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updated: 7/27/2013 4:21 PM

Soriano gave us something to smile about

Soriano's positive attitude something to smile about

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  • Big things were expected for the franchise after the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano when the team was owned by the Tribune Co.

       Big things were expected for the franchise after the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano when the team was owned by the Tribune Co.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer/file

  • That ever-present smile was part of Alfonso Soriano's repertoire. This one came after he hit a three-run home run against the Washington Nationals in 2009.

      That ever-present smile was part of Alfonso Soriano's repertoire. This one came after he hit a three-run home run against the Washington Nationals in 2009.
    Assoicated Press

  • Alfonso Soriano, center, is greeted by New York Yankees teammates during batting practice before Friday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.

      Alfonso Soriano, center, is greeted by New York Yankees teammates during batting practice before Friday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.
    Assoicated Press

  • Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano got somehelp with his jersey from general manager Jim Hendry after he signed with the Cubs.

       Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano got somehelp with his jersey from general manager Jim Hendry after he signed with the Cubs.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer/file

  • Video: Soriano on his time with Cubs

 
 

When it comes to Alfonso Soriano, most Cubs fans probably will remember "the contract."

I'll remember the smile, the generosity and the work ethic.

From the moment he put pen to paper, there was no way Soriano was going to live up to the eight-year, $136 million contract former general manager Jim Hendry and his bosses at the Tribune Co. gave him in November 2006.

The contract was a gamble. If the Cubs could win a World Series with Soriano, preferably before the Trib could sell the team, it would drive up the value of the franchise. The contract would have been worth it, and in the later years -- meaning now -- it would be somebody else's to clean up.

Current Cubs management, led by Theo Epstein, did the best it could to get something for Soriano in this past week's trade with the Yankees. The Cubs netted pitching prospect Corey Black and saved a little on the money.

In fact, Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and field boss Dale Sveum get high marks for how they handled Soriano from the get-go. They came in with an open mind, treated Soriano with respect, coached him and got good enough results for the Cubs to be able to trade him.

Soriano leaves the Cubs with 181 home runs, 11th on the team's all-time list. While he didn't lead the Cubs to the World Series, his own playoff failures were matched by plenty of his teammates in 2007 and 2008.

But a player leaves behind a legacy built on a lot more than numbers. Here are a few things I'll remember:

• Soriano always had a ready smile, for teammates and even members of the media. Before you say, "Sure, I'd be happy, too, making $136 million," know that there are plenty of rich ballplayers who simply are miserable human beings. I've been around a few and seen a few others from across the field.

Soriano's smile was genuine, as was his generosity. I never saw him turn down an interview request, belittle a tough question or snap at a reporter.

Oftentimes, I'd walk into the clubhouse and see that Soriano once again had sprung for ethnic food for the younger players.

• You could almost set your watch by it. Forty minutes before game time, Soriano would head toward the right-field batting cage with his hitting coach, be it Gerald Perry or Von Joshua or Rudy Jaramillo or James Rowson.

Soriano took his craft of hitting seriously, even as he could maddeningly swing at sliders outside the zone and strike out.

When the Epstein regime took over in 2012, Soriano worked tirelessly in spring training and during the season with outfield coach Dave McKay on improving his left-field defense. He was never going to be a gazelle out there, not after his legs gave out, but he became a respectable fielder. Last year, he committed only 1 error, and that was on a ball that he hustled for and dropped.

• In September 2007, the Cubs were battling to win the National League Central after getting off to a horrid start under new manager Lou Piniella.

Soriano almost single-handedly lifted them into the playoffs. In September, he put up a hitting line of .320/.354/.754 for an OPS of 1.108. He hit 14 homers and drove in 27 that month. Without him, the Cubs don't make the playoffs.

• While many players who get superstar money (whether they're superstars or not) tend to sulk and go into a defensive shell when things don't go well, Soriano had the ability to let things roll off his back.

When the fans booed him for either striking out or not getting to a flyball, he'd go back to his position, smile at the bleacher fans and toss them a ball. Oftentimes, Soriano could be both booed and saluted with a bow from the bleachers (much like Andre Dawson was) during the same game.

The only time I saw Soriano really stung by criticism came June 16 of last year, when the Cubs played the Red Sox in a nationally televised Saturday night game at Wrigley Field. Soriano hit a hard line drive that the third baseman dropped. Thinking the catch was made, Soriano stopped, and then was thrown out easily at first base.

Even though the play took only a second or so to develop, fans booed Soriano.

His teammates were furious at the reaction, and starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija spoke for nearly every Cubs player during a seething postgame news conference.

"I think anybody that hits that ball does the same thing," Samardzija said. "Alfonso Soriano is one of the best teammates you could ever have. He plays the game the right way. Every day, he prepares. Anything Alfonso does when he's playing with me in my lineup, I got no problems with. I hope he's in there every day when I pitch and I hope he plays left and I hope he hits third, fourth, fifth or sixth, anywhere.

"Sori takes a lot of heat for a lot of things. It is what it is. There's not one guy in that locker room that has anything bad to say about Sori."

Pretty much sums it up.

• Follow Bruce's Cubs and baseball reports via Twitter@BruceMiles2112, and check out his Chicago's Inside Pitch blog at dailyherald.com.

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