Over the weekend, the Yankees finally made the difficult decision to designate veteran Alfonso Soriano for assignment after an absolutely atrocious start to the 2014 season from the 38-year-old. Ordinarily, it would not be so hard to release an aged player who cannot play defense anymore and was hitting a dismal .221/.244/.367, but Soriano meant a lot to this organization. Thus, pictures like these are disheartening:
Alfonso Soriano: "This was to be expected and it is a decision that favors both me and the team" pic.twitter.com/3JddjhXCHe— Marly~ESPN Deportes (@MarlyRiveraESPN) July 6, 2014
For as much as I agree that he had to go, it's still sad to see him leave this way, and the fact that his career might very well be drawing to a close doesn't make it any easier. Soriano has been a ton of fun for the majority of his 16-year-career, which saw him be promising enough to be traded for Alex Rodriguez in his prime, make seven All-Star teams in a row from 2002-08, and slug 412 homers. I'm going to miss Soriano in baseball, so to say farewell, take a look back on his wonderful career with these GIFs:
Future bodes well
The Dominican-born Soriano was acquired by the Yankees in 1998 in a controversial purchase from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, and it did not take long for the kid to become one of Baseball America's top prospects. He made the World team in the first annual Futures Game in 1999 at Fenway Park, and he immediately made an impact by crushing a pitch from future Athletics ace Mark Mulder off the Coke bottle above the Green Monster as well as taking Brewers prospect Kyle Peterson deep. Soriano was named the first Futures Game MVP.
Allow me to introduce myself
Soriano made his MLB debut that same year in September as the Yankees were wrapping up the American League East title. In just his third career at-bat, he registered his first career hit in dramatic fashion. The Yankees and Devil Rays were tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 11th on September 24th. Soriano put a powerful swing on a ball toward the middle of the plate from former "Nasty Boy" Norm Charlton and homered down the left field line to walk it off. The hit clinched the division title, and fans were forced to recognize this hard-hitting kid wearing number 58.
116 wins... so what?
Two years later, Soriano played his first full major league season in 2001 for the Yankees. A shortstop coming up, he shifted over to second base in place of the beleaguered Chuck Knoblauch, who moved to left field for the final year of his contract. Soriano's defense was, to be kind, shaky, but he slugged .432 and belted 34 doubles & 18 homers in addition to stealing 43 bases (third in the league), earning a third-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting. The Yankees won the division title and after battling back from down 0-2 in the ALDS against the Athletics, they had to face the daunting Seattle Mariners in the ALCS. Seattle had won an AL record 116 games in the regular season and were heavy favorites against the three-time defending champions. However, the Yankees took the first two games in Seattle, then won Game 4 on a stunning walk-off homer by Soriano against All-Star closer Kaz Sasaki. The next day, the Yankees won Game 5 to clinch their fourth straight AL pennant.
World Series magic
In the Fall Classic against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Yankees again fell behind 0-2, but they tied up the series with a pair of wins at Yankee Stadium highlighted by Tino Martinez's bottom of the ninth, two-out, game-tying two-run homer and Derek Jeter's walk-off homer. Just a night later against the same pitcher, Byung-Hyun Kim, Scott Brosius somehow matched Tino's feat with a bottom of the ninth, two-out, game-tying two-run homer of his own. The game stayed tied through extra innings, in no small part thanks to an excellent diving catch by Soriano at second with the bases loaded and one out in the 11th. A hit would have given Arizona the lead, but it stayed tied. An inning later, Soriano lined a walk-off single against Albie Lopez to improbably give the Yankees a 3-2 lead in a series they barely led. In the wake of 9/11, the three home victories were absolutely thrilling.
Almost a Game 7 hero
Roger Clemens on the mound. Arizona co-ace Curt Schilling was just as tough though, and the game was tied at one in the top of the eighth inning with Soriano due to lead off. Yankees manager Joe Torre and bench coach Don Zimmer were trying to figure out who would pitch in the bottom of the eighth since Torre didn't want to use closer Mariano Rivera without a lead (sigh). Torre remarked half-jokingly to Zimmer "Well, Soriano could hit a home run here and make this decision much easier." Almost immediately afterward, Soriano sent Schilling and the frenzied Arizona crowd into a pall with a homer to left-center field. The Yankees suddenly had a 2-1 lead with Rivera entering the game.
As far as I know, the season ended there, right? Right. Glad we're in agreement on that.
Soriano came into his own in 2002 with a fantastic season. Now wearing the more familiar number 12, he became the leadoff hitter and belted numerous leadoff homers, often instantly sending the opposing team into a deficit. He was voted to his first All-Star team, led the AL with 209 hits and 41 stolen bases, falling just one homer shy of the elusive 40/40 Club when he began to press and went homerless the final two weeks of the season. The Yankees romped to their fifth AL East title in a row and Soriano finished behind only Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez in AL MVP voting.
After another strong season in '03, Soriano was famously dealt to the Texas Rangers in the Valentine's Day 2004 trade that brought A-Rod to the Yankees. He wasn't quite as dynamic in Texas, though he did win the '04 All-Star Game MVP when he notched two hits, including a first inning three-run homer off his former teammate Clemens to give the AL an early 6-0 lead. He was traded again prior to the '06 season, this time to the Washington Nationals, where manager Frank Robinson at last made him an outfielder, a much better position for him. In his only season in the nation's capital, Soriano at last reached the 40/40 Club after reaching the 30/30 plateau in three of the previous four seasons. He belted 46 homers and stole 41 bases to become just the fourth (and last) member of the 40/40 Club, a truly remarkable feat made even more amazing by the fact that he played half his games in cavernous RFK Stadium.
His superb season led to a big free agent contract in the off-season, as he inked an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Like many free agent deals, Soriano was excellent in the first two years (his last two All-Star seasons). The Cubs won back-to-back NL Central division titles, making the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in a century. Unfortunately, the Cubs were swept out in both seasons, and as Soriano's career declined somewhat, his contract became regarded as an albatross. Nonetheless, through the middle of the 2013 season, he had crushed 218 doubles, 181 homers, and 18.6 fWAR over six and a half years--hardly an awful return on investment.
Back to the Bronx
Plagued by injuries and desperate for righthanded power as they trailed in the division, the Yankees reacquired Soriano in a July deal with the Cubs in 2013. Soriano caught fire down the stretch, as he belted 17 homers in just 58 games, including one wherein he reached a career-high seven RBI. It wasn't enough to lead the Yankees into the playoffs, but it was quite entertaining to watch the former budding superstar come back as a veteran and almost single-handedly lead the Yankees to the playoffs. Alas.
If this is the end, then thanks for the memories, Sori. You were one of my favorites to watch.
For more Yankees GIFs, be sure to follow Pinstripe Alley's GIFs account on Twitter @PSA_GIFs.