By Adam Hoge-
U.S. CELLULAR FIELD (CBS) Alfonso Soriano never really had a chance with Cubs fans.
In Chicago, three things are certain: death, taxes and booing — especially when a guy is making too much money.
Soriano signed an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs in November of 2006 that included a full no-trade clause. At the start of the 2007 season, he was already 31 years old.
Even for a guy who hit .277 with 46 home runs and 95 RBI with the Nationals in 2006, the deal was questionable for a 30-year-old in his prime. Getting those kind of numbers from him for eight years was never going to happen and with the contract back-loaded to pay him $18 million annually in the last five years of the deal, Soriano was doomed.
So it’s his fault for signing the dotted line, right?
(That’s a rhetorical question, guy who just spilled his High Life and was getting ready to scream at the computer.)
I realize that booing is often a way for fans to voice their displeasure with management and at some point, I’m sure that was the case with Alfonso Soriano. But that ended a long time ago. The management that signed Soriano is long gone. Yet Cubs fans continue to brutally voice their displeasure with a guy who did nothing but sign the offer the Cubs gave him.
So would he do it again?
“Yeah, why not? Why not?,” Soriano said Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field before the Cubs took on the White Sox. “I feel comfortable here. I signed here to win. It’s not the way I wanted it because this is my sixth year and we went to the playoffs my first two years and after that we didn’t make the playoffs, but when I first signed here I just tried to make this team better and try to go to the World Series.”
And that’s what he did. Soriano was an All-Star in each of his first two seasons with the Cubs and they made the playoffs, just as they were supposed to do. Remember, Jim Hendry signed Soriano to win immediately, not four years later when the contract ballooned to $18 million a year as the slugger was almost assuredly going to be past his prime.
Now, there’s no debating the fact that Soriano struggled in the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. He only recorded three hits in 28 combined at-bats and didn’t manage an RBI. But he was hardly the only reason the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs in back-to-back years.
“It’s very sad because we had a very good team,” Soriano said about those seasons. “But it’s so serious so it’s not about the better team winning, it’s the team that at that point plays better. The first two years we didn’t advance because we cooled down and the other team played better than us.”
Soriano was undoubtedly part of the “cooling down,” but that doesn’t mean he stopped trying or stopped working hard.
Naturally, in 2009, at the age of 33, Soriano started to decline. The dropped fly balls and baserunning mistakes went up as the injuries rose. The paychecks got bigger too and, of course, so did the booing.
“I don’t get frustrated because I love what I do,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very hard, you know, when you lose.”
And it would be hard to blame Soriano if he did get frustrated. For the most part, he’s been labeled as a lazy ballplayer — something that isn’t true.
Behind the scenes, Soriano is one of the hardest working players on the team and one of the most well-liked guys in the clubhouse. That’s why his teammates went to bat for him this week as the boos rained down again.
“I’m happy because they know how hard I work and they know my mentality that I want to win so bad,” Soriano said about his teammates having his back. “I think that’s why they support me because they know who I am.”
At this point, Soriano is just a guy doing the best he can while making the kind of money no one on this planet would have turned down. Sure, there are moments where he gets caught not running out a line drive, but that happens in baseball.
When those moments occur, they will rightly make Cubs fans upset. And it will likely make those fans even more upset to think that he is making $18 million a year.
But next time that happens, you might want to remember that Soriano is indeed trying as hard as he can behind the scenes and has never once quit on the team.
He also has never quit on the fans. Despite all the harassment, guess what his answer was when asked about his favorite memory so far as a Cub?
“The fans always support the team no matter what,” he said. “Loss or win, they always support the team. So I think that’s the best memory because I played on different teams and when the team was doing bad, the fans did not go to the ballpark. But here, no matter what, they go to the ballpark.”
So the next time you stand up in your seat and open your mouth to boo, remember that you are booing a much classier person than yourself.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.