Alfonso Soriano notched his 2000th career hit yesterday, and he did it in grand fashion: a home run. His first career hit, by the way, was also a home run. If he got hit by a bus tomorrow that’d be a pretty spiffy set of bookends. Of course it would pale to how horrified we’d all be if Soriano was hit by a bus so let’s just forget I said that.
My takeaway from Alfonso Soriano’s 2000th? He’s been a pretty good player over the course of his career. That’s likely to be taken as a loaded comment by many of you, but it underscores why I felt like I should make it.
So much of what we talk about with players is laden with baggage about contracts and history and relative comparisons. If a guy gets a big contract that he probably didn’t fully justify, we tend to talk about them as failures, even if they’re still fine and useful players. If someone is good but not great — especially if we thought early on that they might be great one day — we also tend to cast their accomplishments in a negative light. We also tend to compare one player to a better player from time to time and take the negative, albeit factual assessment (Player X is not as good as Player Y) as a criticism as Player X when it’s really not.
Soriano has probably had all three of these things working against him over the course of his career. He started out so amazingly, people had expectations of a Hall of Fame career that hasn’t occurred. He reminded many of astounding players like Clemente or Vlad Guerrero so those comps were made and, like almost every single ballplayer who has ever played, he wasn’t quite to that level. Finally he did get overpaid, even if it wasn’t his fault at all and even if his salary has no bearing on the actual quality of play he has provided to his employers, even if does have bearing on the bang-for-the-buck.
None of which is to say that Soriano is some fantastic, elite guy. But he’s been durable. He’s hit nearly 400 homers. He has over 1,000 RBI. He’s got 2,000 hits. He’s been a great teammate and is renowned as a hard worker who prepares himself like a true professional. At times he has been excellent, the rest of the time he’s been an above average major leaguer. And that stuff tends to get lost with him because so much more focus is placed on his contract or our expectations or his perceived potential at one time.