The Yankees have never been shy about giving second comings to former stars, useful spare parts, or even managers. Enos Slaughter, Bobby Murcer, Billy Martin, Goose Gossage, Yogi Berra, Tommy John, David Wells, Ruben Sierra, and Andy Pettitte could tell you that.
But I can’t recall any of those men, with the exception of Berra succeeding Martin in 1984, being brought back to the field in what might well be part of a plan to move a continuing pain in the ass to one side.
Alfonso Soriano left the Bronx in the post-2003 deal that made Alex Rodriguez a Yankee in the first place. Now, the Yankees have brought Soriano home (for minor league pitcher Corey Black, whose upside is believed to be as a relief pitcher), when only a fool can’t see the Bronx Bumblers looking for any and every means possible, reasonable or otherwise, to rid themselves of the man they once couldn’t wait to acquire at Soriano’s expense in the first place.
The Cubs have wanted to rid themselves of Soriano’s contract for a good while, even if they didn’t seem all that crazy about ridding themselves of Soriano himself. “He turned out to be as great a clubhouse guy as there is in the game,” says Cubs president Theo Epstein. “He couldn’t have been a better role model for our young players.”
One of those was Starlin Castro, according to ESPNChicago’s Jon Greenberg. “He’s the nicest guy I’ve seen in my life, in baseball,” says Castro, whom Soriano took under his wing as a rookie, even letting Castro stay at his sumptuous condo while showing him more than a few major league ropes. “He signed for a lot of money, but when you stay with him, he doesn’t look like a guy that thinks, ‘I’m pimp,’ you know what I mean?”
Apparently, Soriano didn’t play like one, either. Even though he signed on with the Cubs thinking there were championship days coming that proved to be another dream. It was his 40-40 season, during a walk year with the Nationals (who sent Armando Gallaraga, Terrmel Sledge, and Brad Wilkerson to the Rangers to get him in the first place), that prompted the Tribune Company, then the Cubs’ owners, to spend a mid-market team’s full year’s payroll to get eight years of him.
A 2007 quad injury while running the bases against the Mets, and a 2009 knee surgery, put paid to his speed, but Soriano remained a useful bat and an improving fielder.
He wasn’t exactly $136 million worth of it, to hear his critics (and he has had many) say it. (Sometimes forgotten was Soriano taking less to become a Cub than other teams were said to be offering.) But there’s something to be said for a man who simply shows up on time, puts in the necessary work, plays the game with everything he does have, and actually seems to have fun doing it, even if the fans egged on by a particularly bloodthirsty press take to booing him because he isn’t Superman, Jr.
When the Rangers sent Soriano to Washington in the first place, he quaked at the idea of being moved off second base to left field and was almost willing to forfeit his remaining contract time and his pending free agency to avoid it. But someone convinced him it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And he developed, little by little, from then to now, into a fine if slightly below league average left fielder whose best defensive asset is his throwing arm.
Contravening the hoopla he provoked when, upon arrival at Wrigley Field, he admitted what most don’t dare—that brick outfield wall can be scary business. For being plainly honest, without suggesting he was going to run home to mommy every time he saw the wall, even while his home runs could be conversation pieces, Soriano paid with his reputation for long enough.
Those hiccups were mild compared to the upchuck on which the Yankees have been choking with Rodriguez lately, and perhaps for longer than anyone realises. It’s not that the Yankees don’t need Soriano’s bat. He has seventeen home runs through this writing. He’s hit one more homer so far this month than the entire Yankee team. There are those who think the Yankees managing to hang in the race by the narrow thread of a second wild card slot is somewhere between a miracle and an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Which must be how many people view the Yankees’ relationship with Rodriguez these days. They trust each other about as far as they could throw the gremlin who bedeviled William Shatner from the airplane’s wing.
The Yankees are itching to discipline A-Rod over his quad injury, because of what USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale calls “ secret doctors, mysterious MRI results, media blitzes and whispers about committing fraudulent acts.” And at least one Yankee has gone anonymously to the New York Daily News saying they’ve had it with A-Rod’s version of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the one in which the animals run the show. On the record, during a trip to Texas a television set blared with a report about the Yankee-A-Rod standoff and pitcher Phil Hughes complained the set was too loud just at that point.
Of course, that ties in good part to that little distraction known as the Biogenesis web in which A-Rod is said to be caught but good, to the point where baseball government is preparing to drop the big one on him—though when and for just how long seems to be anybody’s guess.
This much seems certain enough. If and when Rodriguez goes, and nobody doubts the Yankees are looking at just about any possible exit strategy, no matter how much the brass coos that they still really want him there in one piece, no matter how much truth might lie in A-Rod’s kernel of suspicion that the team is trying to job him, there may not be that many sorry to see him go, after all.
Which is a sorry thing to think about a player who was once great enough that one particularly insane owner (Tom Hicks, then the Rangers’ owner) thought the solution to his team’s chronic pitching woes was to spend what might buy ten years’ worth of a good pitching staff on . . . one infielder.
Compare that to what happened Thursday night in the Cub clubhouse when Soriano’s trade was done. His now-former teammates were hugging him goodbye. Some in tears. Even half an hour after he was dressed for his departure.