The Orioles and former frontman Miguel Tejada have agreed to terms on a 1-year contract for the 2010 season, the team confirmed Saturday. Pending a successful physical, Tejada's reemergence at Oriole Park at Camden Yards this season should brighten the spirits of Baltimore fans.
Hope does spring eternal each spring in baseball. Tejada's return, short of catching lightning in a bottle, won't do much to level the competition with New York, Boston, Toronto and Tampa in the cutthroat American League East. But when you are the Orioles and have suffered through 12 straight losing seasons getting Tejada again is a good thing.
No matter what you say about Tejada - the steroids controversy, declining skills, questions about his true age - the former American League MVP simply is a ballplayer, a marquee player.
With a novice group of starting pitchers and a young, budding outfield headed by steady Nick Markakis and spectacular Adam Jones, Tejada will bring back to the club his professionalism and infectious love for baseball.
Tejada won't be coming back to play shortstop. That job belongs now to slick-fielding Cesar Izturis. Instead, the plan is for Tejada to take over third base after the Orioles did not re-sign an often-brooding Melvin Mora.
It should be an upgrade for 2010. Agile and strong-armed Tejada will do what countless shortstops have done later in their careers -- shift to third. Tejada balked at the suggestion of such a plan with the Orioles a couple of years ago, but now he'll take it.
Tejada's job for a year will be to keep the hot corner warm for Josh Bell, a power-hitting prospect obtained last season in the deal that sent Orioles closer George Sherrill to the Dodgers.
In coming back, Tejada says he just wants to play. "I've reached a deal for one season and $6 million. I know it's less than what I made last year, but the market has changed and I feel happy to be able to play in the major leagues," Tejada said from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
An Oriole from 2004-2007, Tejada and his big money contract were shipped to Houston in salary dump. He made $14 million last season.
Tejada is the kind of player the manager can pencil into the lineup and not worry much. In the best tradition of his idol Cal Ripken Jr., Tejada comes to the park to play everyday. In 10 of his 13 big league seasons with Oakland, the Orioles and Houston, the two-time All-Star game MVP has played in at least 158 games.
At one point in his career, Tejada put together a streak of 1,152 consecutive games to June 22, 2007.
Caught up in the snare of baseball's steroids era, Tejada's numbers indeed have dropped precipitously since he hit .311 with 34 homeruns and 150 RBIs in his first season with the Orioles. In 2008 and 2009, despite respectable batting averages, Tejada nonetheless led the majors in grounding into double plays.
In 158 games with the Astros last season, Tejada hit .313 with 14 home runs and 86 RBIs in 158 games last season. The Orioles would be lucky to get that kind of production.
Tejada's career and personal low point came on Feb. 11, 2009, when he tearfully pled guilty to a single count of perjury for lying to Congress in his testimony regarding Rafael Palmeiro's steroids use. He received a year's probation.
Tejada's own role as a steroids abuser has been subject to question amid years of allegations and denials, and speculation will continue to swirl around him, coming up in the Jose Canseco-Mark McGuire-Jason Giambi system in Oakland in the late 1990s and his association with Palmeiro with the Orioles. But this is America and the American justice system has not presented evidence that Tejada ever used steroids himself.
At points during his career, Tejada was mentioned with the likes of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as among baseball's top shortstops and could have been seen as a sure-fire future Hall of Famer. His 2002 MVP season with Oakland, six All-Star appearances, iron-man persona and solid career statistics likely will be after-thoughts to hall voters who may not be able forgive the taint of performance enhancing drugs in his resume.
Hall voters likely will remember too Tejada allegedly lying about his age when evidence showed he was 19 and not 17 when he came to pro baseball. And they may flag him for his constant complaining about the lack of talent around him and demanding trades during his Oriole years.
But that was then. Now, moving to the twilight of a solid career, Tejada is just happy to play ball again - in Baltimore. That's the Tejada expectant Baltimore fans should remember.
Professional sports has a way of humbling athletes on the downside of their careers, and no longer will Tejada have the imprimatur he once commanded with the Orioles. Ask TO. You leave the Cowboys for Buffalo and the Cowboys finally make the playoffs.
The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean with earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Tejada grew up impoverished as a Dominican - a people historically not always kind to Haitians. But the devastation spurred Tejada into action to go to Haiti during the first days of the quake's aftermath to deliver food, water and supplies and lend his hand to "bring some support for the people here."
Coming back "home" to the Orioles, that's the spirit of the Miggy Baltimore fans want to see. Humble and ready to go.
- DMA 7-22 Sports is a blog about sports in the Washington-Baltimore market, covering amateurs, colleges and pros. The title DMA 7-22? Means "Designated Market Area," per use of media rating services, signifying Washington is the 7th largest media market in the United States, and Baltimore is the 22nd. You can reach M.V. Greene at DMA722Sports@gmail.com
Photo: Miguel Tejada, AP