Not every interview is memorable. Sometimes, it's the questions that are uninspiring. Sometimes, it's the answers that are unfulfilling. But this 2004 interview with Alfonso Soriano resonated with me. I remember how focused he was about proving that he had moved on from his beloved Yankees. It didn't work.
Three months after Soriano was the other player in the epic trade that sent Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees from the Rangers in 2004, we spoke in Arlington, Texas. Soriano explained how he would always cherish his memories with the Yankees, but that he was happy with the Rangers. Then Soriano said something revealing about his three years in New York.
"The only bad moment I had," he said, "was when I heard the trade."
Obviously, he didn't want to leave. Throughout that interview, I thought Soriano was trying too hard to be convincing that he was thrilled about being a Ranger. I think Soriano had adjusted and he was playing well, but some of his words, mannerisms and questions showed that a part of him still pined to be a Yankee. He once thought he'd be a Yankee for life, a la Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter.
"When you have a great moment, you never forget those moments," Soriano said. "I had a great three years with the Yankees. I'll never forget that part of my life. I'm comfortable here, but, when you have something in the past, you'll never forget it."
As Soriano has flourished in his second stint with the Yankees, I've reflected on what he said nine years ago. The interview happened a few days before Soriano opposed the Yankees for the first time after the trade and, as the questions piled up, he grew more emotional. He noted that he still spoke with Jeter. He said he was at peace because Rodriguez was the only player who was talented enough to compel the Yankees to trade Soriano. That was Soriano's opinion.
In a surreal yet suddenly riveting 2013, Soriano, the player who never wanted to leave, is back and is trying to help the Yankees salvage their season. Soriano bashed R.A. Dickey's flat knuckleball for a two-run homer in the eighth inning to power the Yankees to a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. The Yankees have won 10 of their last 13 games and are only four games behind the Athletics for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
The offensive revival and the streak of successful play wouldn't be possible without the player who I wrote ambled out of New York with "all the anonymity of a substitute teacher" in The New York Times. That was true. At the time, the acquisition of A-Rod, the greatest player on the planet, was all about A-Rod. Now Soriano, who was acquired from the Cubs last month, has helped spearhead the Yankees' surge with nine homers and 28 runs batted in across 24 games. Five of his homers have been go-ahead shots.
For some reason, Soriano is a player whose weaknesses are sometimes highlighted more than his strengths. He is a free swinger who doesn't walk much so he's not a high on base percentage hitter and he isn't a great defensive player. But Soriano also has 2,015 hits, 397 homers and 283 stolen bases. He should eventually surpass 400 homers and 300 steals. Only four players have ever compiled at least 2000 hits, 400 homers and 300 steals: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Andrew Dawson and A-Rod.
Back in 2004, it was evident that Soriano hated leaving New York. After the Yankees got him back last month, Soriano was viewed as a right-handed power hitter they desperately needed. He has been that. He has been more than that. The player who had one bad moment in his first stint with the Yankees is creating a lot of good moments in his second stint with them. Soriano might even help save their season.
Alex Rodriguez had multiple opportunities to insist that he didn't use performance enhancing drugs and to say that his 211-game suspension from Major League Baseball for that alleged behavior was an outrage.
But he didn't. Rodriguez deflected those questions three different times.
Essentially, Rodriguez said he wasn't there to talk about the past. Sound familiar?
On a surreal day in the world of A-Rod, Rodriguez was suspended on Monday afternoon and then started at third base for the Yankees about five hours later. Since Rodriguez's lawyer has said he will appeal the suspension, Rodriguez can continue to play until a verdict is reached on his appeal. He can keep playing, but it's difficult for some observers to keep listening to him
As talented as Rodriguez has been in his career, he has often been the player who struggled to do or say the right thing. That routine continued on Monday as Rodriguez, whose actions created the mess that he is immersed in right now, talked about "fighting for my life." Coming from someone baseball investigators have described as a repeat cheater, those words were awkward and hollow.
Anything Rodriguez said on Monday could be used against him in the arbitration case. But, still, his refusal to say he hadn't used performance enhancers during what MLB called a period of "multiple years," was revealing. If Rodriguez could have absolved himself, he would have. But, again, he hustled away from the topic. Like Mark McGwire before Congress in 2005, Rodriguez didn't want to talk about the past.
If Rodriguez doesn't fight for himself and his career, he said that no one would fight for him. So what is A-Rod fighting for? It seems evident that Rodriguez isn't necessarily fighting the charges that he used performance enhancers. What Rodriguez is fighting for is to get the 211-game suspension reduced. While 12 other players accepted 50-game suspensions without attempting to appeal on Monday, A-Rod is fighting his heftier suspension.
In MLB's press release about Rodriguez's punishment, the league said it was for "use and possession of numerous prohibited performance-enhancing substances" and for attempting to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation. The reason Rodriguez's penalty was much harsher than the other players is because MLB is confident it has stronger evidence against him, evidence that A-Rod and his lawyer have seen.
Before and after Rodriguez went 1-for-4 during an 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday, he mentioned how he is 38 years old. Time isn't on Rodriguez's side. With a suspension of some length looming, perhaps Rodriguez viewed the rest of 2013 as his last, best chance to produce. If Rodriguez is suspended for 211 games or something close to that amount, it's reasonable to wonder how effective a player he would be after the suspension. Right now could be his final chance to do something decent.
