 14 games. In 1999, he made two trips to the DL and embarrassed himself with a violent dugout tantrum in mid-June. His next start came at Comiskey Park, where White Sox fans taunted their former ace. But Alvarez reeled off victories in seven of his next eight decisions.
Later that season, umpire John Shulock accused Alvarez of hitting him on purpose with a pitch while he was stationed behind home plate. “I know in my heart that son of a [expletive] meant to hit me, but I can’t prove it,” an incensed Shulock told reporters after the game. “One of these days somebody is going to hit a line drive off the side of his [expletive] head and I’ll be the first one to laugh.” Catcher Mike DiFelice explained that the two batterymates had simply suffered from a breakdown in communication.
Tensions with his family in Venezuela also contributed to the pressure for Alvarez, whose five-year contract with the Devil Rays was worth $35 million. “They don’t see me as a friend or as family,” he grumbled to the St. Petersburg Times in 2000. “They see me as a bank.”