This weekend marked the end of Alfonso Soriano‘s second run with the New York Yankees, and possibly the end of an overall very good career. Having been able to watch Soriano for his entire career, I will always enjoy the way he played the game, especially as a Yankee.
Growing up a Yankee fan, it was easy to pick a favorite baseball player: Derek Jeter. He was the most well-liked player in baseball. Heck, even my friends who were Red Sox fans couldn’t help but compliment the way he played. But I wanted to be different. I couldn’t stand all the kids who rattled off the same favorite player.
In 2001, I watched a young, little fast guy make his debut as the starting second baseman for the New York Yankees. He had a rare combination of speed and power; a serious change of pace from Chuck Knoblauch. When he stepped up to the plate with the enormous bat that no one believed he would be able to get around on a big league fastball, he would dig in his front foot ahead his back foot, and coil his body so that the pitcher could read his number. With an ever so casual bat wiggle, it was a simple snap of the wrists and the ball would be sent 15 rows into the bleachers. That number 12 was my favorite player. Alfonso Soriano was going to be a great Yankee.
In his rookie season, Soriano almost became immortal. Not only was he a star in the regular season, but he hit one of the most memorable home runs a Yankee has hit in my lifetime. In the top of the eighth inning, Soriano put a Curt Schilling split-fingered fastball into the left field stands. At that moment in time, the Yankees looked to be on their way to a World Series victory. Unfortunately, we all know what happened in the ninth and the Yankees ended up walking away with nothing.
Did Soriano hit the supposed “sophomore slump” his next season? He most certainly did not. The second baseman was a home run away from joining the exclusive 40-40 club with 39 home runs and a league-leading 41 stolen bases. All power no contact right? How about a .300 average and 102 RBI? Soriano was thriving in New York.
The following year, Soriano hit another 38 home runs and stole 35 bases. He was the second baseman of the present and future for the American League All-Star team. The downside to his 2003 season was the playoffs. When the Yankees needed him the most, he really struggled; he hit .225 with one home run while striking out 26 times during their World Series run. Soriano striking out became the image in everyone’s head.
I can remember walking up to my dad that winter, and telling him that I finally had a new favorite player: Alfonso Soriano. Unfortunately, my dad, like always, knew more than me. “Guess what? Your new favorite player just got traded to the Texas Rangers.”
Had Mo not blown that game in 2001, Soriano would never had left New York. He would have been a World Series hero and a certain Yankee mainstay. Instead, he was a very valuable trade chip, who was coming off back-to-back underwhelming post-seasons. Yankee history could have been completely different.
Now even though he was traded, I still went and bought a Texas Ranger Alfonso Soriano jersey. I had to. If there was one thing being a Yankee fan had taught me, it was to be loyal.
He killed it out in Texas, averaging 32 home runs over his two years there, before being traded to the Washington Nationals. In his one year in D.C., he was forced to move to the outfield. Didn’t bother him at the plate though, as he finally joined the immortal 40-40 club, hitting 46 home runs and swiping 41 bags.
After signing an 8-year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, Sori fell into obscurity for me. He played well, but I lost interest in a player I never had the opportunity to watch anymore. Good ole’ Robinson Cano took on the role of being my favorite player.
By the time 2013 rolled around, the Yankees were so bad, it was hard to watch. They had lost so many players due to injury that their lineup consisted of Chris Stewart and Lyle Overbay. In desperate times, Brian Cashman made one of the best moves to date as a GM in my opinion. He reacquired Alfonso Soriano for a Low-A pitcher in a salary dump.
Soriano single-handedly made the Yankees relevant for the rest of that 2013 season. His incredible second half could not have been predicted. He matched his first half stats with the Cubs, in nearly half as many games, and gave that anemic Yankee offense the power bat it needed.
It’s hard to watch your team go out in the off-season and sign two outfielders in an already crowded outfield. That’s what happened to Soriano this winter. Going from hero to zero yet again in his Yankee career. He got his shot at DH this spring, but never really could adapt to his new role. His at-bats became more inconsistent, and harder to come by. Simply put, at the end of the day, Soriano was just not getting the job done any more. In 67 games, number 12 hit .221, with a putrid 71 strikeouts to just 6 walks. That was the end of his days in pinstripes.
So when we look back at Soriano, it’s hard to say “Thank God they got rid of him” or “Finally!” Alfonso Soriano was a fantastic Yankee. Not only was he a good Yankee, but he was a very good player for his entire career. His six home runs this year were the first time since his rookie season that he hit under 20 home runs. Not many players can say that. He started his career as a superstar second baseman with the Yankees, and most likely, finished as an aging outfielder who provided one last spark in a dead Yankee team before the flame went out.
He may not be your typical Yankee fan’s favorite player, but if Joe Torre didn’t have the infield in on that late night in 2001, he may have been everyone’s favorite player. It’s tough not to go out on a high note, but those who truly enjoyed watching Soriano play, will remember more good than bad.