Newcomer Hernandez lends sanity to a crazy sports scene

Commentary

December 14, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

So this is what Baltimore professional sports has been reduced to:

Sidney Ponson is in the clink, Kyle Boller is going into analysis and Miguel Tejada is going to drive us all crazy with his waffling on the subject of whether he really wants to play for the Orioles next year.

The Miggy saga continued yesterday at the news conference for new Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez, who spoke to Tejada over the weekend and insisted they are excited about the prospect of playing together in 2006.

I assume he meant here, but at this point, I'm not taking anything for granted.

"I'm excited. ... He's excited. We played together for five years in Oakland," Hernandez said. "He's excited the same as me. He said, `You're going to like it. Great teammates. Great organization.' ... He told me he does not want to be traded."

It would be nice to hear that from Tejada firsthand, but even the Orioles have been left to decipher Tejada's intentions from one four-paragraph Associated Press story on Thursday night, one cell phone conversation between Tejada and Comcast SportsNet reporter Kelli Johnson and yesterday's account of a cell phone conversation with Hernandez.

Executive vice president Mike Flanagan continues to express hope that the whole affair blows over. The Orioles consider Tejada the cornerstone of their effort to return to prominence in the American League East, even after he expressed doubt that will happen soon enough to make him a happy camper at Camden Yards.

"I'm certainly hoping that's what happens," Flanagan said yesterday. "He was a targeted player to come in here and be the core to get us back there. That hasn't changed for me."

We can hope it hasn't really changed for Tejada, though he sounded pretty discouraged on Thursday, and his comments to Comcast SportsNet on Sunday included just enough of a mixed message to keep the controversy on the front burner during yesterday's introduction of Hernandez.

Hernandez, by the way, handled the situation deftly, recounting the positive impression he got of Baltimore during his most recent conversation with Tejada and denying rumors that their close relationship had become strained.

"We've never had a problem," Hernandez said. "He called me. We heard those rumors, and we don't know where they come from. We always keep in touch. We're best friends."

He also handled the apparently touchy issue of how his signing will affect Javy Lopez, who is believed to be unhappy with the prospect of being dislodged behind the plate.

"I haven't talked to him," Hernandez said. "I don't know him, but I'm looking forward to talking to him and learning from him. He has been in this league twice as long as I have."

It was just a coincidence that Ponson was sentenced to five days in jail in the middle of the public relations firestorm created by Tejada, but it was almost appropriate.

The Orioles' year of living dangerously really started on Christmas Day 2004, when Ponson was arrested and later charged with assaulting a judge on a beach in Aruba. His subsequent drunken-driving arrests in Florida and Maryland further destabilized an organization that would be rocked by the Rafael Palmeiro scandal in August, rocked again when Tejada's name was publicly linked to it and caught off guard by Tejada's vocal discontent last week.

Everyone knew that Ponson needed to have his head examined, so it's good to hear that he underwent 30 days of alcohol rehabilitation. Now, there's talk that the Ravens will have Boller spend more time with the staff psychologists in the hope that they can find a way to help him get better control of himself on the field.

One question: What took Brian Billick so long to figure that out? The kid has been hyperactive in the pocket from the start.

Billick still isn't ready to give up on Boller as next year's starting quarterback, but I'm guessing that's just what he has to say at this point. There is no way the Ravens can go into next season with that kind of uncertainty, so bet the farm on Boller being the No. 2 in 2006.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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