Here’s an (unsurprising) spoiler for you. The top 30 players on Camden Chat’s Greatest Orioles of All Time list have all been inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame, other than those who played for the club within the last five years, and the steroids-tainted Rafael Palmeiro. Most of the players ranked 32-50 are also in the Orioles Hall of Fame.
You know who isn’t? Today’s subject, Miguel Tejada.
There are a number of reasons that could be the case. For one, Tejada spent just five years with the Birds, and all were losing seasons. And more notably, Tejada was embroiled in PED scandals throughout his career, not only in connection with Palmeiro, but also including a 105-game suspension (though not while he was an Oriole) that hastened his retirement.
But another problem could be that the O’s just can’t find him. Tejada has become a bit of a recluse since he left baseball, and according to The Athletic’s Alex Coffey, the Orioles haven’t been able to track him down in years. Still, Coffey did did manage to finagle an interview with Tejada, in which he expressed his desire to become a hitting coach.
It’s not the worst idea in the world. For all of his faults, the man sure knew how to hit.
It’s hard to overstate what a big deal Tejada’s arrival in Baltimore was. He was one of the prize free agents of the 2003-04 offseason, a superstar shortstop in his prime who’d been the face of the perennially contending Oakland Athletics and had won 2002 AL Most Valuable Player honors. He was, frankly, the kind of high-profile player that the Orioles just didn’t sign in those days. The Birds had been irrelevant for the better part of a decade, traipsing along with uninspiring rosters for years. And while there were whispers that the club was planning to add payroll and make a splash in free agency, O’s fans would believe it only when they saw it.
Then they saw it. On Dec. 18, 2003, Tejada and the Orioles agreed to a six-year, $72 million contract, landing the club one of the game’s elite talents and giving them a bona fide thumper to anchor the lineup. “How many times do you get to add an MVP-type player to the club who wants to be there and be there for a long time?” said manager Lee Mazzilli.
And he was only 27! Or, well...so we thought. (More on that later.)
The Birds’ surprising spending spree continued that offseason, as they also landed power-hitting catcher Javy Lopez and brought back former O’s slugger Rafael Palmeiro for his second stint with the team. With the Birds’ revamped middle of the lineup, hopes were high in Baltimore that the team could close the gap on the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East, or at least snap their streak of losing seasons at six.
Oh, how young and naive we were. The Orioles, I’m afraid, did not snap that regrettable streak in 2004. Nor, in fact, did they do so in any year during Tejada’s O’s tenure. But that wasn’t for lack of trying on his part.
Tejada was an offensive dynamo in a Baltimore uniform, especially in his first year. He set career highs in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.311), OPS (.894), home runs (34), total bases (349), and — oh yes — RBIs (150). Yes, one hundred and fifty RBIs! That set an Orioles single-season record that still stands today.
I know that RBIs, as a statistic, aren’t held in the same high esteem in the modern game as they once were. And deservedly so; they’re largely reliant on which spot a hitter bats in the lineup, how often his teammates get on base for him, and other factors out of his control. But, man, you don’t get 150 of the things without having a damn good year.
Funnily enough, Tejada didn’t notch a single RBI in his first seven games of the year. That would turn out to be his longest RBI-less stretch of the season. He ended up with 42 games of multiple RBIs, including a quartet of five-RBI games. Tejada finished fifth in the MVP voting in 2004, and, for good measure, won the Home Run Derby in Houston, blasting a then-record 27 homers to win the contest.
Beyond the eye-popping numbers, Tejada played with an infectious joy and enthusiasm that had been sorely lacking in the Orioles clubhouse for years. And, in the grand tradition of another Orioles shortstop you might have heard of, Tejada never missed a game. He started all 162 games in each of his first three years with the Orioles, just as he’d done in his last three years in Oakland, and amassed a consecutive-games streak that reached 1,152. That’s the most of any player since the turn of the century, though of course not even halfway to threatening Cal Ripken Jr.s’ Iron Man record.
Tejada’s inaugural year in Baltimore was a delight, but it was in late 2005 that the cracks in the facade began to show. That year, Rafael Palmeiro infamously tested positive for the banned substance stanozolol, which garnered him a suspension from MLB, all but ended his career, and essentially ruined his Hall of Fame chances. Palmeiro testified before a panel at a grievance hearing that he believed the substance came from a tainted B-12 supplement he received from Tejada earlier that year. Tejada denied any wrongdoing, but it wouldn’t be the last time he’d get swept up in PED controversy.
After the 2005 season — which was another magnificent one for Tejada statistically, in which he batted .304/.349/.515 with 26 homers and 98 RBIs, and was was named All-Star Game MVP in Detroit — Tejada became disgruntled with the Orioles’ lack of success. The club had at one point in 2005 had been 14 games over .500, only to collapse to a losing record by year’s end. In December, Tejada demanded a trade out of Baltimore, and at one point there were serious rumblings about a deal with the Cubs for Mark Prior.
In January, though, Tejada backed off his trade request and agreed to stay put. The result was another fantastic season for the slugger in 2006, in which he set new personal bests in batting average (.330) and OBP (.379), along with the sixth 100-RBI season of his career. And while he hit well in 2007, too, he suffered a major injury for the first time, breaking his wrist in June on a pitch by Padres hurler (and current O’s pitching coach) Doug Brocail. He went on the disabled list two days later, ending his consecutive games streak.
At the end of his first four years in Baltimore, Tejada had amassed 102 home runs, 429 RBIs, a .311 average and an .862 OPS, earning every bit of his contract with the Orioles. But the team hadn’t improved one iota, and with new president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail hired to rebuild the club, it was clear Tejada was a luxury the Orioles couldn’t afford. It was a matter of when, not if, he’d be traded.
On Dec. 12, MacPhail consummated a deal, sending Tejada to the Astros for a five-player package. The O’s parted ways with him at the right time. The day after the trade, Tejada was one of nearly 100 major leaguers named in the Mitchell report as having used performance enhancing drugs. And the following April, Tejada admitted to ESPN that he was actually two years older than his listed age.
Tejada had two All-Star seasons with the Astros, though his power numbers dipped, and the Orioles reunited with him in 2010 for a cheap, $6 million deal, shifting him to third base. His second stint with the Birds was nowhere near as memorable as his first. In July, with the Birds carrying a miserable 31-70 record and Tejada OPSing a meager .670, the O’s dumped him on the Padres for a minor leaguer.
Tejada kicked around the bigs for a few more years, and even signed again with the Orioles on a minor league deal in 2012, but didn’t make it to the majors after posting a .621 OPS in 36 games for Triple-A Norfolk. In his final year, 2013, Tejada was a utility man for the Royals but received a 105-game suspension from MLB for testing positive for amphetamines. That closed the curtains on his career.
It was an ignominious end for a player who was once one of the brightest stars in baseball, and the uber-talented, joyous face of the Orioles for a number of years.