Saturday night the Cubs played host to the Boston Red Sox on national TV and looked for their second straight win over after Ryan Dempster's shutout on Friday afternoon. However, the big story that came out of Saturday's game was not the fact that the Cubs lost 4-3, but that Alfonso Soriano drew the ire of the 40,000 fans in attendance after he failed to run out a ball that he lined to Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
First, full disclosure from me is necessary. I have been one of Soriano's harshest critics since he signed a ridiculous eight-year contract with the Cubs in November of 2006. He has often not run as hard as he should have out of the batter's box stopping several times to admire balls that he thought were sure home runs only to break into a full sprint when the ball hit the wall.
However, Saturday evening was not one of those situations. Soriano ripped a line drive right at Middlebrooks and it appeared he was going to make a play on the shot. Soriano never left the box and Middlebrooks muffed the catch, drawing attention to Soriano when he was still standing in the batter's box as Middlebrooks recovered and threw across the diamond to retire the Cubs' left fielder. Fans went wild and consistently booed Soriano for the remainder of the evening when he came to bat and when he took the field.
However, it is obvious that their anger was much more about their intense dislike of Soriano's contract and the reputation that he has made since arriving in the Windy City six seasons ago. No one says a word when other stars don't run balls out whether it is former Cubs star Derrek Lee or White Sox star Paul Konerko, who don't exactly bust their tail down the line when they hit a ball that appears to be a routine out.
Current Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair told me in a recent interview that Soriano is the best teammate that he has ever had at any level of baseball.
"Sori is a great teammate and a tremendous leader in our clubhouse," LaHair said. "The fans don't see what he goes through just to be able to play everyday. His knees are obviously bothering him and he shows up everyday and wants to be in the lineup. Everyone in our clubhouse loves Sori."
Outfielder Tony Campana said the same thing when we spoke last week: "Sori is a great teammate and I see what he goes through physically everyday to be able to play and I have all the respect in the world for him."
So after watching the play and hearing the fans I am not as outraged as they are. However, while Soriano shouldn't be ripped for what happened on Saturday night, he has to understand that perception usually becomes reality. For far too long he has had moments where he didn't play the game the right way and combined with his huge contract and his underwhelming performance over the life of the deal, it puts him in the crosshairs of the fans anger. Add in his less than stellar performances in the 2007 and 2008 playoffs when the Cubs had designs on their first World Series in over 100 years and the fans look at him as the poster boy for all that has gone wrong over the past several seasons.
Was he 100 percent out of line on Saturday night at Wrigley Field? I have come to learn that players today unfortunately do not play the game the way Pete Rose did. I don't like it but I have come to accept some of it. For Alfonso Soriano, Saturday night's continuing chorus of boos was not about that one play. It was about his contract, the Cubs failures since he arrived amid tremendous fanfare, and the perception that he helped to create.