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soriano and zambrano[From our friend, Sahadev Sharma.]

The following isn’t about Alfonso Soriano’s career with the Cubs on the field. I’m not trying to break down his value and determine if he was worth the huge contract the Cubs gave him nearly seven years ago. My thoughts on Soriano’s performance remain completely separate from my thoughts on him as a person (as they do with any player). I haven’t covered the game for very long, but I’ve met plenty of players who seemed like good guys. However, Soriano has been with the Cubs since the first moment I walked into their clubhouse; he was the first player I came across who showed me on a daily basis what it meant to be a consummate professional and define the word class. This is my farewell to a player I truly enjoyed covering.

***

My first experience in a clubhouse was spent trying to get a sound bite from Milton Bradley. Bradley hadn’t talked to the media in nearly two weeks and on this night, nothing would change. He knew he was the story (it was his first start at Wrigley Field as a Cub), but he was nowhere to be found prior to the game. After the game, Bradley somehow slipped past the media once again. He clearly had no desire to talk about his 0-for-4 outing or his ejection and subsequent one-game suspension that occurred a week earlier. I left that evening with no quotes from Bradley.

But I wasn’t mad about it. I still never begrudge a player for leaving early or avoiding the media when it’s obvious that said player is the story of the night. I get it; some player’s aren’t big fans of the media. They don’t feel like they’re always treated fairly by us and some probably believe we serve no useful function. I wholeheartedly disagree with the latter, and while I feel I’ve avoided the former in my young career, I can see where they’re coming from.

The fact is, these guys don’t have to talk to us. And if they don’t, I’m not going to rip them. But when someone is repeatedly accountable – whether they’re playing well or not, whether the team is winning or on its way to 100 losses – they deserve to be commended.

Alfonso Soriano is that guy.

It’s likely that Soriano wasn’t always treated fairly by the media or fans, but he always addressed whatever questions were posed with honesty. Sometimes his frank responses would be received in a negative fashion (like when he would express his preference to hit at the top of the order), but at least he was there, allowing us as members of the media to do our job.

Last season, when trade rumors followed him for much of July, Soriano would bring one of his sons with him to batting practice, toss the youngster a couple balls behind the cage and I’d watch with a smile while a father taught his child to play the game he clearly loves so much. After those games, Soriano would answer our numerous questions about trade rumors with surprising honesty (as he did once again this year). Sometimes the answers were head-scratchers (is San Francisco’s weather really that much worse than what he faced on the North Side all these years?), but Soriano often has an interesting take on things.

Soriano isn’t trying to play some character in front of the cameras. When he didn’t want to get traded to a certain team, he not only let Theo and company know, but he shared those reasons with the media as well. No matter how bizarre those reasons may have seemed, they were his reasons and he’d earned the right to turn down a trade and do what he felt was best for himself and his family.

Soriano was always willing to talk when I, or any other member of the media, stuck a mic in his face. Whether he’d delivered a game-winning hit, gone 0-fer or just been the only person any of us could think of to get a quote from, Sori was there. And if he wasn’t, it likely meant he was getting in a workout or looking at tape.

Soriano also provided the material for one of my favorite postgame write-ups. Not only did I unearth that Soriano hadn’t been coached on outfield defense until 2012 in that piece (I still can’t believe that, the man freaking changed positions weeks before the 2006 season and the only coaching he got was to go shag some balls in the outfield), but Soriano also admitted that the only reason he set a career high in RBI that season was due to hitting lower in the order. That’s basically the perfect quote from a ball player for a stat-nerd like myself.

This piece isn’t meant to say that Soriano is perfect. He undoubtedly has his warts. I particularly didn’t love the way he handled his displeasure with often batting seventh in 2011 (I may not have approved of his approach in this situation, but, once again, he was just being honest). But watching Soriano’s transformation from fan and media whipping boy to team leader and go-to guy for a postgame sound bite has been fascinating. In fact, I’ve realized that Soriano’s Cubs career has been an interesting contrast to another polarizing former-Cub: Sammy Sosa.

