Swing and a miss: Tejada's time in Baltimore has passed

June 24, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Time passes, the manipulation of a playing streak recedes into the past -- and we're reminded again why there's so much to admire about Miguel Tejada. Friday night in Phoenix, when he talked about the end of that consecutive games streak, he was back to doing himself and his Orioles uniform proud.

It's going to make it hurt all the more when, in the next five weeks or so, the Orioles make the move that would be such a disservice to Tejada, but also would put him out of his misery and, maybe, help the team in ways his actual presence never quite could.

When they decide that they have to trade him.

No, it's not fair, especially to Tejada. It would be the last act of a desperate franchise and a certified raising of a white flag in front of its fans. He didn't do anything to deserve this, unless you're in that subset of fans who thinks streaks are more trouble than they're worth.

Or unless you're one of the talk-show or chat-room shouters who got way too caught up in the hustling-down-the-line business, who couldn't take their eyes off the speck of dust on the Van Gogh.

All Tejada has done is try to live up to the big contract he signed, and up to the credentials he brought from his Most Valuable Player award-winning, playoff-contending days with the Oakland Athletics. Way more often than not, he succeeded. It's not fair to make him the scapegoat for this mess.

But this is what happens sometimes. Is it fair that you got stuck with the memories of a glorious franchise and the reality of nine straight losing seasons? Is it fair that this city is being laughed at again, because of the managers lining up to tell them no?

Nope.

The idealistic vision that accompanied Tejada's arrival before the 2004 season has been shattered. You win by going out and getting great players. You don't win by getting rid of those players to cover up how you failed to surround them with other great players.

The Orioles have failed Tejada by not building around him. They failed themselves the same way. They have to retreat, even if it's not at all gracefully. They are no better off than they were the day they signed him -- still losing, still changing managers and general managers like socks, still having bad luck and making bad choices.

There are two fundamental reasons Tejada has to pay the price for this. One, as long as no one in a position of misused authority vetoes a deal, he can bring the Orioles something of value.

Not as much as he could have brought last year. Not as much as he could have brought last week, before fastball and wrist had their fateful meeting. But in the eyes of most of baseball, he's still Miguel Tejada, one of the elite shortstops and offensive threats in the game and a quality, character individual.

That's what he reminded us of Friday. He actually apologized to his teammates and Orioles fans for getting hurt, for not being able to be in the lineup every day the way he wanted to. In light of how he's handled the physical and mental pain of this injury, it's a lot harder now to be mad at him for Thursday's first-inning bunt stunt. What are you gonna do with the guy? He is what he is.

Which brings us to the second reason he has to go: There's no reason to believe the Orioles won't keep on sucking every molecule of joy from him the way they already have.

It's heartbreaking for me, who watched him rise to glory in Oakland, to see the light gone from his eyes and the spirit from his body language the past few years. He both thrived in and fueled the winning atmosphere in Oakland. That fire is what made the six-year, $72 million Orioles contract a bargain, even more than the bat and glove and arm.

As recently as two seasons ago, when the Orioles unexpectedly led the American League East in June, he still had that fire. But the truth slowly crept up on him: There was no winning atmosphere for him to feed off of, and nothing he did could spark one. At wit's end, he demanded a trade two winters ago, trying to spark some action; all he got was a reputation for being a flake, another undeserved label, like the whole nonhustling thing.

Eventually, as the losses and instability mounted, all he heard about was what he wasn't doing, not about what he was. Maybe that will be reversed now that he's gone for the next few weeks -- and maybe gone from the Orioles for good. It's not even pleasant to be referring to him in the past tense this much, but the end of this partnership seems inevitable.

Tejada deserves better. Depending on where he goes, a trade can bring that light back to his eyes, the spirit back to his game. It won't happen here. The Orioles suffocated that Tejada.

When he starts another streak, it likely will benefit some other team, the way it should have benefited this one.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Points after -- David Steele

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