No player better exemplified the Moneyball A's than Miguel Tejada, and he should be in the Hall of Fame
Before "Moneyball" was a 2011 Oscar-nominated movie starring Brad Pitt as general manager Billy Beane, the term referred simply to Beane and his front office's team-building. Led by sluggers like Jason Giambi and a pitching staff anchored by Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, the A's made the postseason in 2000 and '01, defying the odds with a swagger that was all their own ... and a lot of that had to do with Miguel Tejada.
During Oakland's now-famous postseason years, there were few players who best exemplified the "Moneyball" aesthetic better than Tejada. Moneyball remains one of the most influential stories baseball has ever told, so why not induct Tejada into the Hall of Fame as a reminder of that remarkable story?
The A's had scouted and signed him as a teenager playing in the ball fields of Bani in the Dominican Republic (as told in great detail by Marcos Breton and Jose Luis Villegas in the book "Away Games: The Life and Times of a Latin Baseball Player").
Tejada was an "unexpected asset" for the A's, Breton told MLB.com in an interview for this piece. "Early on, the A's had their eyes on a bunch of other players. When I traveled with Tejada to Arizona for his first Spring Training in 1996, the A's had their eyes on other guys -- as did I. But then Tejada exploded that spring," and he was on his way.
Unexpected assets that eventually reap big dividends in the Majors? That's Moneyball in a nutshell.
Before long, Tejada had become a mainstay in the A's lineup, and by 2002 he was among the league's most consistent all-around players. That A's team went 103-59, winning the AL West by four games over the eventual World Series champion Angels. You may recall the '02 A's as the team that won 20 consecutive games, a remarkable, AL-best streak that held until 2017 when the Indians unseated them with a 22-game streak of their own.
That the A's even made it to 20? Well, that was in large part due to Tejada. On Sunday, Sept. 1, Oakland carried a 4-2 lead into the ninth against the Twins, but a three-run outburst against Mulder and Billy Koch put Minnesota up, 5-4.
The vibe at the Oakland Coliseum at that moment was ... uneasy. Wins had been coming so easily for so long (nearly a month straight!), that seeing the A's face sudden adversity like that was a shock. Then, with one out and two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Tejada stepped up against Eddie Guardado and put things back on track:
A day later, the A's were tied with the Royals, 6-6, in the ninth when -- you guessed it -- Tejada came up again, this time against Jason Grimsley:
Two Tejada swings, two Tejada walkoffs, and consecutive victories Nos. 18 and 19.
Each memorable Moneyball player -- from Scott Hatteberg to Zito -- contributed a great deal during that era, but it was Tejada who came on in a big way in '02 and more than made up for the glaring absence of Giambi, who'd left for the Yankees after 2001.
"I think if Beane had invested in him instead of Eric Chavez," Breton said, "I think Tejada might have gone down as the greatest Oakland A's player." It was the third baseman Chavez, not Tejada, whom the A's retained with a multiyear extension after letting Tejada depart for the Orioles after 2003.
Tejada would go on to post his career-best 7.4 WAR in his first season in Baltimore and make five more All-Star appearances before his final season in 2013, but his graduation from extreme poverty (and general anonymity) in the Dominican Republic to a breakout, MVP-caliber star made him arguably the best embodiment of the Moneyball concept out of the many players that have come to define it.
Isn't that a Hall of Fame career?