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  W A L L   O F   F A M E

APRIL 14, 2004

Luis Sojo
2001 Futility Infielder of the Year
Part 1 • Part 2

I had always been as fascinated by the scrappy infielders who could barely hit their weight as I was with superstars or even good ballplayers. That probably stems from being a baseball card collector as a youth and having the cards of these shortstops who lasted 10-15 years in the big leagues while hitting one home run a year. Fred Stanley, Darrell Chaney, Jim Mason, Kurt Bevacqua, Mario Mendoza, an endless parade of light-hitting glove men. Perhaps these men resonated in my mind because with my own Little League career, they were the only type of player I could have aspired to be.

Over the winter of 2000-2001, when I was spending lots of time emailing friends with all kinds of baseball conversation, frequenting the Baseball Primer discussion boards, chasing the Mendoza Line, and itching to do more writing, the idea to start my own baseball website took hold. Thinking back to the previous season, the first name that popped into my head was "The Futility Infielder." I didn't even bother to consider an alternative name. During the first week of April, I registered the domain and began learning the rudiments of web design.

• • •

Though the Yanks retained him, the 2001 season found Sojo with a diminished role. With Knoblauch playing leftfield and rookie Alfonso Soriano at second, Sojo struggled for playing time. He hit only .165/.214/.190 in 39 games, but the man had some vivid highlights. On June 4, a game I attended (and wrote about), the Yanks faced Pedro Martinez and the hated Red Sox, who led by two game in the standings. The see-saw game had seen the Yanks eradicate a 4-1 lead, only to blow their own 6-4 lead in the top of the ninth. With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth and men on first and second, the .133-hitting Sojo blooped a Rod Beck pitch into rightfield for the game-winner — and his first RBI since the Series-winner. Thus began a typical six-week period for Sojo: he played in six games and drew a total of 14 plate appearances, going 6-for-12 with 5 RBI.

Another memorable moment came on August 9. Roger Clemens sat on a 15-1 record which included eleven straight victories, but he'd left a game against the Devil Rays trailing 3-1. The Yanks had already put one on the board in the ninth when Sojo, mired in an 0-for-19 slump, came to the plate with two outs and men on second and third. Luis Luis delivered a two-run double into the left-center gap, giving the Yanks the lead and getting Clemens off the hook. Reading my mind, Clemens wondered aloud when the Yanks would hold a Luis Sojo Bobblehead day. The Rocket eventually won his record sixth Cy Young on the strength of his gaudy 20-3 record and lengthy winning streak.

Despite his meager batting line, Sojo made the Yankees postseason roster, but it soon became apparent that his good luck had run out. His first appearance of the 2001 World Series came in a critical spot:the eighth inning of Game Two, with the Yanks trailing 4-0 but threatening with runners on first and second and only one out. Instead of delivering a timely hit, the overmatched Sojo grounded into a double-play to end the inning. His only other time in the Series came in the 15-2 Game Six debacle; once Joe Torre had pulled many of his regulars, Sojo singled in the second run. The Yanks ended up losing the thrilling, emotional series in seven games, and if Sojo hadn't delivered the October heroics as before, he'd at least done his part to make the season a memorable one for infielderus futilis. Hence his Futility Infielder of the Year award for 2001.

Sojo went to camp with the 2002 Yanks, but they decided that as beloved as he was, he no longer merited a roster spot. Instead the team encouraged him to accept a position within the organization. In an early-season shakeup of the minor-league system, Sojo was hired to manage the AA Norwich Navigators, and he navigated them all the way to an Eastern League championship as they posted a 56-50 record under him. Despite his success, he elected not to continue managing, choosing to return to Venezuela to scout and build a baseball academy. Either he built very fast or he grew restless, because not only was Sojo soon serving a stint in the Mexican League (hitting .410 with 3 homers in 83 AB), but by the end of June, he'd been hired by the Yanks as a special assignment instructor. In July, he played in the Yankees' Old-Timer's day, stroking an RBI single. But his major-league career still had another cameo. In September when the rosters expanded and Derek Jeter strained a rib cage muscle, the Yanks activated Sojo, who went hitless in his three games.

The end of Sojo's playing career? Perhaps in North America, but Sojo once again played in the Venezuelan Winter League and hit .316/.339/.391 for Cardenales de Lara. Luis Luis has stated that he intends to keep playing in his homeland until he's amassed 1000 hits in the league (he has 839), and might play until he's 50 to do so. But he may have other responsibilities by then. Over the winter of 2003-2004, the Yankee coaching staff underwent a shakeup; with the departure of bench coach Don Zimmer and first-base coach Lee Mazzilli, Sojo vaulted all the way to the role of third-base coach as incumbent Willie Randolph took over Zimmer's old spot. Finally a role that reflected his physique!

The warm regard the players, fans and members of the Yankee organization have for Luis Sojo is still apparent now that he's in a position of authority, and his achievements shall be remembered here for as long as this site exists. Which leaves only one question: when is that Luis Sojo Bobblehead Day already?