Dealing with Rafael Soriano

But if there’s one thing you realize after a few years of Rafael Soriano, it’s that he’s focused. His MFIKY face on the mound should tell you just about everything you need to know, but in case it isn’t enough, let me tell you a bit more. Soriano always seemed to be a pragmatist. He didn’t pitch early in Spring Training because he realized it wouldn’t take him all month to warm up to pitch one inning. He accepted arbitration because it made financial sense. He doesn’t show emotion because it doesn’t exactly help. None of this, of course, makes him very personable, but it’s helped make him a good ballplayer. When he’s on the mound, that stare let’s you know where his attention his–on the mitt, on the hitter, and on what he’s throwing next.

The focus is an indication that he cares, and here is where I think he gets misunderstood. Why else would someone focus so intently? We can argue over why they care or who they ultimately care about, but as long as he cares about pitching well, he helps the Yankees as long as he’s talented, which he is. Soriano, like most athletes, doesn’t like to fail. Is not talking to the media the right way to handle such a failure? Maybe not. But let’s think about this from Soriano’s perspective. You expect to succeed. Your world is that inning you pitch. You fail and miserably. And regarding an aspect that often gets overlooked, English isn’t your first language. I can speak Spanish pretty well, but there’s no way I’m giving an interview to the most critical media outlet in the world in a language I’m not entirely comfortable speaking. Does this excuse Soriano? Probably not. It’s generally not a good thing to leave your teammates to deal with the fallout. But it certainly makes it more understandable.

Listen, no one can tell you what’s going on inside Soriano’s head because, well, he doesn’t seem like he’s ever let anyone in there. He’s always seemed like a private person. He didn’t want a lot of spotlight or attention (Why sign in New York then? Money, of course. He accepted arbitration from Atlanta after 2009 because he realized it would potentially maximize his earnings, and New York offered him the most money). He didn’t want to talk to … anybody—teammates, media, fans. Again, none of this makes him easy to like. It doesn’t make him easy to sympathize with. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Soriano blew the game, and he compounded the error and outrage by not taking responsibility publicly for what happened. But from my experience with Soriano, he took responsibility personally for it, and I think that’s all that matters because it means he cares. As I said, I never got the feeling that he didn’t care. He’s blown saves before. He’s blown big leads before. It happens. Mariano blew five last season. If there’s one guy I’d expect to put it immediately out of mind and return to life as normal, it’s Soriano. His focus and stoicism doesn’t make him easy to like, but it makes him able to bounce back from bad outings. And in the end, that’s what really matters. Because when he’s shutting down opponents, you’ll be glad he’s on the team. You’re just upset because the Yankees lost, and you know what, that’s understandable, too.

14 thoughts on “Dealing with Rafael Soriano

  1. Thanks for giving some perspective on Soriano, Mark. I agree that the fact that he took off is clearly a sign that he cares that her performed poorly, he may not have handled it in a way everyone would like, but I will take a player who cares about his performance over one who doesn't.

  2. "It’s generally not a good thing to leave your teammates to deal with the fallout."

    At first I thought this was an okay criticism, but now I'm not so sure. After all, this is a bit of a catch-22 isn't it? If Soriano is uncomfortable with the media, why can't Jeter or Mo or C.C. or even Swisher pick him up? If they aren't willing to have his back, doesn't that just as easily make *them* bad teammates?

    And really, if we take this seriously, there's an awful lot of hypocrisy in that. After all, Soriano has been taking crap from the media since he signed here. And Sherman has been waging one of his nasty, baseless, personal holy wars against Soriano since the first week of camp. Today he's actually suggesting Soriano didn't care about winning last night's game because he wants to be the closer and some such nonsense. Does anyone else stand up and defend him from that? Nope. And that's the Yankees MO, going all the way back to when A-Rod came to town. No one stands up for the guys who get singled out for the unfair treatment.

    And don't get me wrong, that's okay as a strategy. It's the path of least resistance to be sure, and I can't blame everyone for taking that route. But if you're going to do that, you can't turn around and be upset that one of the individuals doesn't want to deal with it some nights. If that's true, that's as hypocritical as it gets.

    • That's a good point. The counterargument is that it's hard to stick up for him when

      A) you haven't known him for long
      B) he probably hasn't made a great impression on many
      C) you're pissed because you lost
      D) you're surprised he left
      E) you're pissed that you have to deal with it

      That's a whole lot to deal with in the matter of a few seconds. Is it hypocritical from the reporters? Absolutely. Is it for the players? Nah, not really.

      • Well I meant that in a more generalized sense. Like I said, no one gives the reporters guff for the way they treat Burnett either. They're obviously just playing a let it ride sort of game, which is fine, but they can't really get too upset at the guys who get the really harsh treatment if they're not ever going to push back against the garbage.

        • I'll give you that. If you're going to write crap about me, then don't expect me to talk to you. Unfortunately, pushing back usually only gets more bad crap written about you.

          • But if Jeter or Mo did the pushing back, that would be the end of it. Mo especially. What are the writers going to do, wage a war on Mariano Rivera? Yeah right.

          • I guess it comes down to Rivera feeling like he should. Those guys may not feel like they need to do anything. They either A) don't like Soriano and want to teach him a lesson or B) don't consider this a big deal and just want to move on. Would it help if Mo or Jeter said something? Sure, but they have to be inclined to do so first.

          • But yes, any of them defending Soriano would have probably ended the discussion. Though I'm guessing someone still would have mentioned it.

  3. Great post, added some good perspective. The thing that worries me is the Spring Training issue. Did Maddon make him work out in the spring in Tampa? Because if so, I don't like the idea of him assuming that because he pitched well in '09 after not working in spring training, that he will always be able to do that. He was a younger man then, and at some point, working at it early would seem (to me at least) to be a necessity to be ready for the season.

    That said, it is still early on to evaluate his performance on the field and his attitude in the locker room. i personally think the beat writers are being a bit sensitive. ("How dare he not speak to the all-important New York media!") Just as he will learn to settle down in the 8th inning, he will learn the acceptable protocols with the media. I bet he could have left the clubhouse early every game last year without any Tampa writers batting an eye.

  4. This seems to me to be a media-driven issue, not a locker room issue. Do you think any of the Yankees really care if Soriano talks to the media or doesn't talk to the media? Has he given many interviews at all this year? It seems as if there's an expectation that when you mess up, you have to "face the music", but where's that expectation coming from? I argue that it's the media, not the players, that care.

    • The players only care because the media cares and what they write reflects back on them. That and some journalists are putting some words in people's mouths. For all the assumed anger toward Soriano in the clubhouse, I've yet to see one quote that says it.