- Mark Kreidler, Page 2
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We won't rush out to call it ironic, since that term has been butchered so many times in so many sporting situations that its meaning is all but gone. Still, the situation is this:
(1) Miguel Tejada finds himself frustrated to the point of wanting a trade;
(2) Tejada just won't stop talking about it, since he has decided that what he really desires out of his baseball life is the chance to play for a contender; and
(3) Don't look over your shoulder, Miggy. That's your past gaining on you.
Tejada is only just now joining the list of guys who figured it out too late. In his former life as a member of the small-market Oakland A's, Tejada was a comparatively underpaid breakout star laboring on a team that constantly struggled to figure out how to rub two nickels together (or hundred-thousand-dollar bills, if you wish), yet miraculously came close to being an elite team, although, you know, everyone understood that it could never last.
He was an MVP guy. He played on playoff teams. He loved his life, was adored by the locals. He was forgiven any gaffe as a reasonable exchange for the passion with which he played and the fun he appeared to have.
Alas, the man wasn't getting rich. Well, he was -- his 2003 salary with the A's was $5.125 million -- but he wasn't getting paid. The point of free agency was to cash in, max out that money potential. If winning came along with it, so much the better.
There were behind-the-scenes negotiations with the A's that spring, after which Oakland owner Steve Schott made the memorably ludicrous announcement that the A's would not even tender an offer to Tejada because they didn't want to "insult" him with a lowball proposal. Sounds like posturing from here, but the element of truth was that Tejada was going to want something well beyond their structure -- and with Eric Chavez's contract coming up a year hence, something had to give.
And Tejada certainly wasn't the first guy to go for the gold. I don't even want to start the list, because it gets depressing, but baseball is among the sports with a history rife with examples of free agents who found their financial windfall only to lose their competitive souls. Miggy's just another player who realized $5 million wasn't enough -- and he wasn't even the first guy out the door in Oakland. The A's traded Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire before him. They watched another MVP, Jason Giambi, get the good money back East, and Johnny Damon, and on and on.
In Tejada's case, Baltimore entered the picture at the right time and with the right checkbook. Now, Tejada is about to begin the third year of a six-year deal that pays him an average of $12 million per season -- wonderful money that, it turns out, isn't everything.
"Next year," Tejada told The Baltimore Sun last week, "I want to be somewhere where they want to win. What have [the Orioles] done? Nothing."
Man, I hate to bring this up: The O's, in Tejada's two seasons there, are a collective 20 games under .500. Oakland's records in those two seasons: 91-71 and 88-74.
When you really get down to it, there aren't but a handful of got-it-all stories that ever come around. The modern Yankees, the modern Red Sox -- those are two franchises about which you can fairly say players have gotten rich and been covered in glory. More often than not, though, you're McGwire or Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds, players who are paid astronomically but don't necessarily make it all the way to the summit of Everest -- and that's if you're one of the lucky ones. If not, you become one of the host of brilliantly compensated people performing on irrelevant teams.
The Orioles don't matter right now, and that's either not Tejada's fault or only partially his fault. (It is always a fair question, after all, to ask how a superstar's megasalary affects his team's ability to pay for other premier players, even if no one is absolutely sure of the answer in Baltimore's case.) But it is the life Tejada may well be left with.
Whether the O's can trade him depends on a couple of things, including the question of how much they really want to do so. Without question, Tejada's running of the mouth is slowly bleeding the franchise's ability to deal. He's tougher to move when every team in baseball knows he's campaigning to get out, and Mike Flanagan, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, is going to see four ludicrous underbids for Tejada for every legitimate trade offer.
For that matter, Tejada may well be a less productive player in the final years of that contract than he was when he came blasting out of Oakland after the 2003 season. His numbers the first year in Baltimore were killer. Last season, he was good, not epic. The O's paid for epic.
What they're getting for their money now is a tremendous amount of noise, Tejada stating -- then standing behind -- his desire for Baltimore to move him. He wants to go somewhere where they're trying to win. Of course, he left exactly such a place two years ago in his search for Solomon's mines. Maybe we should bring "ironic" back into the baseball lexicon after all.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at email@example.com.
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