A Yankee in Cooperstown
Five-time World Series champion Luis Sojo visits Hall of Fame
Much like the many visitors to Cooperstown on Monday, Luis Sojo and family were visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum during a summer vacation. Unlike the others, he was one of the players that helped the New York Yankees win four World Series crowns in five years beginning in the mid-1990s.
Sojo, a utility infielder who spent most of his time at second base, had a 13-year big league career (1990-2001, 2003), parts of seven of which were spent with the Yankees, but also included stops with the Mariners, Angels, Blue Jays and Pirates.
“It’s a regular family vacation,” said Sojo, currently the third base coach with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. “We, my wife and three children, have the three days off during the All-Star break so it’s always nice to come over here with the family.
“This is my third time here,” he added while sitting on a step of the Museum’s main staircase. “The last time I was here was in 2002, so it was a long time ago but it’s the first time I’ve come with the whole family. She (holding six-year-old daughter Lyz) wasn’t around in 2002, and my oldest daughter and my son were little the last time they were here, so we just wanted to come and make it a family trip.”
Though Sojo played for five big league teams and finished with 671 hits, 300 runs scored, 12 home runs, 261 RBI and a .261 batting average, it was his time spent with the Yankees in which he is most likely remembered. Overall, he appeared in five postseasons with the Yankees, which included World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.
“I played my last seven years of baseball with the Yankees, and I always tell that to the young guys, that it’s all about wins. When you put that in your mind, that you have to bring a winning attitude, you’re going to be successful,” Sojo said. “At that particular time the Yankees didn’t have any superstars – (Derek) Jeter was young, Mariano (Rivera) was young, Bernie (Williams) was young – but what we had was team chemistry. That was the most important thing. And when you have a coach like Don Zimmer and a manager like Joe Torre around you, that makes it more special.”
In fact, it was during this period of Yankees success that Sojo donated to the Hall of Fame the bat he used to drive in the World Series-winning run in Game 5 of the 2000 Fall Classic against the Mets. With the Yankees holding a 3-games-to-1 lead, Sojo entered in the bottom of the 8th inning to play second base. In the top of the 9th, with the score tied 2-2, his two-out single up the middle drove in Jorge Posada from second base in what would prove to be the game’s winning run in the Yankees’ 4-2 win.
The native of Venezuela admitted his affection for the game dates back to childhood.
“I started playing baseball when I was six, and I’m going to be 50 in a couple months, so I love it, everything about the game, talking about the history of the game, I love it,” Sojo said. “It was my brother who got me into this. He took me to the baseball field, where we starting practicing, practicing. He was always all over my, telling me I needed to keep working hard, trying to get better and better. It really worked for me.”
It was a fellow Venezuelan, shortstop Dave Concepcion, who Sojo looked at for motivation.
“Growing up I was a fan of the Big Red Machine, where I followed Dave Concepcion, who was my favorite player and my inspiration,” Sojo said. “Years later, Hall of Famers I got to know included Rod Carew, who was my hitting coach when I played for the Angels, Dave Winfield, who was a teammate with the Angels, and Robbie Alomar, who I played with on the Blue Jays.
“And, of course, I played with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who soon are going to be here.”
“That’s something that I’m very happy for him,” Sojo said. “Joe Torre was a really big mentor for me. He always told me, ‘Luis, you’re going to be a good coach one day in the big leagues.’ And he gave me the opportunity to be one of his coaches in 2004 and 2005. But to be able to play for him, that was something very special.”
After his playing career ended, Sojo spent seven seasons (2006-13) as a minor league manager with the Single-A Tampa Yankees (Florida State League). He one day hopes to make it back to the majors as a manager.
“I love what I’m doing now,” he said. “To be able to help young guys to develop their game and bring my knowledge is nice. But my goal, no doubt, is to be a big league manager. I know it’s going to be hard, but you just have to keep working. Hopefully, one day you get that phone call.
“This is my 18th year as a player, coach and manager in the Yankees’ system. Who knows? Maybe I’ll stick with the Yankees for my whole life.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum