Alfonso Soriano knows all about the circus on the South Side. Alex Rodriguez just happens to be the latest star attraction.
Weird stuff almost always seemed to happen when the Cubs came to U.S. Cellular Field. There was Carlos Zambrano attacking Derrek Lee in the visiting dugout in 2010. There was Lou Piniella calling Milton Bradley a “piece of (bleep)” in 2009. There was Michael Barrett punching A.J. Pierzynski in 2006, months before Soriano signed his $136 million megadeal.
[Watch: Jeter comments on A-Rod's return, suspension]
Soriano doesn’t worry about media stagecraft or his legacy. He’s always pretty much had an open-locker policy, standing there with a big smile, listening to every question and saying whatever’s on his mind. As a young player, he learned about being accountable by watching Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and seeing how those great Yankees handled the New York tabloids.
In many ways, Soriano is the Anti-A-Rod. So he wasn’t really calling out a new teammate. (They were both included in New York’s franchise-altering trade with the Texas Rangers in February 2004.) He was simply stating the obvious.
“We like to compete, but compete clean,” Soriano said before going 0-for-4 in Monday’s 8-1 loss to the White Sox. “Just compete clean and see what happens. A lot of guys, they have too much talent, and they don’t know that they don’t need it. They don’t have to try to do something wrong because God gave you the talent. Don’t try to be like a superhero or something like that. Just play with the talent that God gave to you and see what happens.”
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It’s been almost two weeks since the Cubs traded Soriano to the Yankees for a Class-A pitcher (Corey Black), $6.8 million in savings and the chance to play someone like Junior Lake in left field. Soriano doesn’t have time for the A-Rod drama, which will go to the appeal phase after Major League Baseball tried to suspend him through the entire 2014 season.
Twelve players linked to the Biogenesis scandal – including Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta – accepted 50-game suspensions.
“It doesn’t surprise me – the names,” Soriano said. “It surprised me that people keep trying. (Because) they know that if Major League Baseball put in that rule, they cannot keep trying. If you try to do something wrong, sooner or later, they’re going to get you.
“I don’t try to do (anything) wrong in baseball. Because if I do something wrong, maybe they want to catch me. And I don’t want to do that because I have family and I have friends and I got fans. I don’t want to let my fans and my family down. That’s my point.”
[More: A-Rod addresses MLB probe, suspension]
This unique ability to block out all the noise always helped Soriano inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.
“Seriously, I don’t pay attention to this,” Soriano said. “I see it on the TV, but I have too many things going on in my head to try to focus on something I don’t have control over. I just try to control my situation. I have a new team and I’m trying to move on, trying to feel comfortable. (I) don’t have time to think about something that happened outside.”
Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry – now a special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman – stood in the middle of U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting clubhouse on Monday and understood that the perception of Soriano changed a lot more than the reality.
Before leaving the Cubs, Soriano told Lake and Starlin Castro to keep working hard and get better every day. When asked by a Chicago reporter, Soriano wouldn’t rule out the idea of stopping by the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic once he’s retired and helping out the kids.
[More: White Sox react to A-Rod suspension]
Soriano heard about the reaction inside AT&T Park’s visiting clubhouse on July 28 as the Cubs watched him hit his first home run at the new Yankee Stadium. It’s hard to imagine A-Rod generating the same kind of loud cheers and absolute respect.
Soriano needs only 10 more home runs to reach 400 for his career. He’s 37 years old and planning to play at least through 2014 and the end of his eight-year contract. He’s not looking for shortcuts to extend his run in “The Show.”
“I never had it in my mind to use it,” Soriano said. “Now it’s like (a big issue), but before I never thought about it. I don’t know why people keep doing it, because in the major leagues, if somebody does something wrong, they want to find out. I don’t know why people keep doing it.”