Yankees Notebook: Joe Girardi recalls Alfonso Soriano hype
Toward the end of his playing days with the Yankees in September 1999, Joe Girardi recalled hearing all about the talent and potential of Alfonso Soriano.
Many established players hear the hype for prospects and about an organization’s future plans for him.
Manager Joe Girardi has been involved in that process as a manger for pitchers such as Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Toward the end of his playing days with the Yankees in September 1999, he recalled hearing all about the talent and potential of Alfonso Soriano.
Soriano was Girardi’s teammate as a September call-up as the Yankees were going for their 25th championship. He had eight at-bats and the only hit he had was a walk-off home run against Tampa Bay.
At the time, Soriano was a shortstop who surged through three minor-league levels, highlighting his season with a .305 average in 89 games for Double-A Norwich of the Eastern League.
But just like Cristian Guzman, who was traded a year earlier for Chuck Knoblauch, Soriano was stuck behind Derek Jeter.
“I was here in the month of September when he didn’t get to play a lot but I remember them talking about this was a young shortstop that they had and they were thinking about where they were going to put him because they had this one guy playing short at the time but just being a wiry kid and seeing how much power he had you were like, ‘Wow,’” Girardi said.
Girardi never got to see the established product of Soriano, who hit 39 home runs as the team’s second baseman in 2002 after hitting 18 as a rookie, but even then he got a sense of someone who might hit for power.
“He’s bigger than you think and he’s extremely strong but he looks like more of a defensive back or wide receiver,” Girardi said. “Those guys are strong but they don’t necessarily have that big presence.
“I was here a short time but I remember them talking about the path to get us was different than most and how much talent he had.”
Now as his manager, he is getting to reap the benefits of when Soriano can hit like Tuesday when he hit home runs to left field and right field while driving in a career-high six runs in a performance that came after the left fielder struggled approaching his 2,000th career hit.
“I just saw his pitch selection better,” Girardi said. “I thought he was putting better passes on the ball. I talked about it and I really thought 2,000 was in his head and that he was in a hurry to get out of the way and it caused him to chase a lot of pitches and not be the guy that he is and once he got by it, he seemed to relax a little bit.”
Soriano is hitting .222 (14-for-63) since returning to the Yankees but his seventh career multi-home run game in pinstripes raised his batting average with the team 29 points.
Banks to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
As a Chicago Cub fan and eventual catcher with the team, Girardi had plenty of experience with Cubs icon Ernie Banks. Wednesday he found himself talking fondly about “Mr. Cub”
That is because Banks is slated to receive the Presidential Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest civilian honor on Nov. 30.
“A special guy, obviously being a Cub fan and a Cub, I got to cheer for him and see him a lot,” Girardi said. “He is always upbeat, loved the game of baseball.”
“Always joking about let’s play two and we used to get him and say, ‘Ernie you want to play two because you had three hits in the first game. Go 0-for-4, 0-for-5 and see if you want to play another game.’”
Banks was at Wrigley Field Tuesday and revealed to reporters that he tried to dissuade then Sen. Barack Obama from running for president when he first met him in 2007.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.