Soriano Will Always Be One Inning From Immortality

Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano is one of the “forgotten players” that each MLB generation produces for one reason or another. One of those guys that you watched play and felt deserved more fruits (unrelated to his bloated salary) from his MLB labor.

The expression “that’s the way the ball bounces” has become synonymous with Soriano’s baseball legacy which could have been and should have been different, but not for the unforeseen imperfection of a perfect pitcher and late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s unwavering craving for superstar names with rock star games.

If Mariano Rivera doesn't blow his only World Series save in Game 7 of the ‘01 WS by allowing two-runs in the ninth, then maybe Alex Rodriguez is never a Yankee , and Soriano becomes the immortal Yankees icon he seemed destined to be after putting the Yankees up 2-1 in the 8th-inning by shoe-topping a Curt Schilling splitter into the stands. This came in what had been an all-time dramatic World Series, played in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“There’s nobody in the history of baseball I’d rather have out there,” said Mike Stanton, a Yankees reliever, who expressed the consensus opinion of the baseball world at the time.

Soriano – a young, burgeoning hero – thought he did his part to secure his legacy. He even flashed killer defense; but a walk, a pitcher’s error and a bloop single by Luis Gonzales later, and the Diamondback’s had pulled off a World Series win for the ages.

The image of Soriano floating around first with his right fist pumped in the air, should have become part of Yankees lore, like Reggie’s three homers in one WS game against the Dodgers and Aaron Boone’s walk-off shot inside the foul pole to defeat Boston in ‘03, Soriano’s final year of his first Yankees tour. Instead, it is a footnote in the annals of Yankees history and an example of the sick, twisted, unpredictable fortunes of professional athletics. It would also be Soriano’s one, brief encounter with being a baseball God.

Despite leading MLB in stolen bases (41), hits (209) and runs (128) in ‘02, then batting .290 with 38 homers, 35 steals and 91 RBIs in ’03, tough WS upsets to the Diamondbacks and Marlins (‘03), led to the blockbuster trade of A-Rod to the Yankees. And, as great as Soriano was becoming, his shoddy fielding at second base and the availability of the league MVP, made him expendable in the Yankees eyes.

Since being shipped from baseball paradise to the cellars of a horrible Texas Rangers squad, Soriano’s had a solid MLB career. He picked up his 2,000 th career hit this past weekend and has nearly 400 homers over 15-years on the grind.

Most cats with his numbers would be receiving Hall of Fame mention at this point, but Soriano, while he gets paid like an immortal ($137 million contract signed in ‘07), was never a big enough fish to control his own destiny. Despite his vast talents, he never truly had a home, bouncing around from NY to Texas to Washington (where he hit a whopping 46 homers in ‘06), until settling in with the Cubs in ‘07 and helping them reach back-to-back NL Central Titles in ‘07 and ‘08, before injuries slowed him down a bit.

He was never able to help bring the Cubs that long-awaited World Series, so his legacy in Chicago is a mixed one—like most teams he’s played for.

The baseball gods have never seemed to favor Soriano, and now that he’s back with the Yankees, he’s returned, not as a former WS hero, but as a hired-gun. Another 37-year-old ex-slugger with diminished skills and a retirement package rivaling any fortune 500 company. But don’t get it twisted – even pushing 40, the lanky kid from one of baseball’s holy lands, San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, can still swing it.

With his recent return to the team he started with, Soriano has come full circle. His career is the type that future baseball heads will continuously pass over when discussing the greatest players of the first decade of the 2000s.

It’s kind of unfair.

Soriano was never considered lazy and gave a professional effort, but his timing’s always been a bit off.

He came up with the Yankees one year after they had just won four of five WS titles between ‘96-‘00. He flexed a mean stick from jump and quickly became one of the most feared leadoff hitters in the game, despite his high strikeout total.

Soriano’s coveted speed and power combo couldn’t be ignored. He was Robinson Cano, pre-Cano and on his way to becoming a statistical giant among all-time MLB second baseman, turning double plays with Derek Jeter and rocking pinstripes with pride.

Then everything changed in one ugly, unfathomable inning. Soriano was 28 then. Now he’s an old head trying to be a savior for a busted Yankees team in search of a playoff pulse. He’s even hitting in the cleanup hole, in a lineup with the disgraced cat his life was turned upside down for a decade ago.

Baseball’s just bugged out that way.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.