Why is it so hard for Orioles to just say no to Tejada trade?

December 15, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Just Say No.

That public-service relic from the 1980s should be the mantra of the Orioles' organization today. Not because Sidney Ponson is paying for his alcohol problems with a stay in Central Booking. And not because Rafael Palmeiro accelerated last season's collapse by flunking a steroids test.

No, the Orioles' brain trust needs to apply that phrase to its best player. Next time someone asks them if they want to trade Miguel Tejada, they should Just Say No. Next time some team calls asking if he's available, they should Just Say No.

Next time an exasperated Orioles fan wonders out loud whether the team is really crazy enough to respond to an awkward, frustrated, kinda-sorta trade demand by its one indispensable player, by actually getting rid of him -- somebody high up in the organization should Just Say No.

That's what they should do. But that's what they haven't done. They've done everything else but that.

It has been exactly one week since Tejada dropped his bomb on the organization, and a lot has been said about it, publicly and privately, by Mike Flanagan and Sam Perlozzo and Jim Duquette and Peter Angelos.

But no one has said any version of the phrase, "Hell no, we're not trading Tejada, so everybody stop asking."

If someone said that, chances are that everybody would stop asking -- reporters, fans, other teams. Since no one has said that, the questions continue. The possibility of Tejada being sent away remains. The doubts about the future, not to mention the sanity, of the organization stay alive.

There had better be a good reason, then, why no one has said that. When free-agent catcher and ex-Tejada teammate Ramon Hernandez was introduced at the warehouse on Tuesday, everybody there had chances, on camera and on the record -- or even off camera and off the record -- to Just Say No. Nobody did.

Duquette, the new vice president and Flanagan's right-hand man, was asked directly at the Hernandez news conference whether Tejada would be in Baltimore at the start of next season. Yeah, you know what he didn't say. Here's what he did say:

"Do I expect him to be here? Yes. I can't imagine our ballclub without Miguel Tejada. Having said that, we are trying to improve our ballclub any way we can. I am not saying any player on our club is untouchable. There are some guys that are more untouchable than others. But if there is something out there that makes sense and would improve our club, then you'd have to consider any type of deal."

No disrespect to Duquette or anyone else there, but how different would things be right now if he'd ended his comments at "Yes"?

Obviously, ironing out the differences between the organization and Tejada isn't going smoothly. Communication with him is spotty, which must be annoying. But there isn't a more urgent issue at stake for the team than getting things right with him. Their reaction has leaned too much in the direction of a surrender than it should.

For all anyone knows, Tejada might want nothing more than to hear someone in charge say, unequivocally, "No, we're not trading you. If you want a change of scenery, we'll change all the scenery around you, but you're staying. Trust us, and we'll reward you with the winner we all want."

Or something like that.

Instead, he's hearing that he's expendable at the right price. Solid, secure organizations distinguish true, personal discontent from clumsy attempts to kick-start things after a fruitless trip to the winter meetings. They also know their players well enough to tune out expressions of frustration, and to give them the pat on the back they're too proud to openly ask for.

In other words, good organizations can tell Miguel Tejada apart from Ron Artest or Terrell Owens. To even nudge him in the direction of the door now would lump him in with those career knuckleheads. Tejada deserves better, no matter how exasperating he seems right now. He has earned the benefit of the doubt.

Nothing he has said or done should convince anybody that the Orioles, in their present state, would be better off without Tejada than with him.

If his comments have deprived the Orioles of leverage, with him or in the free-agent market, then what would remedy that more than a declaration of commitment to him?

But something more important is at stake. For the good of the franchise, players like Ponson, Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and the other wretched refuse of last season have to be dispatched. Players like Tejada have to stay. If the only way to make the team better is to trade a player like Tejada, then the organization has failed, catastrophically, in his time here.

All of which gives Tejada good reason to demand a trade (if that's what he did). But it also gives the Orioles just as much of a reason to tell him no.

So, Orioles, Just Do It. Oops, wrong 1980s catchphrase.

Just Say No.


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