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WILL SORIANO MEMORIES BECOME PART OF D.C. HISTORY?

[November 21st] -- One of my favorite Nationals' blogs is "Nats 320." I especially like the work done by "Screech's Best Friend." He and I have a lot in common; we're about the same age, have similar memories of the Washington Senators, and tend to write generally positive postings about our beloved Nationals. Further, he's married to the "African Queen" and I've seen the movie. I agree with virtually everything he says, and I love -- love -- how he says it. I appreciate the work of a quality wordsmith.

I recommend that you head over to his blog and read his soliloquy (I am assuming that all bloggers are in essence talking to themselves -- I mean, could anyone really be reading our stuff?) on the just concluded "Soriano Summer." Screech skillfully reticulates the interconnecting memories and visual nuances that helped "Sori" become RFK's "star of stars." Screech's warm rememberances seem to suggest that he believes that Soriano's year in D.C. will be long remembered.

I have a different take -- with apologies to my friend.

In the spring of 1976, Reggie Jackson was the premier power hitter in the American League. At 29, he had already hit 254 home runs with the Oakland Athletics, and was beginning to -- from his perspective anyway -- become too big and too famous and too important to continue playing on the wrong side of San Francisco Bay. He moaned and he grumbled and made it clear that he was going to punch his free-agent ticket after the season and find a place to play that was commensurate with his greatness.

A's owner Charley O. Finley was as volatile as he was shrewd (believing the short-porch at Yankee Stadium was helping New York win too many pennants, he constructed it's duplicate at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium and called it the "pennant porch" - insiders called it the "spite fence"). Finley didn't want to lose his star player, but neither did he want Jackson to get his wish to play under the "bright lights" of New York.

So he traded him to Baltimore.

Just days before the season was to open, Finley traded Jackson, Bill VanBommell and Ken Holtzman to Orioles for Paul Mitchell, Mike Torrez and Don Baylor. Talk about a blockbuster. As an Oriole fan (Yes! Hate me!), I was pumped. Van Bommell for Mitchell and Torrez for Holtzman were a wash, but getting Jackson for Don Baylor was steal. There was never a doubt in any of our minds that Jackson wouldn't sign a long-term deal with the Orioles. As far as we were concerned, Memorial Stadium was the nexus of the baseball universe; there was nowhere else to go.

Jackson lived up to his hype. Just like Soriano thirty years later, Jackson was without question the shining star of the Orioles. He didn't hit three homers in a game, but I saw him hit two -- against the Angels (I think). Though history has painted Jackson as a surly man, Reg-gie, Reg-gie was every bit a fan favorite in Baltimore as Soriano was in D.C. When Ryan Zimmerman hit those two walk-off home runs last summer, he was compared not to Soriano, but Reggie Jackson, who's late game heroics are remembered more than thirty years later. Jackson was a far bigger star in '76 than Soriano is today.

And yet, few remember that Jackson was ever a Baltimore Oriole.

Reggie Jackson is remembered around the city of Baltimore as the player who used their town as a stepping-stone to the bright lights and big money of New York City. His five year, $3.5 million dollar deal rocked the baseball world then just as Soriano's eight year, $136 million dollar contract did today. Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson weren't the players Jackson was, but they were loyal to the city of Baltimore, and remain heros there today. Jackson gave the city just one year.

And he's long forgotten.

Yes, Alfonso Soriano provided the city of Washington some amazing moments during his stay in Washington. I think it fair to say that he was a better player than anyone on the expansion Senators, and compares favorably to any hitter on the original Nats.

But he wasn't loyal.

He refused to play in the outfield right up until that second game of spring training. He said he wanted to stay in Washington, and pleaded with Jim Bowden not to trade him at the July 31st deadline. He gave every indication that if the Nationals showed some loyalty, he would too. No, he wasn't talking about a "home town" discount -- at least not a significant one -- but it did seem that he would give the Nationals at least an opportunity to match other team's offers. As it turns out -- according to Bowden anyway -- Soriano's agent Diego Bentz never even returned his phone calls once the free agency feeding-frenzy began.

