Miguel Tejada has been traded to the San Diego Padres for pitching prospect Wynn Pelzer. Tejada leaves Baltimore for the second and presumably final time with a mixed legacy.
He was a three-time All Star and two-time Silver Slugger for the Birds and holds the team’s single-season records for hits, 214 in 2006, and RBI, 150 in 2004. His league-leading 50 doubles in 2005 are the fourth-highest total in team history. Apparently swinging at the first pitch isn’t necessarily a bad strategy.
Meanwhile, Tejada played every game at shortstop during his first three seasons in Baltimore, an accomplishment for which fan appreciation should have grown over time. If it didn’t impress you by 2008 – when the Orioles rolled out the five-headed monster of Juan Castro, Alex Cintron, Freddie Bynum, Brandon Fahey, and Luis Hernandez at short – it probably never will.
On the other side of the legacy coin are Tejada’s league-leading GIDP numbers for his first three seasons in Baltimore, his alternating love-hate relationship with the idea of playing for the Orioles, and ultimately a confusing trail of mistruths related to steroid use (it started with the Rafael Palmeiro soap opera that introduced fans to B12 injections and ended with Tejada copping to lying to Congress about his knowledge of steroid use in baseball) as well as his own age.
Tejada’s pathetic E:60 interview about his age ended with him walking out midstream; a final, surreal touch to an exchange more suitable for the Colbert Report than ESPN. And while the age revelation, along with the guilty plea, happened while Tejada was in Houston both incidents left many Orioles fans wondering, “Who is this guy?”
Baltimore had a second chance at love with Tejada when he returned to the fold this season. The soft-focus lens with which the game of baseball is so often viewed, combined with the unearned favoritism a guy receives whenever he slips on the home-town uniform, allowed for a recasting of Tejada’s role from not-quite-villain to almost-hero.
“He’s willing to move to third,” the thinking went.
“He’s happy playing for the Orioles and once more has pep in his step.”
“He’s holding down the hot corner and ready to treat it like a hot potato once Josh Bell has the necessary seasoning.”
In his second act Miguel Tejada was to willingly play the role of stepping stone to the bigger things that presumably were in the Orioles’ near-term future, an aging veteran ready to sacrifice some of his own pride for the good of a franchise poised to regain its own. The jury’s technically still out, but it appears there are many more stepping stones remaining for the O’s.
So there were two different narratives surrounding the Orioles during Tejada’s stays in Baltimore.
In 2003, his signing represented big things on the free agency front. The Orioles had inked a deal with a coveted free agent, leaving then executive vice-president Jim Beattie to boast: “We have other players that are big players that we want to add to the club. This is a signal – one of the things we can do to show players that the Orioles are ready to contend, hopefully quickly.”
In 2007, the Tejada trade represented big things on the rebuilding front. The Orioles sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners soon thereafter and the new strategy, getting value in trades and building from within, was taking hold. From USA Today: “After years of half-baked attempts to compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the American League East, the Orioles send a definitive message that they are rebuilding. Dealing Bedard two years before he’s eligible for free agency enabled Baltimore to maximize the return package.”
Sandwiched between those two narratives, however, was an all-too-familiar theme: Could’ve, Should’ve, Would’ve … but Didn’t.
In 2006, the Orioles failed to reach agreement with the Angels on a deal for Tejada that would’ve brought Erick Aybar and Ervin Santana to Baltimore. From SI.com: “Opposing executives praised the Angels’ proposal, with one even calling it a ‘great offer the Orioles should take.’ But apparently, Angelos, who loves star players, felt otherwise.”
I don’t love Miguel Tejada the baseball player. I don’t hate Miguel Tejada the baseball player. For me, his legacy will be one of transactions made and transactions lost. He brought the Orioles a package of five players from Houston and now another young arm from San Diego. But he could have brought two fine prospects to Baltimore in a proposed deal that’s difficult to forget.
Miguel Tejada might therefore be the most fitting symbol of Orioles baseball in the early 21st century. He is hope unrealized.