Sosa was the darling of fans and media for much of the late-90s and early 2000s. During that time, the image portrayed of Sosa, by both the media and the team, likely wasn’t the most accurate. As we all know, Sosa eventually wore out his welcome with multiple headline-grabbing controversies (corked bat, smashed stereo, etc.) and after one final, and memorable, episode to end the 2004 season, Sosa was traded to Baltimore.

As I detail in a Baseball Prospectus piece (with glowing quotes from Bob Brenly, often one of Soriano’s biggest critics in the past) I wrote last year, Soriano’s Cubs career arc is quite the opposite. So much so, that when Kerry Wood mentioned that Sosa should return to the Cubs family as an ambassador of sorts, I actually thought of someone who would be better for that job once his playing days were over: Soriano.

Soriano’s work ethic, accountability and quiet, business-like approach to the daily grind are attributes that all young players should aspire to develop. He’s proven to be a leader, not by being loud in the clubhouse or standing on the top step of the dugout cheering his teammates on. Those things have value in their own way, but Soriano’s ability to lead by example is something that every young player needs to witness.

It may seem odd, but Soriano has 889 games played with the Cubs. That’s 388 more games played than with the Yankees, so unless he signs on for more than the 2014 season with New York, he’ll end his baseball career with the Cubs as his most tenured team.

Having Soriano share his experiences with the Cubs’ future in the coming years would be an invaluable asset. Soriano’s faced the pressure of the New York media as a much-hyped prospect. He’s signed the big money deal with the Cubs and dealt with the expectations of trying to carry a snake-bitten franchise to a championship. He’s faced extreme criticism through the years and handled it all with aplomb.

Soriano’s been on quite the journey in his baseball career – going from the Dominican Republic, to Japan, to New York, to Texas, to D.C., to Chicago and now back to New York – and it just seems obvious that sharing those experiences would be invaluable to Cubs prospects, many of whom are not only experiencing professional baseball for the first time, but life in this country for the first time, as well.

I realize I’m just a novice in this business. In all likelihood, the veteran beat writers with whom I work alongside could rattle off plenty of players who they’d put ahead of Soriano on their ‘good-guy’ list. I’d love to have a long career and get to know many ball players in the coming years. And sometime down the road, when my life in baseball is over, I’ll have my own list. Soriano may not be at the top, but he’ll always be the first guy I covered who’s on it. In fact, one of the lasting images I’ll have of my early career will like be Soriano’s beaming smile, something that he seemingly had plastered on his face more often than not.

It truly was a pleasure to cover #SoriTime.

  • Polar Bear

    Well done, sir!

  • Roscoe Village Fan

    Some of my friends in the cubs organization have also been upfront about how generous Soriano has been through the years, whether it be time or tips. He’ll be missed but time to move on…good luck Soriano!

    • Spriggs

      you’ve got friends?

      • TWC

        You jealous?

        • Spriggs

          surprised and jealous.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I am also a Roscoe Village fan (by which I mean a fan of Roscoe Village).

  • Jay

    There’s no way on God’s green earth that nobody tried to coach him on OF play back in 2006. They clearly saw he needed it and no major league club would have just thrown up their hands and let that go—he must have just resisted doing the work until two years ago.

    • Chris

      Bob Dernier would tell you that. He could not get him to work and Lou more or less said to hell with it.

      • Jay

        Which is why, along with his inability to not swing at sliders in the dirt, hit in the clutch, or not stand at the plate admiring homers that bounced off the wall, that I don’t really care how great he was to the media.

  • mudge

    It was the best of contracts; it was the worst of contracts. No one taught him to play the outfield; he refused to learn to play the outfield. He was a good family man, teammate and mentor to young players; he was a skirt-chaser who corrupted the innocent phenom Felix Pie and other aspiring kids, consigning them to lives of profligate degeneracy; a borderline HOF’er; he whiffed in the playoffs and swung at balls in the dirt; he was accountable, he was not accountable; ever the enigma, the paradox, the Cub, the Yankee, Alfonso, the enduring legend, if somewhat forgettable at the end of the day.

  • Funn Dave

    Sometimes I feel like BN’s biggest cheerleader, and sometimes I feel like BN’s biggest critic. Today, it’s the former. Great story. So sad to see him go.

    • Spriggs

      Now that was Fun, Dave.

