In what was Brian Cashman‘s best mid-season move, the New York Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. For Yankees fans, it was awesome seeing the right handed slugger in pinstripes again. Not only did he provide some much needed power to the middle of the order, but he returned to the place where his career began.
There was poetic justice in his homecoming. He became the Yanks’ full time second baseman in 2001, but after three years, two All-Star selections and a silver slugger, he was traded to the Texas Rangers in the deal that brought Alex Rodriguez to New York. Ten years later, Rodriguez has crippled the Yankees with his lurid contract and poor performance — this year has to be the first time in history a team hoped a player would get suspended so they wouldn’t have to pay him. Ironically, the guy who was traded for A-Rod returned to play the role of season savior. It made Yankees fans question trading Soriano in the first place.
In addition to the symbolism, Soriano brought pragmatic results. In the month of August alone, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs. He hit the cover off the ball. What is more, he protected Robinson Cano in the order, who teams previously pitched around. But his August numbers were not the only historic aspect of Soriano’s return to the Bronx. He also reached a career milestone, becoming the 51st player in Major League history to hit 400 home runs.
I had no idea he had hit that many long balls in his career, and I don’t think I was alone in my misconception. 300 home runs I would have believed no problem, maybe even 350, but 400? That’s a number that evokes Cooperstown. With the realization of his actual home run totals and examining his other career accomplishments, it is worth questioning whether or not Alfonso Soriano is a Hall of Famer.
He finished third in the 2001 Rookie of the Year voting behind Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia. The former is a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer, and there’s some debate as to whether he should have been eligible for the award, considering he played professionally in Japan for so many years. It’s hypocritical to discount those years towards ROY voting but celebrate them as part of Ichiro’s career statistics (4,000 hits). The latter is on his way to Cooperstown (205-115, 3.60 ERA, 2,389 SO). Suffice to say, Soriano didn’t win the ROY Award, but he lost it to two of the best players of this generation.
The following year, he finished third in the MVP voting behind Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez – two players who have since tested positive for PEDs. That year, Soriano batted .300, led the league in hits and runs scored, and was one home run shy of joining the 40-40 club. Like the ROY Award, Soriano didn’t win the MVP, but he was deserving of it.
The greatest argument for Soriano’s Hall of Fame candidacy is his combination of speed and power. With his 400th career home run he joined Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield and Rodriguez as the sixth player in baseball history with 400 home runs, 2,000 hits, and 250 stolen bases. Mays and Dawson are already in the Hall, Sheffield will be inducted soon, and Bonds and Rodriguez would unquestionably be first-ballot choices if not for PEDs.
Soriano has quietly had an outstanding career. This is his average stat line for a 162-game season: .272 BA, 34 HR, 97 RBI, 24 SB. He was also selected to seven All-Star teams.
It’s unfortunate he spent much of his prime playing for bad teams in Washington and Chicago because his statistics were overlooked. But now he’s back in the limelight of New York, and though he’ll be 38 years old at the start of next season, he’s shown no signs of slowing down. He still gets that tree-trunk of a bat swiftly through the zone, and in a hitter’s ballpark he’s likely to finish his career on a strong note.
He may not be Cooperstown bound at the moment, but he may very well be before it’s all said and done.