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Monday, October 8, 2007

Lovable losers won't cut it anymore

Posted By on 10.08.07 at 10:36 PM

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Something changed for Cub fans in 2003, something etched into their outlook by the White Sox' world championship in 2005. Manager Dusty Baker urged his team and the fans to reject the old "lovable losers" stereotype, and they did, but when the Cubs came up five outs short of the World Series neither the players nor the fans were able to return to that earlier innocence.

If you want an illustration, look no further than Alfonso Soriano. A smiley player with speed and power -- a coltish manner in the field matched with the wrists of Ernie Banks -- Soriano is the present-day incarnation of the sort of star the Cubs have always turned into matinee idols with their TV deals and afternoon games. Yet in marked contrast with Banks, Ryne Sandberg, and most of all Sammy Sosa, Soriano hasn't been embraced by Cub fans. Sosa too was a skilled if flawed player, like Soriano with a fan-friendly demeanor, like Soriano with a weak grasp of the fundamentals, a largely selfish player incapable of hitting a cutoff man or giving himself up to advance a runner from second to third with a groundout to the right side of the infield. Soriano heard it from the boo birds when he made the last out in the Cubs' playoff sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and one gets the impression that it would take more than even a 60-homer season to win them over.

Cub fans want to win at this point, by next year a full century since their last championship. Pity Soriano for not arriving in town in less demanding times, but as it is he'd be well advised to learn how to talk a walk -- and hit a grounder to second base when necessary.

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