Orioles should move now to commit to Mora's future

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If there is one thing that's crystal clear in the wake of the monthlong Miguel Tejada controversy, it is that the Orioles have a real treasure in Melvin Mora and should move decisively - as in, say, tomorrow - to finalize a contract extension that removes any doubt about his continued strong presence in the organization.

This should get no argument from anyone who has been paying attention to the way Mora has evolved into a team leader and invested himself in this community. Probably won't get any argument from team officials, either, since they already have had some preliminary discussions with Mora's agent.

It was Mora who brokered peace between the Orioles and Tejada yesterday. It also was Mora who, four weeks ago, forced the Orioles and their fans to accept the hard truth that Tejada was truly discontented - and with good reason.

And, of course, don't forget that Mora was the stand-up guy who was the only player from the current Orioles roster at the memorial service for Elrod Hendricks 10 days ago.

Mora told me at the Orioles' FanFest yesterday that he wants badly to finish his career in Baltimore. Then he got on the phone with Orioles vice president Jim Duquette and persuaded Tejada to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Now, it's time for the Orioles to do the right thing and make sure the two of them are together here for a long time.

Don't ever question the loyalty of Orioles fans, no matter how bad things might get.

After one of the most discouraging finishes in club history and repeated offseason disappointments, the column of fans who arrived early for yesterday's FanFest stretched halfway around the convention center.

Club officials reported that the turnstile count had reached 10,000 by 3 p.m. The team distributed extra free tickets to season-ticket holders this year, but it still was a pretty impressive turnout under the circumstances.

During the past four months, the Orioles have dismissed Sidney Ponson from the team for a pattern of poor behavior, the Philadelphia Eagles have done the same with Terrell Owens and Virginia Tech has dumped talented quarterback Marcus Vick because of a "cumulative effect of legal infractions and unsportsmanlike play."

Which leaves me to wonder if professional and college sports are starting to engage in a pattern of demanding good behavior. I guess time will tell.

Obviously, it'll be interesting to see what the Washington Redskins do about Sean Taylor, who reportedly morphed into Roberto Alomar during yesterday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was ejected from the game for spitting in the face of an opposing player.

Can we assume that the NCAA will rethink college football's pitifully inconsistent and incoherent replay system?

Well, after Michigan coach Lloyd Carr had to use two timeouts in the Alamo Bowl to give the replay official time to evaluate a pair of questionable calls, and after the lost timeouts clearly helped Nebraska score an upset victory over the No. 20 Wolverines, you'd have to think that something will be done to change the way controversial plays are reviewed.

The BCS championship game provided another glaring example, when Vince Young was clearly down by contact before he made a pitch that led to an important touchdown. I'm almost hesitant to use that example because it might sound like sour grapes, though I'm pretty confident that Texas would have gone on to score that touchdown anyway.

A replay system that would allow such an obvious officiating oversight to stand without challenge is - in my opinion - worse than having no replay system at all.

The more I think about the Rose Bowl, the more I like Southern California coach Pete Carroll. The safe, no-second-guess move in the fourth quarter would have been to punt on that much-debated fourth down that preceded Young's game-winning drive and touchdown run, but Carroll went down swinging.

He knew that his defense couldn't stop Young, so he kept the ball in the hands of his star-studded offense. It didn't work, but I'm pretty sure if the exact same situation presented itself in next year's national title game, Carroll would make the same decision again. I can respect that.

I'm not buying the knee-jerk post-BCS notion that Young might supplant Reggie Bush as the top choice in the NFL draft. Young played a terrific game in his nationally televised showdown with his Heisman nemesis, but it was just one game.

He probably raised his stock with NFL scouts, but Bush remains the best player available for any team that needs a running back and Matt Leinart remains the best quarterback available for any team that needs to upgrade that position.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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