Soon, a select few legends are going to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame -- icons like, say, Derek Jeter. But there are plenty of other players on the 2020 ballot worthy of remembering. Players who were fun. Players who had great careers. Players who did things you or I could never do on a baseball field. Players like …
Alfonso Guilleard Soriano -- seven-time All-Star, esteemed member of the 40/40 club, high socks aficionado.
Sure, there are plenty of players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot who were, technically speaking, "better at baseball," if you're into that sort of thing. Soriano didn't hit 762 home runs, or win five World Series titles, or bag an MVP Award.
But he did do something just as cool: He played every day of his 16 years in the Major Leagues the same way you treated Wiffle ball games as a 12-year-old, as if a GM had selected Pablo Sanchez with the first overall picked in the Draft -- i.e., with reckless abandon and maximum swag.
That's a rookie Soriano, in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, facing down one of the best pitchers in baseball history -- in the midst of the best season of his career -- with the score tied at 1. Maybe an excuse to play tight, or to be a little less aggressive? Ah, but this is lesson one of the Alfonso Soriano School of Baseball and Life: The stakes don't matter. Each pitch, whether it's in your eyes or off your shoelaces, is really just an opportunity to let it fly.
Seriously, the man swung at everything as if he were goofing off in the backyard and risked getting roasted by his friends. And he did it with the assurance that, no matter what, he was about to send this ball into the next county. Which, really, is why he was the best: Every part of his game was geared towards being the baddest man on the planet.
Was it particularly efficient for him to try to steal 70 bases each season? No, probably not, but it was extremely fun. Was it particularly efficient for him to play nearly his entire career with a 35-inch long, 33.5-ounce bat -- the biggest size the Sam Bat company carried, so massive that his teammates would go around trying to pick it up out of morbid curiosity? The thing looked like a club from the Flintstones in his hands:
And yet there he was, year after year, whipping it around like his forearms were made of steel and sending missiles into low orbit. There were everyone else's line drives, and then there were Alfonso Soriano's line drives.
He played the game his way, and his way was like nobody else. In all of baseball history, there have only been seven seasons in which a player has had at least 35 homers, 35 doubles and 35 steals. Soriano owns three of them -- nobody else has more than one.
Maybe he would've been a bit better with a more patient approach at the plate, or more discipline on the basepaths, or whatever. But go back in time and ask childhood you which version of baseball they'd like to play, and let me know the answer.