It seems that no player has caught the brunt of the frustration from the media and fans more than Alfonso Soriano. Of course, we're all fans, but I'm referring to the ones who say, "I bought my tickets, I can boo when I want to". That's fair enough. When we buy something, we expect to get what we perceive as good value in return. It's the perception that I have a problem with because I think it's often misguided. Much of that misguiding is done by the media. Not all of it. I'm talking about those who would appeal to emotion rather than rational thought because they know they can get an immediate reaction, either by pandering to frustrated, emotional readers or by drawing the ire of those readers who actually take the time to think things through.
All it takes is a well-placed sound byte, taken out of context, and a conveniently simple interpretation...and voila! You have an instant firestorm of reaction and the mass influx of listeners and/or readership that goes with it. I have nothing against that. These outlets need to make money. But let's not confuse it with the truth or good analysis.
I think I'm spoiled as a writer because I can write rationally about these things and I can expect a rational reaction from our great contributors -- although it's not necessarily the same reaction that I have. We often agree, but we also disagree (and I expect some disagreemet with this article), but we do it with civil discourse, and not some sort of knee-jerk reaction. For that, I consider myself very lucky.
With all that being said, here are my thoughts on the Alfonso Soriano line drive, the one he didn't "hustle" out into a hit.
This "controversy" had me perplexed. Has anyone who has played baseball on any level ever run out a hard line drive directly into the fielder's glove? I cannot remember a single instance, even in little league, where a guy keeps running to 1B if he thinks the line drive was caught. There's no putting your head down and running blindly to 1B, you see the ball travel as you finish the follow through on your swing, and on a hard line drive, it often reaches the fielder's glove before you're out of the box -- then you stop running if you believe it's been caught. Everybody does it. We only start running when we see that the fielder has somehow dropped it and by then it's often too late.
"It's one of those things where 100 percent of every player in the history of baseball would do the same thing," manager Dale Sveum said.
Reed Johnson, who is renowned as a hustler, the anti-Soriano for some, a lunch pail guy who makes somewhere near the minimum with the perception that he hustles out every play, defended it as well...
I wouldn’t say 99 percent, I’d say pretty much everybody in this clubhouse would approach that play the same way Sori did. The ball hits in the guy’s glove and rattles around, and right as you hit that line drive, you’re almost expecting it to get caught.
So on the way home from a Father's Day gathering yesterday, I'm listening to WGN on the radio and the hosts of a show called "Sports Central". The hosts were now conceding the fact that this was probably true, that runners don't typically run out line drives hit right at fielders. But the damage has already been done and they aren't going to admit that they are wrong, of course. Now, they have a problem with how Dale Sveum handled it. Apart from the quote above, Sveum defended Alfonso Soriano as one of the hardest working players he has coached. Reed Johnson did the same thing.
So now the hosts are claiming it was handled wrong because it had nothing to do with Soriano's work ethic.
That is the implication and they know it. The fans weren't booing as much as they did because Soriano didn't "hustle" out one particular play. If Soriano was a player who was perceived as a gritty hustler like Reed Johnson, who has said he would have done the same thing Soriano did, would this have created such an uproar? Absolutely not. This was not about one play, this was about a long-held belief that Soriano took his money and has coasted ever since, a misperception guided by frustration over the team and over a bad contract. A misperception, in fact, that the media itself helped create and perpetuate.
Similarly, I watched a game earlier this year where I was sitting right against the wall down the LF foul line. I saw Soriano run to within just several feet of me to track down a double down the line. He was in obvious pain as he did this. But, of course, what do we hear from the stands? Some drunk fan who screams, "Hustle after it, you bum!" It was a double. He had no chance to hold him to a single based on where the ball was hit, the best he could do was cut the ball off and prevent the runner from getting beyond 2B, which is exactly what he did. Did this fan make a fair judgment of Soriano here or do you think he already had some sort of pre-conceived notion of Soriano as a "lazy" ballplayer, or in his words, "a bum"? I think the answer is obvious.
Soriano has his flaws. He's too aggressive at the plate. His defense, for too many years, has hurt the team. Injuries have reduced him to a one dimensional player (or two if you take into account his strong, accurate arm in the OF). Frankly, he has not lived up to his contract from a statistical standpoint, nor has the team met expectations since he has arrived.
But he is not a "bum" who doesn't work hard or a guy his teammates don't admire and respect.
And it's about time that some fans and some of the media stop portraying him that way.