By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Tonight when the New York Yankees visit Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs will honor retiring future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter in some fashion. I don’t know if it will be as nice as giving Paul Konerko an unwanted piece of the rickety scoreboard or a creepy hug from a pantsless mascot, but Jeter will be typically classy and go through the motions of feeling humbled and honored by a team he’s played seven career games against.
Fans will cheer Jeter while simultaneously asking the totally fair question of why in the heck Starlin Castro hasn’t won four World Series already, and then Masahiro Tanaka, whom the Cubs were oh-so-close to signing this past offseason (but they tried hard, so moral victories, right?) will pitch seven innings of one-run ball en route to Yankee victory.
Who will not be honored in any special way is Yankee outfielder and former Cub Alfonso Soriano, a guy who was always the red-headed stepchild on the North Side during his tenure there from 2007-’13. Cooperstown isn’t in his future unless he plans on being there to support the induction of a teammate. Though, that wouldn’t be far-fetched of Soriano, because despite the almost palpable dislike of him by much of the Cubs fan base for his six-plus seasons in bright blue pinstripes, he’s regarded by people inside the game as nothing short of a great clubhouse guy and person.
When the Cubs traveled to Yankee Stadium in April, Jeff Samardzija was asked about Tanaka.
“Is he pitching?” Samardzija said. “Cool. I’m more excited to see Soriano. Soriano’s one of my favorite teammates I ever played with, man.”
That’s pretty much the consensus among his ex-teammates in Chicago, and while most of the Cubs will be sure to offer their well-wishes to Jeter this week, what few positive vibes the struggling team can still muster will be largely directed toward seeing “Fonzie” again.
As they should. I know of no Cub in my lifetime more inappropriately criticized (though that Tuesday back page of the Sun-Times might overtake all of that). The irrationality of despising Soriano because of his contract — which he arguably lived up to much of the time — always perplexed me. As though he should have given the money back or something?
And it puzzled Soriano himself. Per a Gordon Wittenmeyer piece from spring training 2012:
“They don’t see the human. They just see the contract,’’ said Soriano, who has rarely dropped his smile while handling the extra-heavy load of criticism. ‘‘If they know how I think, if they know how I act, they would not boo.
‘‘They just see the contract. It’s very hard. But it’s part of the game. It’s not anything that bothers me. I just want to play my game and do my best.’’
Jeez, don’t you just want to slap the smugness off his face?
So when Soriano’s name gets announced at Wrigley tonight, I expect from the Chicago fans in attendance (of which there may be a minority) a smattering of applause, a bit larger contingent of boos and otherwise general apathy for a guy who hit 181 home runs during a Cubs stint played entirely after the age of 30.
But he did that stupid hop when catching a fly ball, they’ll think. He may be the main reason the Cubs made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, he may still mentor Castro over the phone, he may never have criticized fans and he may have agreed to be traded to the Yankees in a move that benefited the Cubs and probably inconvenienced him, but he made a lot of money without bringing a World Series title here, so screw him.
The knee-jerk descriptor for Derek Jeter is almost always “class.” He has represented the Yankees with it his entire outstanding career.
And Jeter has a teammate for the second time now who did that for 889 games as a Chicago Cub but who won’t likely have that word applied to him much this week. Surely Soriano is not bothered by that, and it won’t be on his mind when he’s trotting around the bases this week after putting a ball into the bleachers.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.