Awkward dance leaves both partners bruised

All toes getting stepped on in Orioles-Tejada two-step

December 11, 2005|By RICK MAESE

The Tejada Lambada - let's go over the dance steps:

1. Forget the music. Find your own beat and start moving to that.

2. If your dance partner is moving too slow, grab the nearest reporter and get the message out: the next dance is open.

3. Actually, who needs a dance partner? Screen your calls and don't return messages.

The Miguel Tejada Standoff still hasn't cooled, and right now, no one is looking good, least of all the Orioles. I can't quantify this, but if sports teams had approval ratings like politicians, the Orioles' would be at an all-time low right now.

I've heard from season-ticket holders who are bailing on the team. I've heard from fans who are demanding that they be traded to another organization. I've heard from some fans who are trying to pool their money to buy billboard space to criticize Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Whenever you think it can't get worse, another trap door gives way.

There are certain teams in sports that at times become synonymous with losing. Their struggle reaches such mythic proportions that they become a part of a larger popular culture. Jay Leno makes fun of them. My grandma, who has banned ESPN from her television, might reference them over dinner. Canadians might even poke fun at them.

The spotlight is on the Orioles now, and not in a good way. They aren't exactly Jerry Seinfeld playing before a packed audience. They're more like the watermelon that Gallagher is about to smash in a second-rate theater where your shoes stick to the floor.

We're in Day 3, and baseball fans have been speculating about all of the trade possibilities. If Orioles management is negotiating trades, it's undervalued what Tejada means.

It's still too early. Why are fans so excited about trading for Manny Ramirez? I like the alliterative reference of Manny-for-Miggy, but that's about it. The Orioles don't want to spend that kind of money on a clubhouse cancer and meanwhile put themselves in a position where they have to face Tejada 19 times a year.

They want to see Tejada more than that - every single day. In an Orioles uniform.

The damage has taken place on two fronts these past few days.

While team officials waited around for Tejada to return a phone call, their hands were completely tied. Orioles leaders returned from last week's winter meetings and had some irons in the fire. They haven't been able to work on any deals or chase a single free agent while they dance the Tejada Lambada.

The All-Star shortstop's reputation is also suffering. Tejada has been nothing but a professional these past two seasons. That's why Baltimore likes him: He's a superstar player without a superstar ego. Where did that sense of professionalism go?

The team defended Tejada at every turn last season - when he was implicated in a congressional investigation, when his numbers and effort were noticeably lacking late in the season and when his overall demeanor took a turn for the worse. Why did it take so long to return a telephone call?

He's essentially decided to hold a team hostage - a team that paid him $12 million last year. And the Orioles are left with few options. They know how important Tejada is to this team and this city right now.

There's no doubt they could trade for some talent. But Tejada is not replaceable right now. I don't care if you're talking about getting Ramirez, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior or the Yankees' starting five, Tejada represents something to this team.

In my short time in town, I've learned this much: Baltimore fans know about loyalty. They form attachments and stick with them. When one of the teams underperforms, it's not the fans that suffer; it's the community.

Last year with the Orioles was hell. But you know, through it all, there was that one bright spot.

Maybe Peter Angelos doesn't want to spend money. Maybe the front office doesn't know what it's doing. Maybe Rafael Palmeiro has a pharmacy in his basement. But everyone was able to take a tiny bit of comfort knowing there was one certainty: Every day Tejada would run out and take his position at shortstop.

That means something. Orioles management knows it, and we wouldn't be talking about a standoff right now if the team didn't think it was important to keep Tejada around.

The music is playing. No, the Tejada Lambada isn't pretty. It's a dirty dance, to be perfectly honest with you. The Orioles have to stick it out, though. If they walk away now, they stand to lose a lot more than a shortstop.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Points after -- Rick Maese

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