Why is it that A’s fans don’t seem to be expressing the same outrage over the Tejada defection that they did over Giambi? There are three reasons. 1) we’re used to it, 2) the O’s are not the Yanks and 3) Tejada kept his mouth shut, it was the owner who put his foot in his mouth. Let’s explore.
1. We’re Used to It
Yes A’s fans we’re used to seeing players leave via free agency. Though we often sign arbitration eligible players and get home-town deals in some cases we are used to seeing our best players move on to greener pastures. It really started in 1993 when the home nine lost Jose Canseco, Harold Baines and Carney Lansford and culminated with the 1997 trade of Mark McGwire. After the strike in 1994 many fans didn’t even notice the decline of a team in a sport no one really paid attention to. By the time the sport rebounded in 1997 (Ripken’s streak) and 1998 (Mac and Sammy) the A’s were a joke, but were starting to rebuild with their “They’re young, but they can play” group. Between 1997 and 2001 the A’s neither signed, traded or lost any big name players. Then they started winning.
Billy Beane (and Sandy Alderson before him) had built a strong farm system that had put a decent team on the field (they missed the wild card by 4.5 games in 1999) and allowed them to make some major trades. The 2000 team that made the playoffs consisted of the typical A’s approach during the lean years. That team was led by old farm hands (Giambi, Ben Grieve, Tejada, Chavez), two promising rookies (Ramon Hernandez, Terrence Long), and productive guys reclaimed off the scrap heap (John Jaha and Matt Stairs). Along with some decent, if unspectacular pitchers (Kevin Appier, Gil Heredia, Omar Oliveras) and the Young Three (Hudson, Mulder, Zito).
By 2002 the future was looming and the A’s began the pattern that would haunt them through this off-season. They lost Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen, and Jason Giambi, made some good trades, and signed arbitration eligible Jermaine Dye. In 2003 they lost Billy Koch, Ray Durham, David Justice and Corey Lidle, but again made some good trades. Now they have lost Long, Hernandez, Keith Foulke, and Tejada, again, trades were made and help is on the way from the farm teams.
The point is that we fans knew this would happen. It’s our lot in life. Some of the sting has been taken out and the attempt to re-sign Foulke helped sooth our vitriol. Beane has kept the team a float for the past five years and we can only guess that he’ll do it again. Of course eventualy the A’s will falter and miss the playoffs, and this may be the year. The wild card might certainly come out of the East this year. With every team gearing up the one hope is that they beat the hell out of each other and leave the rest for Oakland. Unfortunately the rest of the West (including Texas) has gotten significantly better. The M’s brought in Spiezio, Rich Aurillia, “Every day” Eddie Guardado, Quinton McCracken, and Raul Ibanez. The Angels got Jose Guillen, Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar. The Rangers signed Brad Fulmer and Brian Jordan (and kept A-Rod).
2. The O’s are not the Yanks
Giambi went to the evil empire, the team that had just knocked Oakland out of the playoffs, and the kicker was we all knew it was going to happen. To top it off, we knew in March. It was done deal, Tino was too old and the Boss wanted the guy who had hurt the Yanks the most in recent years (if you can really be hurt after winning three rings in a row).
Tejada however did not go to a rival, he didn’t even go to a contender. He went to Baltimore, a franchise that seems to be going back to the rotisserie baseball style of management that failed in the late 1990’s (thanks Jeffrey Mayer). In recent seasons the O’s have been unable to attract top free agents, even thought they had money to spend. Now they seem ready to give up on a promising young group of position players in favor of trying to keep up with the Stienies. Where we all felt betrayed by Giambi leaving us for our most hated rival, with the chance to win a ring we can only feel that Tejada deserves whatever he gets. He took the money and went to a club that doesn’t have a great chance to win. If he succeeds its because he worked hard and really brought a championship to B-More, if he fails to make the playoff for the next six years then its his fault for taking the money.
3. He kept his mouth shut
This may be the biggest reason of all that the Tejada defection hurts less. In contrast to Giambi Tejada never said anything controversial. Jason said he wanted to stay in Oakland, hinted that he would take less to stay here, then, before game five of the ALDS he went on a diatribe about how much he loved NY, always wanted to play in NY and referenced how “knowledgeable” NY fans are. The implication being that fans in Oakland are dumb as a rock. Then, after shocking no one by signing in NY Giambi went on Letterman and trashed not only the A’s, but the city and the fans. Now, I won’t apologize for the sparse attendance at A’s games, I don’t see why they don’t draw 50,000 every night to see a team that’s made four straight playoff runs, but the fans that were there embraced Giambi from day one. He was the continuing legacy of Big-Mac (including the ‘roids eh BALCO?). He was the embodiment of the A’s bad-boy, have fun, leave it all on the field attitude. In time he was the face of the Oakland A’s, the leader, The Man. Oakland loved him. Then in his first press conference he trashed it, he said he didn’t want to be a leader, he didn’t like the adulation, he was looking forward to being a company man, he shaved, he cut his hair, he conformed, he became a sell-out in every sense of the word.
All Tejada ever said is that he wanted stability for his family. He said his preference was to stay in Oakland if possible, but he always said he would go where he could get a long term deal for as much as possible. Also, unlike Giambi, Oakland never really made Tejada a serious offer. Therefore we fans can’t feel too spurned. Since signing in Baltimore Tejada hasn’t said anything disparaging about the city, the team or the fans. Finally Tejada has never made comments that link money to respect. While Giambi made comments to the effect that he was insulted by the A’s offer, all Tejada has said is that he is happy to have the contract he has. Also, though he made “only” 5.1M last season, he never complained.
The amazing thing is that Tejada had every right to feel slighted by Oakland. Before the season began owner Steve “Don’t Call Me Marge” Schott dismissed the idea of even offering Tejada a contract. Then, when Miggy slumped early on fans I met at the Net were unforgiving.
Miguel Tejada was my favorite player. He still is. I’ve always loved short-stops, from Campy to Snoopy, but Miguel was special. He represents a time when, after the strike, I was rediscovering the national game. Also, Miggy’s rookie year coincided with the beginning of one of favorite family traditions, taking my brother to opening day. Being able to pass on the one thing I remember fondly about my father, to help foster a love of baseball in a new generation is something that will always be dear to me. Now that era is ended, not a single player remains from that era. Maybe that’s why I lobbied so hard to bring back Spiezio. Of course this is coinciding with other changes, my brother is on his way to high school next year. No longer the little boy he was when we started going to games, he now eschews family gatherings to hang with his boys. Losing Miggy is, in some ways, an extension of losing that little boy who used to hang on my every word and mimic my every move. These two eras, Miggy with the A’s and my brother’ childhood are linked. Even though both are over I’m looking forward to the future. Bobby Crosby might be a pretty good player, and my brother will become more of a peer as the years move on. I guess that helps take the sting out of it also.