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updated: 7/29/2013 6:04 AM

Soriano a living emblem of Cubs' failed possibilities

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  • New York Yankees' Alfonso Soriano takes his helmet off after being tagged out at first base by Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer during the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 27, 2013, in New York.

      New York Yankees' Alfonso Soriano takes his helmet off after being tagged out at first base by Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer during the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 27, 2013, in New York.
    Associated Press

 
 

Alfonso Soriano is finally gone, and it doesn't feel like I thought it would.

For years I dreamed of finding him a new home, and now he's off to revisit an old one. In exchange the Cubs got a modicum of financial relief, a marginal pitching prospect, and the sudden availability of playing time.

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The enjoyable Junior Lake can move over to left, and next year more youth may be served.

But Soriano's trade back to the place of his MLB birth doesn't fill me with the joy it once may have just four, three, or even two years ago.

I, like many of you, had grown to respect him.

I remember his last Yankees days the first time around, exposed by every pitcher on the 2003 Marlins via the outside slider.

I remember a petulant Soriano as a Washington National, at first refusing to play the outfield for Frank Robinson. But he had 40-plus steals and homers that season, and Cubs GM Jim Hendry outbid himself to award the guaranteed eight-year, $136 million deal.

So Soriano's first role as a Cub was incoming savior. Hendry sold you on center field and leadoff, remember? Good luck measuring up to the magnitude and bellowed promise of that arrival.

He was an instrumental, productive piece of two division titles.

He was one of many faces of two horrid postseason failures.

He drank in full benefit of professional sports life in Chicago; night life on the eve of day games embraced.

He was often exposed as a deeply flawed player.

So many of us knew that before he got here, and it made our verbal venom louder. He'd never had a natural defensive position.

He was a financial albatross, a truth whose fault lies with others, not him.

He was the lingering emblem of failed possibilities.

He was, ultimately, a good teammate as well.

It was Soriano who went back to the clubhouse in Atlanta to challenge a defeated and departing Carlos Zambrano.

He tried to make young players comfortable in ways so many veteran Yankees had done for him. He wanted to be their Bernie Williams.

He never mouthed off to fans, or rarely even about fans, in spite of the raucous booing.

He wasn't worth the money. The outsized image of defensive prowess went unrealized. Several years saw his OBP at or under .300. Speed as a weapon faded, quickly.

But he was a professional.

I love Chinatown, on the city's near south side. I've often spoken of hitting every one of the myriad places there. I wanted to try every restaurant in Chinatown by the end of Alfonso Soriano's contract.

I had plans of inviting him to that final joint with me. It'd make a great, wacky radio stunt, right?

Well, I've lost a bit.

I bet I would have enjoyed conversation over that meal, getting his perspective on an often strange, truly unique run as a Cub.

I would have told him that the vitriol he received was more for what he signified, rather than for the man himself.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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