Tejada a `take-charge' guy

O's, A's coaches praise newly signed shortstop's leadership, enthusiasm

December 15, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - One of the most vivid images that Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks carries of Miguel Tejada from last season doesn't involve any of the shortstop's home runs or plays in the field.

Hendricks is more impressed by how Tejada reacted when he failed.

"He's a take-charge guy, even when he's going bad," Hendricks said by telephone. "If he didn't get a hit, he didn't go to the dugout and slam his bat. He went right back to rooting for the next guy to get a hit. I liked that. That's something we've been missing for years."

The Orioles got Tejada, and all of his favorable qualities, during yesterday's winter meetings, signing him to a six-year contract.

"It's an excellent deal," Hendricks said. "We had our meetings, and as coaches we talk about who we'd like to have. And he was right there on the top of the list with [Vladimir] Guerrero."

Tejada spent seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics, where third base coach Ron Washington - who works with the infielders - watched him gradually mature as both a player and a person.

When told last night about the Orioles' observations of Tejada, Washington, who is attending the meetings, smiled and said: "If the Baltimore Orioles had seen him three or four years prior to that, it probably would have been different, but he's come a long way.

"He grew up. He's a man now.

"He handled the situation this year with his struggles as a professional, and that's all you can ever ask of anyone."

Informed by Oakland management in spring training that it probably couldn't afford to sign him to a long-term deal despite being the American League Most Valuable Player, Tejada batted .161 in April and was hitting .245 at the break. He batted .326 over the second half, with eight home runs and 25 RBIs in August.

"Miguel just had a rough 2 1/2 months, and if you play this game long enough, that's going to happen," Washington said. "He's a horse. You just get on him and you ride him, and that's what we did. We rode him and he came out of it."

Tejada finished the season batting .278 with 27 homers and 106 RBIs - down from his MVP year in 2002 but impressive given his slow start. And impressive enough for the Orioles to wave some serious dollars at him - $72 million over six years.

"Miguel is a great investment," Washington said, "and if I had the money, I certainly would invest in him."

"He's a huge pickup for us," said outfielder Larry Bigbie by phone. "All of us knew we had the money to go out and sign some big-time players. The fans were getting a little anxious, but we knew it was just a matter of time. He's one good centerpiece. Hopefully, we'll add more."

Tejada batted .345 against the Orioles last season, so their pitching staff will have one less worry in 2004.

"He brings something we haven't had in years - life, leadership," Hendricks said. "Now that he's with us, hey, I'm tickled pink. And it's not going to be long before the fans in Baltimore find out what type of person he is. You talk to teammates and find out things about guys, and they all have said he's a hell of a kid, a nice guy who would do anything for you."

Bench coach Sam Perlozzo, who works with the infielders, envisions what Tejada can do for the Orioles in the same spot once occupied by Cal Ripken and Mike Bordick.

"I don't think there's any question he's a take-charge guy," Perlozzo said.

"He's been in the postseason, and that's a big plus. I've watched him from the other side. He's talking all the time, moving around, staying in the ballgame. That's the kind of guy we really need. With him at shortstop and being able to control some of the infield, we can feel comfortable there.

"And with his offense, it's like getting more than one thing from one guy."

With a smile crossing his face, Washington said: "I'm very happy that he was able to make the payday that he made, and I'll be looking forward to whipping his butt when we see him in Baltimore."

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