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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.

  • Coop

    Well said.

  • Fishin Phil

    Great piece Sahadev, thanks.

  • mudge

    Thanks, that’s a really touching reflection.

  • Trevor Wills

    This was beautiful, thanks for the read.

  • Myles

    Great stuff.

  • Honey nut Sorianos

    You put into words what many Cub fans are thinking. Thank you!

  • MichiganGoat

    Nicely done Sahadev

  • Spoda17

    Very well said.

  • King Jeff

    Nice. I am also guilty of being low on Soriano early in his contract, only to come around on him the last few years. He’s seemed to be more comfortable with his role after ARam and some of the other “leaders” trickled out of town. He’s certainly had his issues, but I’m going to be cheering for a Yankee for as long as he is there, as strange as that is for me to type.

  • SirCub

    Really glad to read a take like this. Thanks, Sahadev.

  • itzscott

    Whether you’re happy or sad to see Soriano go, I think we can all agree that it’s time to move on to the next trade obsession and then analyze them all when the deadline passes.

  • http://www.cwsnaturally.com Evolution

    Very nicely done, Sahadev…

  • http://Bleachernation Lou Brock

    It’s always easier to be nice to the media and fans when there is no pressure on you to perform and you, your kids, and your grand kids are financially set for life.

  • Ricardo Gerlein

    Very appropiate Sahadev, thank you very much. We have to remember baseball players are human beings and this writing is awesome. Grettings from Colombia, South America. Cun fan since 84, born in 1974.

  • Aaron

    Alfonso Soriano is a class act and from all accounts…was a great teammate. It’s too bad that he couldn’t help us win a championship during his years here. Compared to the other big-name players who have left the club over the years, Sori is more loved and appreciated tham most of them. While he wasn’t my favorite player, he clearly has withstood the test of time. Congrats on a great career and good luck in New York!

  • specialk5595

    I’ve been a Cubs fan for 36 years…many of them spent watching games with my grandpa, who unfortunately suffered longer then I did watching a team that never was able to win a championship. The Cubs are in my blood. So last year, I finally got a chance to take my two boys into a game and sit in the bleachers at Wrigley. I have to admit, I was a little emotional seeing them look at Wrigley for the first time. We got their early to see batting practice and managed to grab the front row in left field. My oldest wore his Soriano jersey, not really because he was his favorite, but because I was too cheap to buy him a Rizzo jersey (I wasn’t sold on him just yet).

    Of course, after every inning, he would yell over to Soriano…hoping he would get a ball thrown to him. It always amazes me how a simple ball is held in such high regard, it’s not like its something he doesn’t already have. After like the third inning, he took off his Soriano jersey and held it up, hoping to get his attention…and sure enough, Soriano tossed him a ball and even acknowledged him with a little tip of the cap. You could tell he felt like he was special…

    My oldest plays a lot of baseball in the summer and he could easily have some of his memorable hits or pitches up on his mantle in his room…but he only has one up there. I’m not going to remember Soriano, and neither will my son… for his unrealistic expectations trying to live up to his contract…or his perceived failure to lead to Cubs to the promise land. I’ll remember how he made my son feel on his first trip to Wrigley. Soriano was the last piece to a disappointing era. I think now we can all officially move on to the “rebuild” and look forward to the kids coming up…I only hope the kids coming up treat the fans and the game the same way Soriano did.

  • Nedskid

    For all the crap he’s taken from fans and media in the past, he’s been a critical part in the Cubs wheel the past few years. He’s currently either 1st or 2nd on the Cubs in nearly every major offensive stat category. It’ll be interesting to see how the OF shapes up for the remainder of the season. Good thing we don’t have a lack of options…when healthy…

  • Tobias

    A very good piece on a great Cub. Soriano has to be one the top Cubs in team history.

  • Jason P

    Soriano without a doubt did not live up to his contract, but the intangibles and accountability, not to mention the very solid power bat he brought to the table will not be replaced easily. The Cubs are a worse team today than they were a few days ago.

  • Samantha Beer

    A great player that was too overpaid for people to see his consistent contributions in the clubhouse and on the field. Not the greatest player ever–even though he was paid to be that good–but a loss for the team. We seemed to give him up almost for free just for the sake of excitement.

  • http://www.obstructedview.net Myles

    Great piece.

  • TWC

    Alfonso Soriano has one of the most beautiful swings in the game today. I’ll miss seeing that swing in pinstripes — *blue* pinstripes.

    • hansman1982

      Wow, so I’m not the only one who loves his swing?

      • TWC

        You kidding? There are folks who don’t?!

        • SirCub

          Oh it is beautiful. Long, and full of holes. But beautiful.

          • hansman1982

            Well, I like it…

  • SirCub

    I’ve been really happy with the outpouring of appreciative comments from 99% of the folks here. I just wish the 1% wasn’t so darn loud (but it’s not surprising).

  • ISU Birds

    Who is the longest tenured Cub now? Starlin??

    • hansman1982

      Samardzija

      • ISU Birds

        I couldn’t remember when Shark came up but I thought it might have been him.

  • ChrisN324

    Great read.

    Soriano was a great member of this team even with all the issues that fans like to pick away at. I’m 20 and the big seasons that I remember best while following and enjoying/suffering through as a fan have stretched through the last ten years. In those years, the biggest seasons featured a lot of Soriano’s tenure with the Cubs and because of that he has become a player I will always associate with the Cubs. The terrible end to the Sosa era was tough on me as a young fan of the team, and Soriano’s time here made up for that tremendously. I’m sure a lot of older fans have players they’ll always remember and love. Soriano is gonna be one of those guys for me. I look forward to seeing which other guys will take on that roll going forward. At the end of the day, -whether you liked Soriano or not- he’s gone, the Cubs are moving forward, and now there are a lot of changes that this team is going to continue to implement as we try to improve and become competitive in the future. Until then, Go Cubs!

  • magilljl

    Very nicely done. Cheers

  • miggy80

    “is San Francisco’s weather really that much worse than what he faced on the North Side all these years?”

    “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
    -Mark Twain

  • SenorGato

    I was annoyed at the Soriano deal because of the years. Once I heard they were tacked on by ownership for the hell of it I became much more forgiving of him and Hendry. Can’t say I was ever a huge fan but I do think he caught alot of shit for things he didn’t deserve to catch crap on – most specifically the idea that he just figured out OF defense last year. He’s been a good defensive OFer since the Nats with one of the better OF arms in the league. That one annoys me. I think he gets killed for that stint in CF early on in his Cubs career.

    I do bash him for my own stupid whine….Never understood why they passed on Beltran only to look for a 2B who moved to LF to fill the CF spot a couple short years later. Typical Cubs…

    • SenorGato

      Actually now that the ball is rolling in my head – I’m still really annoyed they passed on Beltran’s prime only to sign a corner OFer to fill CF a year or two later. This f’n dummy franchise…

  • Alb_daKID

    YAWN

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It’s so rare to art come to life in print like that.

  • Cheryl

    Thanks. Because of his being all that a player should be and I don’t mean the top hitter or fielder but the person who day in and day out represented baseball the right way I still think fans should have a chance to acknowledge him by a standing ovation if his name is announced over the loud speaker. when the cubs return to Wrigley even if he’s now a Yankee and not present

    • Spriggs

      I haven’t heard any better idea for acknowledging the Fonz. I think this would be cool. But knowing the Cubs, they’d probably make the announcement about an hour before the game when only half the fans were there.

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