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  • William

    I remember the game against Colorado his first year, when he delivered with bases loaded after Tulo blasted one to give the Rockies the lead. I have Len Kasper’s call stuck in my head. “Hit to center, it’s going to drop down, Cubs win!”

  • jeff1969

    The guy made a fortune being a mediocre player. Especially for the huge money he got to be at best, low average. He performed at about 15% of what he was paid to do. Congrats to him for being nice to people, he should have done that anyways. If this stuff about him only being willing to be traded to the Yankees is true, then he was an even bigger waste of time & money than I felt he was.

    • mudge

      Let us know when you’ve sorted out the data on how much of a waste of time it was.

    • gocatsgo2003

      Almost don’t know where to start with this one… (i) as someone posted earlier, at $5.5MM/WAR, he earned just as much as he was paid over the course of his Cubs career, (ii) We are just going to overlook the fact that he had an OPS+ over 100 every year except 2009?, (iii) this is the same dude that had a career year last year at 36 we are talking about, right?

      If any of that is being a “mediore player,” you can sign me up for a lot more of that kind of mediocrity (just at a lower price tag)..

    • BT

      The kindest thing I can say about this is that you are wildly inaccurate.

    • SirCub

      Yea, I’d say 15% is about right. Meaning, he should have had 1200 HR’s, batted over 1.000, and slugged over 3.000, on his way to compiling 120 WAR, which would place him among the Top 5 greatest players of all time.

      Some people just can’t live up to expectations.

    • Funn Dave

      So if you were Sori, when the Cubs offered you a contract, you would have said, “no, thanks, I’m not worth it?”

    • wasssup

      A true cubs fan appreciates all the hard work soriano put into the cubs. Mentoring, positive attitude and someone posted he had a 28.5 WAR with the cubs during his time here…. 6 3/4 years. That’s about 156 mil and change. Don’t hate, appreciate. He was a Cub and I, along with not hating cubs fans, will miss him.

  • http://twitter.com/rbmryu Rafael Bruno Meirelles

    Happy that I got the chance to watch he playing in Wrigley! Gonna miss him!

  • Cubbies4Life

    My sadness at seeing Sori go (though I know it’s the right thing to do) is surpassed only by my disgust at some of the negative comments on this post. Who pooped in you guys’ Cheerios, for cryin’ out loud!? Good luck, Sori. I will miss watching that graceful swing.

    • hawkcub

      Complely agree. I swear I really think the ultra Soriano hater think we’d be WS favorites this year if he accepted the SF trade last year. Sori could do no right their eyes. Now he’s gone the safe bet on the over the top hatred will be on Castro.

  • Cheese Chad

    Great article, sir. It’s funny to think of the opposite paths that Sosa and Soriano took as Cubs.

  • Satch Dobrey

    I didn’t know him personally, of course, and I accept your appraisal of his merits as a good guy and professional in the clubhouse. However, the contract he signed with the Cubs was simply horrible. I don’t need to elaborate other than to say the Cubs had to give the Yankees 17.7 million just to unload the guy. Tell me, is that unprecedented?

    • wasssup

      We are in the current ‘rebuild’ phase. They appreciated him, but no team in baseball is going to pick up that contract. It was actually, in the new statistical era, a really good contract

  • Teri

    Soriano unfortunately never did for the Cubs what they hoped he would do. He was a huge liability in the field, but to his credit, worked hard to improve..so props for that. He was a free swinger who wailed at more bad pitches in the dirt than I care to remember. He barely ever ran the bases with abandon and was often looked at as a loafer in the field and on the base paths. He was not a clutch hitter, or at least what the Cubs had hoped he would be. Those types of things do not equate well for a player making 19 million a year. In reality, he was no doubt a great guy and teammate, but that is not what he is being judged for. His play on the field did not live up to the Cubs vision for him when they paid him that god-awful kind of money and the long contract. Best to Soriano in NY.

  • Paul AssenmachWAR

    I love the people hating on Soriano. You guys are sitting behind a computer screen ripping apart a guy who was paid a lot of money to play a game we all can only dream of playing for a living. There were good times. There were bad times. But i’ll never disrespect a guy who got paid well and faced that expectation everyday he stepped on the field, and did his job well.

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