It was painful watching Miguel Tejada weep over his guilty plea for lying to Congress, but a little bit satisfying as well — not in the sense of schadenfreude, of taking pleasure in someone else’s suffering, but in anticipation of the deterrent effect that his tears might have on future ballplayers, arrogant enough, as Tejada was, to dismiss the legal jeopardy that might result from participation in the culture of bodybuilding, that has infected Major League clubhouses. That prosecutors nailed Tejada on something as peripheral as perjury, rather than his own usage, actually makes the potential chill even more visceral — concealing the use of another is enough to get you hooked, booked, and cooked. Potentially all players in a clubhouse can be implicated in the use of PEDs by any one player.
There will always be an incentive for certain players to cheat. These players are not the A-Rods or the Bonds, but the kind of guys that Tejada got in trouble for talking steroids with, Adam Piatt. The vast majority of players caught have been, and will continue to be, those for whom a million-dollar payday is just a few home runs away. Those at the top of the game, those who have the talent and the riches but cheat anyway, we’ll never know why they chose to go that route — there is no good answer. A-Rod suggested that it was insecurity after signing a big contract. For Bonds, the reason seems to have been vanity.
Whatever the reason, it wasn’t intelligence. These athletes seem to be in the thrall of an impulsivity that does not consider consequences. “Field of Dreams” had it all wrong — Shoeless Joe didn’t return from the grave to teach some pseudo-hippie in Iowa the value of forgiveness, but the pain of not being forgiven, of having a shadow hang over you for the rest of your life. Jackson made the dumbest decision of his life at 29 years old and had another 32 years to think of it, 32 years in which he was hanging out in Nowhere, South Carolina, instead of attending reunions in Cooperstown, N.Y. One of the most difficult stories from Jackson’s life to think about is the occasion in which Ty Cobb unknowingly wandered into Jackson’s liquor store, and Jackson was, at first, too ashamed to identify himself.
Cobb had reason for regret as well. He too got caught up in a betting scandal, one that continues to dog his reputation to this day, even though he was officially cleared by the Commissioner. He also lived to regret his reputation for violence and rage. Perhaps Jackson and Cobb are beyond caring now, but both were intelligent enough to know that they were historic figures, and the evil that they did would live after them. “Speak well of me after I am dead,” the old saying goes. They knew that was unlikely to be the case, and it pained their final years — so too for Hal Chase, Eddie Cicotte, Carl Mays, and many of the other players who left the game under a cloud. Again, they are dust now, and beyond pain, but they had to live with the pain, too. Tejada, I think, now has had the smallest taste of that.
Alex Rodriguez could play most of another decade, and his Hall of Fame case will not come before the court of opinion for another five years before that, so he will be living with the legacy of his own stupidity and shortsightedness for a minimum of 15 years, but more likely for the rest of his life. As I said at the outset, there will always be some players who will cheat, who will have the incentive to cheat, but of those for whom cheating is simply a choice born out of greed or ego or just the assumed invulnerability of youth, we can only hope that they will watch Tejada’s tears and say, “That could be me.” We can only hope that they watch Rodriguez, the new Ozymandias, struggle to rebuild his reputation (“Look on my works, ye mighty — I shot myself in the ***”) over and over again in the coming years, and say, “Let the cup pass from my lips — I’m not having any.” The consequences are real, beyond money gained or lost, beyond home runs, beyond temporary suspensions by the namby pamby commissioner. The consequences could be legal, could involve loss of assets or jail, but beyond that, it could result in the permanent suspension of your reputation.
MORE BY ME
For those with an ESPN Insider account, I was charged this week with issuing dire warnings about the Red Sox. In my usual history minute spot at BP, I search for those lineups that are supposedly too left-handed.
I am also proud to note that this year’s BP annual, which I co-edited and to which I contributed much writing, has already begun shipping and currently stands at No. 25 on the Amazon bestsellers list. Select BP colleagues and I will be making appearances around the New York area to sign the book and talk baseball, including (but not limited to) March 1 at the Yogi Berra Museum, March 12 at the Barnes & Noble on East 18th Street in Manhattan, and March 26 at the Rutgers University Bookstore in New Brunswick, NJ. Full details and additional dates to follow shortly. I very much hope you’ll come out and chat. If not, I get kind of lonely.
…I also wanted to note, a bit belatedly, that artist Rich Faber has finally got his signed and numbered Gehrig and Mantle prints in (I have one of each, and they look even better in person). If you scroll down, you should also note his “Drama Queen” T-shirt, which has nothing to do with baseball but was a hit with my daughter when I gave her one — and weirdly predictive, but I don’t blame the T-shirt, as little girls are just like that sometimes.