There really are only two ways to go with the Miguel Tejada saga. Either the Orioles are in denial about their superstar shortstop, or the rest of us should never again believe our eyes.
Tejada is leading the team in batting average, home runs and RBIs, so there's certainly no reason to panic, but the change in his demeanor over the past year has been so obvious that it's difficult to understand why club officials don't think it's anything to worry about.
"He's doing what he's supposed to be doing," manager Sam Perlozzo said yesterday. "What you perceive to see out on the field is not what's really going on. He's trying to help this ballclub. He's trying to do everything he can do to help this ballclub."
No one is questioning Tejada's desire to win. He made that pretty clear when he told a reporter in the Dominican Republic last December that he wasn't happy with the direction of the team and might need a change of scenery. But the happy-go-lucky chatterbox who drove in 150 runs a couple of years ago now seems sullen by comparison, a transformation that has created a boatload of speculation about what might be bothering him.
He really hasn't been the same since late last July, just before the startling revelation that teammate Rafael Palmeiro had tested positive for steroids. It certainly didn't help that Palmeiro pulled him into the controversy by trying to link the positive test to a vial of injectable vitamin B-12 that he had gotten from Tejada last spring.
There also were whispers of a falling out with fellow Dominican star Sammy Sosa, but both Perlozzo and executive vice president Mike Flanagan say it's unfair to draw broad conclusions from Tejada's suddenly introverted personality.
"You can't expect someone to be jovial all the time," Perlozzo said, "especially when he should have gotten a hit and he didn't get a hit. You can't expect the guy to come in the dugout and be all rah-rah. Nobody does that. Nobody is happy when they make outs. He has taken on a big responsibility on this ballclub, and I think he feels like he should do something good all the time. We all know that just can't happen."
Flanagan points to Tejada's terrific performance in 2004 and wonders if he might be putting too much pressure on himself to replicate those fantastic numbers - especially now, while he's mired in a 6-for-40 slump.
"He has set the bar for himself pretty high," Flanagan said. "All I see is a guy who isn't happy if he goes 0-for-4."
Maybe club officials have no choice but to be publicly supportive, but the talk shows are rife with complaints about Tejada's seeming reluctance to run out routine ground balls.
Just yesterday, the club angrily disputed a report in The Washington Post that Tejada had ignored the fines that have been levied against him for breaking team rules. It was a serious charge, since it challenged the credibility of the team's disciplinary system.
Flanagan confirmed that the team had collected fines from Tejada - "He has paid fines" - but would not be pinned down on whether Tejada has paid all of his fines this year.
"The notion that he has not paid any fines and has been given a free ride is incorrect," Flanagan said.
But Hall of Famer Jim Palmer says he thinks the issue of whether the club collected all his fines misses the point.
"It's not whether he paid his fines," Palmer said. "It's why he's being fined. Are you doing everything you can to make the Orioles winners? If he's showing up late, is he doing everything he needs to do to prepare to be the leader of this team? We all like Miguel, but do you hear about [Derek] Jeter or [Albert] Pujols getting fined? Do they have these problems? Those are the issues."
Flanagan said that there have not been any disciplinary issues involving Tejada in the past two months, though that may be partly because the team has relaxed some of its reporting rules since the start of the season. Flanagan denies those rules were changed to accommodate the club's most valuable player.
"It's unfair to think we've bent any of the rules for him," he said.
Perlozzo created some cover for Tejada when someone asked if there could be some physical reason for his diminished range at shortstop and his lack of speed to first base, citing a sore knee that has been bothering him since April but apparently is not serious enough to challenge baseball's longest current consecutive-games streak.
That streak is expected to reach 1,000 games on Saturday barring another weather-related postponement.
The Orioles are in a difficult position. They cannot afford to offend Tejada and risk sending him into a deeper funk that might diminish his production and trade value, even though owner Peter Angelos told The Sun yesterday that they have no intention of trading him. They also cannot ignore that something may be very wrong in their clubhouse.
"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.