Members of the Yankees' hierarchy have said that the team sorely needs Rodriguez's right-handed power. Without A-Rod, Yankee third basemen were hitting .215 with four homers, 32 RBIs and a .272 on-base percentage. If A-Rod has anything left, he could be a much better option for manager Joe Girardi.
Michael Weiner of the Players' Association has said the verdict in Rodriguez's appeal might not come until November or December.
At the end of Rodriguez's bizarre Monday, he was asked if things had gone as well as he could have expected. Rodriguez said there was no "well" in any of what he was experiencing and that he just hoped "there's a happy ending there somewhere." There will be an ending for A-Rod. That part is true. But a happy one seems improbable.
In the latest episode of JCTV, television legend Regis Philbin joins host Jack Curry to discuss Philbin's start in the business, what to expect from his new sports show and his lifelong passion for the Yankees.
The memorable night was over, but Mariano Rivera wanted to revisit it. He was still wearing his Yankee uniform, still gushing about a night like no other. Rivera wanted to go back on the field, wanted to climb back on the mound and wanted to feel what it was like to be universally adored. Again.
There has never been another pitcher with the distinct talents of Rivera and there aren't enough people with the gentlemanly traits of Rivera. As the 43-year old Rivera leaned against a cinderblock wall near the visiting clubhouse at CitiField, he grew emotional while discussing how both teams delayed the All-Star Game to stand and cheer for him.
"They almost made me cry," Rivera said. "Almost. It was close. It has been tremendous. I was telling them I hope this night doesn't end."
If Rivera kept talking about the night, the night where he came in to pitch a scoreless eighth inning for the American League, maybe he thought it wouldn't end. So, following a press conference, Rivera kept talking. He recalled how he trotted in from the bullpen, got to his usual place of work on the mound and then realized he was alone on a baseball island.
In one of the coolest, classiest displays I've ever seen, the other All-Stars treated Rivera like the ultimate All-Star. As Rivera pitches in his final season, his peers reminded the cool, classy closer about how much he has meant to baseball. He removed his cap and waved it to both dugouts. His eyes were moist.
"I got ready to throw and I see, because my face was facing the National League team, and they're all in front of the dugout cheering and applauding me," Rivera said. "Then I looked to my right and I see my teammates and they are doing it also. I'm like, 'Oh, my God.' It's special."
When Rivera recounted that amazing display from the A.L.'s 3-0 victory, he almost began crying again. He shook his head. He collected himself. So I asked him how meaningful it was to have the best players in baseball treat him with such reverence in his final All-Star Game.
"The best players in baseball, all over the world," Rivera repeated. "The best players. I will never forget that moment because all I have done and all I want to do is represent the New York Yankees with dignity and pride and represent baseball and do it well. And to see that from both teams, the cream of the cream, that was priceless. There was no price for that. I was there alone, soaking it in. And I did."
Rivera had a baseball from the game stuffed in his back pocket. He said his family would decide who would get the first opportunity to drive the blue sports car he received for being named the Most Valuable Player. He took out the baseball and held it as if he was holding a cutter. He seemed ready to throw another pitch. He didn't want the memory of this night to end.
"I will keep it," Rivera said, "until the day I die."
As soon as Matt Harvey's 96-mile per hour fastball collided with the back of Robinson Cano's right knee, the sound was enough to concern the Yankees. It was a loud and ugly sound, a sound that was followed by the sight of a wounded Cano trying to walk to first base. He made it to first, but then quickly removed himself from the game.
In a season that has been littered with injuries, the Yankees wondered if their best and most durable player had suffered a major injury in the first inning of the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. For several anxious minutes, Cano and the Yankees waited and wondered. The Yankees were relieved to learn that Cano's X-rays were negative and that he merely had a contusion on his right quadriceps.
After Cano learned of the X-ray results, I spotted him sitting in a golf cart outside the National League clubhouse. I asked Cano if he was O.K. and Cano smiled and said that he was fine. Then Cano's driver hustled him away and drove him back to American League clubhouse. A few minutes later, Cano explained that he felt some tightness, not pain, in his quad and was hopeful that he could play against the Red Sox on Friday night.
"Yeah, hopefully, yeah," Cano said.
Cano described how Harvey's second pitch to him cut sharply inside and drilled him behind his knee. The ball moved so fast that Cano couldn't get out of the way. Cano said that trainers told him to ice his leg and rest for the next few days.
When Cano limped from first base to the third base dugout to leave the game, Harvey patted his chest to take ownership of the pitch. Cano said Harvey was saying "my bad" and Cano winked at him.
"What else can you say?" Cano said. He said Harvey did not "want to hit nobody on purpose."
Harvey, who pitched two scoreless innings, stressed that he wasn't trying to hit Cano.
"It's the last thing I wanted to do is injure somebody," Harvey said. "Obviously, I apologized and made sure he's O.K."
As the Yankees try to make a post-season push, they need more offense and, of course, they must have a healthy and productive Cano. Cano has hit .302 with 21 homers and 65 runs batted in and has played in all 95 Yankee games. The Yankees need him to play in the 96th game and the 97th and on and on. A 96 M.P.H. fastball almost spoiled that plan, but Cano and the Yankees were fortunate that it didn't.