Baseball fans can be pretty unfair. In Chicago, that goes double.
Whatever it is, there's a culture in this city -- listen to the majority of callers on talk radio some time, or have a conversation with Joe Sports Fan at the bar -- that not only requires players to be good, but says that good players have to also fit some sort of preconceived notion of what "Chicago" is. It's a weird mix of talent, "blue collar" work ethic, and a complete disavowal of personal style. Do any of those three things "wrong," and you'll hear about it from fans.
Alfonso Soriano knows what we mean.
For years, Soriano has been one of the Cubs' most productive and best players. That's true both at the plate, where he's on pace for a Hall of Fame career, and in the outfield, where his game-changing arm is overshadowed by his eccentricities (namely, a weird mid-catch crow hop that drives fans mad, especially when it seems to cause an error). And through those years of production, Soriano has been much maligned -- for his contract, for his playing style, for the way he's unable, or unwilling, to move down in the order to a place better suited for his power and lack of on-base-percentage.
Some of these complaints are fair. Some aren't.
But what's ultimately upsetting is that Soriano has been praised far less, and criticized more frequently, than a player of his ability usually is. It's weird. If you'd have asked Cubs fans before the year who they'd rather have traded -- Soriano or Mark DeRosa -- sure, most would have said DeRosa, but think of all the Soriano answers you'd get! And the difference in production from both players! Like we said, weird.
Anyway, in the wake of his 14th-inning home run heroics yesterday, perhaps we ought to take a moment to praise Soriano for what he's doing this season. His numbers are just OK (though Soriano's streakiness means he'll probably put together one or two torrid months in the near future here) but in a year that has seen nearly every good Cubs hitter injured, slumping, or both, Soriano has been a constantly productive presence. He and Kosuke Fukudome are largely responsible for the Cubs even being in the NL Central race. He may never be a fan favorite, but Alfonso Soriano deserves credit -- for that, and for so much more.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.