It's been thirty years since Jackson played with Baltimore. Fast forward thirty years, to a time when our yet-to-be-built stadium will have already begun to show its age (how many name changes to you think the stadium will go through over that time .... 5 .... 6?). I seriously doubt that any of Soriano's history or histrionics will be remembered to any great extent. Frank Howard played in Washington for eight years and was one of the most beloved athletes ever to play in this city. He loved us as much as we loved him. Alfonso Soriano, like Jackson before him, used D.C. as a stepping stone to greater riches. Fans try to forget players like that.

Frank Howard was a rock. Soriano was a stepping-stone. I think that pretty much sums it up.

Church Talk: Things aren't looking too good for Ryan Church. He was supposed to spend time in the Mexican Winter League learning how to hit off-speed pitches, but was a no-show. Initial indications were that Bowden had decided not to send him -- perhaps a signal that Church wasn't going to be part of the team's plans next year.

That wasn't the case. Church didn't go to Mexico because his agent told him not to go. "Agent Jeff Borris said he advised his client not to go because he nothing more to prove in Mexico and should be given a chance to start with the Nationals. Borris pointed that in the last two seasons in the Major Leagues, Church hit a combined . 282 (131-for-464) with 19 home runs 76 RBIs."

Of course, he's right. Church has proven in both 2005 and '06 that he deserves the chance to play everday. But being right and keeping your job are two very different things when you cross your boss. I'd hate to see Church banished in the same way Tomo Ohka was in '05. Hopefully, whatever Bowden decides, it's based on what's best for the team (the Ohka trade certainly wasn't).

Alou In Means Milledge Out: Now that Moises Alou is the Mets starting left-fielder, uber-prospect Lastings Milledge is in no-mans land. With a starting outfield of Alou, Carlos Beltran and Shawn Green, Milledge is trade-bait, or more likely, going to spend 2007 at the Mets' new 'triple A' city (which if I could remember which one it is, I'd have already typed it already). Milledge, who irritated several Mets' veterans last year, may be sent down as part of a "punitive demotion," the type where the GM says "grow up, kid."

Dodging The Bullet Doesn't Always Mean You Survive: The silver lining in the "Soriano to Chicago" story was that he didn't end up in the NL East, particularly Philadelphia. Yeah, but .... Reports are coming out of Philly that GM Pat Gillick's "Plan B" is Carlos Lee, who would put up Soriano-like numbers in Band-box One Park, or whatever the name of that place is.

Busting The Actuaraial Table: With the signing of Moises Alou, the Mets' starting position players average nearly 33 years of age, with only two -- Jose Reyes & David Wright -- under the age of 29. And this is a dynasty-in-the-making??

Can I Love Ryan Howard? I watched his acceptance speech for winning the NL MVP award, and the guy is just stunning. He's good looking, more articulate than many of my professors, and humble to boot. He began by saying, "I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my mother and my father ...." Again, being religious doesn't make him a person better than others, but it does show that he credits people other than himself for his good fortune. I dig that.


Comments:
I remember Jackson in Baltimore. Barely.

And I guess that's the point. Loyalty is everything.
 
I can vividly remember Reggie coming to the Orioles, but sitting out the first part of the season in a contract dispute. At the time, it was a terrific trade, but in the long run--Baylor would have been much more valuable. I hadn't really thought about it, but your Soriano/Jackson comparison is appropriate. As I mentioned on Alfonso in my appreciation piece--its (almost) always about money--no matter what the player says. Unfortunately, there are very few loyalties today--its why its so hard, at times, to actually be a fan of players, just teams. Its so different now, from the days we grew up in Northern Virginia.

There's a great new book out about Johnny Unitas, called "Johnny U" by Tom Callahan--its a fabulous read on this exact subject--loyalty--and how--in the long run--Johnny U will always be more appreciated then most any star, of any sport today. He cared--and he backed it up, whether you were a fan, or a teammate.

Thanks for mentioning by piece and linking it. I really appreciated your remarks. "The African Queen" also got a kick out of it. Speaking of whom--is also a HUGE RYAN HOWARD FAN--since the very first day Howard batted at RFK and he POINTED that big stick of his, straight up in the air--then whacked the next pitch out of the park--she can't wait to see him step to the plate. She fears him facing us, and enjoys him, all at the same time.

I need a way to email you about something, on the side. How can I do that? Take care.
 
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