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September 05, 2002

Tejada Fits MVP Criteria
By Dan Patrick

Alex Rodriguez doesn't have one. Nomar Garciaparra doesn't have one. Derek Jeter and Omar Vizquel don't have one either. Surprisingly, of an impressive pool of AL shortstops, the overshadowed Miguel Tejada might be the first to win an MVP award.

Miguel Tejada
Miguel Tejada has filled the void left by Jason Giambi.

Though virtually unnoticed before the All-Star break, Tejada's second-half performance -- including back-to-back game-winning hits -- has made the Oakland A's shortstop someone to talk about. Tejada is the clutch performer on an Athletics team currently riding an American League record-tying 19-game win streak straight to the top of the AL West.

In all MVP discussions, defining "most valuable" is problematic. There is little question that A-Rod is the best player in the division, perhaps in all of baseball. Tejada, however, in terms of overall value to a team, gets my nod for MVP. To me, when you talk about value, winning has to be factored into the equation.

Baseball is a team sport -- no one player can make or break a team's success (a la A-Rod and the Texas Rangers). But the bottom line in all sports is winning. And part of the MVP criteria should be that the Most Valuable Player's team is putting up enough W's to make the playoffs.

There's no doubt that Tejada has the benefit of a better surrounding cast. With Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, no team has a better trio of starting pitchers. Each has played a large role in the A's success. And don't forget about No. 4 starter Cory Lidle, who didn't give up an earned run in 43 innings, or the consistency of closer Billy Koch.

But then, we knew this pitching staff would be that good. Oakland's successful staff supports Tejada's excellence -- such support eludes A-Rod, and so might the MVP.

The gray area of this dispute could be resolved by creating a Player of the Year award -- in essence, a player's Cy Young. That award would go to the best everyday player, regardless of whether his team makes the playoffs.

Tejada might not be the fielder that Jeter is or the offensive threat that A-Rod is, but he's batting .311, with 30 home runs and 116 RBI. Tejada is neither a fluke nor an overnight sensation. He also put up some impressive numbers last season (.287, 31 HRs, 113 RBI), only to be overshadowed by former teammate and current Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi.

The thriving A's have rallied around their new clutch performer. The foundation is set. They know they can get it done, even when they're behind.

Perhaps Tejada's biggest feat was filling the leadership void left by Giambi, who was the heart and soul of this young A's team. Tejada has stepped up and made the big plays at crucial moments. For that reason alone, he deserves MVP consideration.

The thriving A's have rallied around their new clutch performer. The foundation is set. They know they can get it done, even when they're behind.

Tejada might have been the underrated and underappreciated shortstop we never talked about. But now, at the beginning of September, we've taken notice.

Certainly, there is still a lot of baseball to be played. The A's are still fighting for the best record in a tough AL West -- with the Seattle Mariners and Anaheim Angels right on their tail -- and MVP awards have been won and lost in this final month of the regular season. But if Tejada is voted MVP, count it as another come-from-behind winning performance.

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