The world is not as gray as we sometimes try to make it. There are absolutes, and there are issues that come down to right and wrong, good and bad, black and white.
But Alfonso Soriano is not one of those issues. I’m tired of the school of thought that says if I don’t like Soriano, I must hate him. Moreover, I probably just hate him because of the amount of money he makes, because his actual performance isn’t all that bad. So really it comes down to jealousy and/or misguided anger over money–and not even my money–that clouds my judgement.
What a bunch of condescending, patronizing horse hockey! Allow me to correct a few of the often tossed-around misconceptions on behalf of Soriano detractors everywhere.
First of all, there is a vast chasm between dislike and hate. I dislike when I’m misunderstood, or when I can’t get my point across clearly. I hate when that point is ignored in favor of a half-truth or a straw man that’s easier to criticize, marginalize, and ignore. Dubbing someone a Soriano-hater is a shorthand way of saying he’s incapable of appreciating anything Soriano does well, and abruptly undercutting any valid criticism he might have to offer. “He’s just a hater–don’t bother listening to him.”
You see that mentality at work throughout the sports world. Yankee and Laker fans use it against Bill Simmons to dismiss anything negative he writes about their beloved teams. Dodger fans use it to slough off any criticism of the violent element that’s taken root within their ranks. Cubs fans use it against Marty Brennamen (although in that case, it’s valid). You want to prove you’re incapable or unwilling to successfully argue a point? Call your opposition a hater and ignore what he has to say. It’s super convincing.
Frankly, there are plenty of good reasons to not like Soriano that have nothing to do with his contract. Yes, he does get paid too much, but he’s far from the only baseball player, or even the only Cub. In fact, I say good for him that he was able to cash in on one last monster contract before his body and his talent started to fail. Coming off an MVP-caliber season, he was one of the only impact free agents available, and he was able to leverage his career-year against Jim Hendry’s angst over missing out on signing Rafael Furcal in the previous offseason. The Cubs were willing to overpay, Hendry was determined to not be out-bid again, and Soriano was the only obvious target available. Somehow that’s his fault? If you want to be angry about Soriano’s contract and the impact it’s had on the Cubs, be angry at Jim Hendry, Crane Kenney, Sam Zell, and the Tribune Co. board that OK’d their massive spending. They’re the guilty ones.
And just a side note–if you are one of those Cubs fans who does hate Soriano because of the money he makes and that alone, please feel free to shut up about it. You’re making the rest of us look bad.
Because our distaste for Soriano has nothing to do with the sizable checks he cashes, but everything to do with his performance in the field. Specifically, with the lack of adjustments he was able (or even tried) to make throughout most of his time in Chicago. It has to do with his consistent willingness to widen his strikezone, his failure to work counts, and his lack of familiarity with situational hitting. It has to do with the bad lines he takes to the baseball, the way he frequently misses cut-off men or throws to the wrong base, and his nearly unconquerable fear of Wrigley Field’s brick walls. It has to do with his incessant hopping “timing device” for catching fly balls, his reluctance to move out of the leadoff spot, and his propensity to watch even his shallowest pop flies instead of running out of the batter’s box every time. Face it: statistics or no statistics–if you’ve watched Soriano play almost six seasons for the Cubs, you’ve got plenty of reasons not to like him.
Having said all that, I actually like Soriano more this season than I ever have before (hey, look–nuance!). He’s made a variety of adjustments both at the plate and in the field, and he’s actually grown as a player, even as his talent has receded. He’s swinging a lighter bat to greater success, he’s taking better lines to the ball in left field, and he’s even charged into the wall a few times–on purpose! He stopped hopping (seriously, I haven’t seen him do it once this season) and he seems to be listening to and learning from his coaching staff. He’s also proven to be a good teammate and a mentor to the Cubs’ young stable of players–and to Starlin Castro, in particular. By all accounts, he works as hard or harder than anyone else on the team, and that work is showing up on the field. Finally!
He’s always been able to get hot and carry the Cubs for a few games–sometimes even a few weeks. That’s been an almost impossible challenge this season, but he’s shown up bigtime in a lot of the games they’ve won, and even been a bright spot in several they lost.
Here’s how good he’s been–his laughably untradeable contract isn’t so laughably untradeable anymore. In fact, he’s turned down at least one proposed deal to San Francisco, and had to reiterate his position earlier this week when Melky Cabrera was suspended. And since he’s cleared waivers, that may not be the last offer he has to consider before the season is over.
Personally, I doubt he’s going anywhere this season. But based on the progress, growth, and character he’s shown, I will be a little sad to see him go when it does happen. Not very sad–just a little. Because while I may not like Alfonso Soriano, I don’t hate him either.