- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

Any minute now, I expect the Nationals to turn the Alfonso Soriano auction over to Sotheby’s. What am I bid for a 30-year-old second baseman, currently exiled to left field, who at the start of last night’s game was on pace for 50 homers and 41 stolen bases? (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that his birth certificate is from the Dominican Republic.)

The Nationals’ position on this is completely understandable, it truly is. They spent their last decade in Montreal being stripped of their assets, and their new owners are anxious to re-establish the club as a Real Major League Franchise. If they’re offered a nice package of prospects for Soriano, you could hardly blame them for taking it. And Alfonso is the kind of player who, in an otherwise lean market, could bring that much in a trade.

Yup, dealing Soriano makes sense in every respect but two:

1. This is Washington.

2. The guy hits home runs.

Over the years, the words “Washington” and “home runs” have rarely gone together. You needed a cannon to get the ball out of Griffith Stadium in the old days — at one time it measured 405 feet down the left-field line — and RFK hasn’t exactly been a home run haven either. Worse, every time the Local Nine did stumble across a legitimate power hitter, the team would up and move. Well, maybe not every time, but it happened with Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew.

Howard swatted 48 homers for the Second Senators in 1969 — a number Soriano could well exceed — and had 44 in ‘68 and ‘70. But after the ‘71 season, the club relocated to Texas. Heck of a way to say goodbye to the greatest slugger the city has ever known.

Losing Killebrew was even more lamentable. His power was just beginning to flower — as witnessed by his league-leading 42 dingers in 1959 (at age 23) and 31 the next year (in just 124 games) — when Calvin Griffith, owner of the original Senators, decided to take the team to Minnesota. Over the next 14 seasons, “Killer” knocked 475 over the fence … for the Twins.

Before Killebrew, there was Roy Sievers, peddled to the White Sox for $150,000 and two players just two years after winning the 1957 American League home run title. (He hit 55 homers, drove in 185 runs and batted .295 the following two seasons for Chicago.) And before Sievers there was Goose Goslin, who was sent to the St. Louis Browns in mid-1930 and proceeded to hit more homers in 101 games that year (30) than he had in any full season with the Nats (18).

Howard, Killebrew, Sievers, Goslin — such a tale of woe. And now Soriano is being offered around. Not that it’s unprecedented for a possible home run champ to be dealt at the trading deadline. In 1997, you may recall, the A’s packed Mark McGwire off to the Cardinals when he had 34 homers. (He finished with 58, the most in the big leagues that year.) And in 1915, as you undoubtedly don’t recall, the White Sox traded Braggo Roth (among others) and $31,500 to the Indians for Shoeless Joe Jackson. Roth proceeded to bop four homers in the remaining weeks and wound up winning the AL crown with seven. (Hey, it was the Dead Ball Era, OK?)

But consider how the rest of their lives played out. Yes, McGwire became an American Idol by belting 70 homers in 1998, but then steroid suspicions began to swirl around him. Now folks are wondering whether he might have to spend some time in Cooperstown’s waiting room.

As for Braggo, he met his untimely demise not long after his 44th birthday. He was in Chicago, trying to negotiate the intersection of 18th and Michigan, when his car crossed paths with a truck. The truck won.

Such an ending wouldn’t have surprised Red Sox center fielder Harry Hooper. Hooper played briefly with Roth in 1919 and felt fortunate to have survived the experience. With former pitcher Babe Ruth on one side of him and Braggo — “another wild man” — on the other, “I began to fear for my life,” Harry told Lawrence S. Ritter in “The Glory of Their Times.” “Both of them were galloping around that outfield without regard for life or limb, hollering all the time, running like maniacs after every ball! A week of that was enough for me. [Babe was shifted to center] and I moved to right, so I could keep clear of those two.

“I’m still amazed that playing side by side those two never plowed into each other with the impact of two runaway freight trains. If they had, the crash would have shaken the Boston Commons.”

So if Jim Bowden, Stan Kasten and Co. have an ounce of compassion, they’ll think twice about trading Soriano — not just because a home run hitter can make Washington’s steamy summers go a lot faster but because Alfonso might someday find himself in Chicago, at the corner of 18th and Michigan.

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