TELANDER: Alfonso Soriano’s new scenery has made him a beast
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com | @RickTelander August 31, 2013 12:46AM
Former Cub Alfonso Soriano rounds third base Friday after his two-run blast against the Orioles in New York. | Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:31AM
What is it about not being a Cub?
Here’s Alfonso Soriano, for 5½ years a Cub but since July 26 the starting left fielder for the New York Yankees, stepping to the plate against the Baltimore Orioles. It’s the fourth inning, the Orioles are up 2-0 and the Yankees are hitless.
Never a patient batter, Soriano lifts his left knee and jacks pitcher Miguel Gonzalez’s first pitch deep into the right-field bleachers for a game-tying two-run blast.
Fire buckets, please! The guy is aflame. Yes, he’s 37, but this is his 11th home run in the month of August — all done as a Yankee in just 34 games. Nobody in the Yankees’ storied history has hit 11 home runs in a month at age 37.
What else has Soriano done since being traded just over a month ago?
How about getting six RBI in an Aug. 13 game against the Los Angeles Angels? How about walking and hitting a double, a homer and a grand slam the next day for seven more RBI?
That 13-RBI, two-game total was the second-highest ever by a Yankee. And the 18 RBI he produced in a four-game stretch tied a record co-owned by, among others, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.
En route, Soriano picked up his 2,000th hit and his 400th home run and is now just one of six players in major-league history to have at least that many hits, homers and 250 stolen bases.
What’s the deal with being a Yankee? Or is it simply not being a Cub?
‘‘Look at him smiling,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before the Orioles game. And indeed, Soriano was smiling hugely as he stretched and bantered with teammates. ‘‘How many guys were even close to his age with the Cubs? Nobody. David DeJesus was probably the only one. They were all kids. And I think the same is true of Ichiro [Suzuki, the Yankees’ right fielder]. They’ll get around players with the same numbers, and I think they relate to that.’’
Certainly they do. But there is the Yankee aura, too.
You can’t miss it, even in this new ballpark. Before you enter the locker room, there is the old logo in the tunnel, the same as it was in the now-demolished field across the street: ‘‘ ‘I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee’—Joe DiMaggio.’’
For historians, it’s interesting to note that Derek Jeter pilfered the original sign back in 2009, before the move across the street, something he ’fessed up to months later. But has anyone ever said — Ernie Banks excluded — ‘‘I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Cub’’?
‘‘I am blessed to be with this organization,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘I think this is the No. 1 organization.’’
He started here years ago, but you just wonder what he could have meant to the lurching Cubs this season. Probably not much, since the Cubs are a tanking, trust-us-it’s-all-in-the-future club.
But they averaged 4.1 runs per game before trading Soriano, 3.0 since. Sometimes Cubs manager Dale Sveum has filled Soriano’s cleanup spot with Welington Castillo (four home runs, 87 strikeouts) or backup catcher Dioner Navarro or minor-league free agent Donnie Murphy or even DeJesus, who had never batted cleanup until a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in August.
‘‘Crazy,’’ DeJesus said. ‘‘Now I can die happy.’’
The Yankees (71-63) might not even make the playoffs this season, and lean times loom ahead because of the old guys clotting the roster and the lack of young stars coming up. That’s what happens when you roll with dinosaurs such as Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Suzuki, et al.
But to see Soriano soar with this club is to remember something the Cubs can’t touch: 27 World Series championships by the Yankees since the Cubs last won in 1908. Maybe it does affect the ballplayers, that legacy.
Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry is now with the Yankees, serving as the special-assignment scout for GM Brian Cashman. His thoughts about Soriano, who helped the Cubs to division titles in 2007 and 2008, are all good ones.
‘‘In Chicago, nobody knew how bad his quadriceps tear was,’’ Hendry said as he watched Soriano take batting practice. ‘‘He could have had surgery, but he played through it, and a lot of people probably thought he was dogging it. But he could barely run.’’
Basically, the Cubs dumped an aging offensive star — ‘‘He’s been great in left field for us, too,’’ adds Girardi — and got rid of a contract, though they have to pay Soriano $16 million this season and $11 million of his $18 million salary next year.
It’s gonna happen. Right? Cubs good?