WASHINGTON - In a quiet courtroom located within shouting distance of the U.S. Capitol, with just 26 witnesses on hand, baseball reached an odd milestone yesterday.
After over a decade's worth of scandals in the sport, Miguel Tejada became the first player to receive a criminal sentence for his involvement with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
And Tejada, at the urging of federal prosecutors, got off rather easily. The Astros shortstop, for misleading Congressional investigators in 2005, received a year of probation, fines totaling $5,025 and 100 hours of community service.
Tejada appeared tense until U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay revealed the sentence, which came recommended by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Afterward, asked if he was relieved, Tejada responded, "Yes."
"We're very grateful for the court's consideration," said Mark Tuohey, one of two attorneys Tejada had on site. "[Tejada] looks forward to playing ball."
The sentencing guidelines called for Tejada to face a year in prison, if the judge so desired. But U.S. Attorney Steven Durham, in his presentation, made clear that he wasn't looking for blood.
"His first choice, to withhold information was a bad choice," Durham said of Tejada. "Since that point in time, he has made a series of good choices." Durham also pointed out Tejada's clean record, and his tale of overcoming poverty in the Dominican Republic.
This case stemmed from Congress' investigation into Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a 2005 drug test issued by Major League Baseball just months after Palmeiro swore in front of the House Government Reform Committee that he had never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Palmeiro subsequently told Congressional investigators that Tejada, his teammate at the time with the Baltimore Orioles, gave him a "B-12 shot" that might have produced the positive test.
Tejada told investigators that he never discussed illegal PEDs with teammates, an assertion later proved false with multiple pieces of evidence from the Mitchell Report. In pleading guilty to the "misleading" charge last month, Tejada also said that he purchased human growth hormone while with the Oakland Athletics but never used it.
During the sentencing hearing, which lasted about 25 minutes, Tejada spoke to the judge briefly, quietly and in his trademark deep accent. Said Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP: "I'm here to take full responsibility. I apologize to the Congress, the court, all the fans in baseball and especially the kids. I learned a very important lesson."
"Make sure you don't get in trouble again," Kay said.