Miguel Tejada was worth it.
Drugs and all, he was worth it. Worth his $1.1 million salary, worth the roster spot that would’ve gone to someone able to play more than 53 games, and worth the temporary distraction and manufactured “outrage” from news of his 105-game suspension for amphetamine use without baseball approval.
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Tejada was worth it because he helped the Royals win. Maybe that sounds callous. Maybe that sounds jaded. Maybe you don’t want to read that because, well,
Tejada helped the Royals win. He hit .288 in 167 plate appearances before a calf injury last week ended his season. From a cold business perspective, he was a good investment. If anything, the suspension helps the Royals because he was already hurt and now they don’t owe the balance of his salary — somewhere around $250,000.
General manager Dayton Moore won’t say any of this, even if he wanted to. Nobody with the Royals will. That’s not how these drug suspensions are supposed to work.
We’re supposed to be outraged and offended and summon as much self-righteous indignation as possible, asking:
WHAT WAS HE THINKING? HOW COULD HE DO THIS? TO US?
Tejada did it to play the game he loves. To play the sport that made him rich and famous and admired. To do the thing that brought him more joy than anything else.
Would you take a prescribed medication to play in the big leagues? I would.
Tejada sat out all of last season, unwanted by anyone in the majors. The Royals bet what amounted to a low ante game of poker on him: less than Felipe Paulino’s salary for a man admired by his teammates, and who temporarily filled an enormous hole at second base.
As it turns out, Tejada was using Adderall, a commonly prescribed medication for narcolepsy and attention-deficit disorder. Tejada is said to have a prescription for it, along with 16 million Americans. He does not, however, have an exemption from Major League Baseball for the drug and as such is subject to a suspension.
Whether Tejada’s use was medically legitimate or not, exemptions for Adderall have long been a loophole through baseball’s drug policy. Last season, MLB issued exemptions for 116 players — which would represent a much higher occurrence of ADD among major-league baseball players than the general population — allowing them to use prescribed medications without penalty. Tejada’s exemption had expired.
The suspension will cost Tejada money and embarrassment. He is a six-time All-Star and the AL MVP in 2002 but pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2009 about what he knew of performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. He knew the penalties but did it anyway.
It’s impossible to get inside a man’s head, but it’s easy to imagine Tejada feeling as if he needed a boost to play in the big leagues again.
Who can’t understand that?
And who doesn’t think that whatever game they watch today or this week won’t include a player doing the same thing Tejada was doing?
Thankfully, the faux outrage about PED use is being slowly shouted down by reason. As much as baseball (with justification) talks about having the toughest drug policy in North American sports and as much as baseball (with delusion) talks about being in a post-steroids era, smart fans know there is no such thing.
There’s evidence that the ancient Greeks used PEDs, and back then they weren’t competing for millions of dollars.
This is the sports world we all helped create. Penalties and testing can continue to grow tougher, but we are years from the risk-reward equation balancing out — and judging by how we consume sports, fans in general want it this way.
The conversation about drugs, at least in baseball, has shifted in recent months toward competitive balance rather than records or higher moral standards. On that end, Tejada is being suspended for the same thing many players from generations ago considered part of their daily routine — clubhouse coffee pots were labeled “leaded” if they included amphetamines, and “unleaded” if it was just caffeine.
Look, Tejada knowingly broke a rule with a consequence, and for that he gets no sympathy.
But we can also be smart enough to understand the context, especially for Tejada’s crime, the rough equivalent of petty theft. There is enormous money and fame at stake for Major League Baseball, and without penalties to match. The system encourages cheating, especially for those, like the aging Tejada, on the fringe of the big-league life.
Before he got caught, he played a little more in the big leagues, made more than a half-million dollars and helped the Royals win.
That was worth it. For both sides. Because that’s how baseball is set up.