With his gesture, the Orioles' shortstop showed a loyalty that salvages some light from a dark episode.

Tejada reached out, like the leader he is

Baseball Week

August 14, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN STAFF

IN A WAY, too much could be made of the gesture.

It was just one player putting his arm around a teammate. And it occurred in front of cameras, so maybe it was a calculated move done to further hone a solid public image.

Really, if we have learned nothing else over the past month, it's that we don't really know professional ballplayers or what drives them to do certain things.

On the other hand, maybe the specific intentions weren't important.

When Orioles team leader Miguel Tejada slung his right arm around the shoulder of Rafael Palmeiro and ushered his embattled teammate to the batting cage Thursday, Palmeiro's first day back from a 10-day suspension for failing a steroid test, it spoke volumes.

To Palmeiro.

"I've always said he is like a brother to me," Palmeiro said. "I have known him for a while. He is a great friend and a great teammate."

And to the Orioles' organization.

"Miggy is the man around here," said Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo. "The fact he did it and had enough guts to go ahead and do that in front of everyone, I think it set a tone for the whole ballclub that, `Hey, we accept him back just the way we talked about.'"

On Wednesday night, Perlozzo told the team it needed to embrace Palmeiro once he was back in the clubhouse, that the Orioles "are a family and we are going to stick together. After you walk out [the clubhouse door], you can do what you want."

It was what Perlozzo had to say, but there are some Orioles who aren't proud to call Palmeiro a teammate right now. That would be typical in any group setting when a fellow employee is caught doing something illegal.

On Thursday afternoon, Tejada said the right things publicly. He said he forgave Palmeiro for making a mistake. And he said he - and the team - would support him.

That could have been it. His word seemingly is enough. Instead, Tejada met Palmeiro in the dugout, walked him onto the field and raised Palmeiro's left hand - in joking celebration.

"It makes you feel good, but that's just who he is," Palmeiro said. "He embraces everyone, that's just his personality."

Still, said Perlozzo, it sent the perfect message.

"He couldn't have done it any better or be any more visible than he did it."

The manager couldn't remember a similar gesture on a baseball field.

"Probably not something in a situation like that," Perlozzo said. "The game hasn't had that many things that were really bad things."

The most famous example of a player coming to the comforting aid of a teammate happened in 1947 when Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese overheard fans in Cincinnati verbally harassing second baseman Jackie Robinson, the majors' first black player.

Reese, an established white star from nearby Kentucky, walked over to Robinson and threw his arm around his teammate. The racial slurs stopped.

That example was much different; much more important, of course. That was an extremely courageous stand by Reese and a defining moment in baseball's integration.

Reese and Robinson were confronting racism together in an emotionally charged time in this country.

Robinson is baseball's everlasting example of personal integrity. Palmeiro, right now, is the opposite.

Palmeiro did this to himself. His adamant denials about using steroids came just two months before failing a drug test - allegedly for the difficult-to-mask stanozolol.

He has worsened the situation by not talking about the test, promising only to tell his side of the story once a congressional review of potential perjury charges is completed.

He has angered teammates, opponents and most of all fans, who trusted his strong denials and the public perception of his rock-solid character. Even so, he wasn't verbally harassed while taking batting or fielding practice in his first two days back.

Yes, this is a far different scenario than the one involving Robinson and Reese.

Nonetheless, Tejada's actions were admirable. No matter what he might think privately, he showed his teammate public support. He did what his manager asked him to do.

He did what a captain, what a leader does.

EXTRA BASES

"You'll get that little kid feeling. You get a little giddy."

Cleveland third baseman Aaron Boone on what it was like in the Indians' dugout after the team scored 11 runs in the ninth inning Tuesday for a 13-7 comeback win against the Royals in Kansas City.

Who's he?

Felix Hernandez, a 19-year-old right-hander for Seattle. Considered baseball's best young pitching prospect, Hernandez allowed just eight hits and one earned run in his first two big league starts. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Venezuela native has a 98-mph fastball. But what is most impressive is his 85-mph hard curve, which Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said makes his fastball "look like 197 [mph]."

Numbing number

109

The number of runs the Royals have given up during a recent losing streak that hit a franchise-worst 13 games Thursday night. The Royals combined ERA was 7.45 ERA in those 13 losses.

What's up?

The Orioles have a brutal six-game road trip against the league's hottest teams, the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians. And there are several other intriguing matchups. The Boston Red Sox are at the Los Angeles Angels for four games starting Thursday, while the Chicago White Sox play host to both the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. The National League East-leading Atlanta Braves and the NL West-leading San Diego Padres meet for three games at Turner Field that could be a first-round playoff preview.

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