Miguel Tejada’s 105-game suspension might seem like just the latest sad chapter in one man’s fall from grace. This wasn’t his first time running afoul of the game, after all: He admitted to lying to Congress and to buying HGH. He’s provided alibis every time, all of which might be reasonable. The first time he was protecting a teammate, and though he bought HGH, he says he couldn’t bring himself to use the stuff. In his latest travail, he might appear the victim of MLB’s nonrenewal in April of his medical waiver for using Adderall for attention deficit disorder. Maybe he’s in the right in each and every instance, maybe not, but in each of these scenarios, he comes off badly, and the explanations seem sure to fall on the increasingly deaf ears of all but the most faithful fans.
Because that’s the thing with Tejada. As with so many players who have fallen afoul of baseball’s performance-enhancing drug or amphetamine policies, there was love, respect, fandom, whatever you want to call it, because he’d long since earned it on the field. The 2002 American League MVP was a six-time All-Star and the 2004 Home Run Derby winner. Perhaps even more important, he was one of the homegrown goodies who made the non-Hollywood edition of Moneyball something more than a story about drafting a college-trained rotation or an assemblage of misfit toys. If you were an A’s fan, Tejada was the player you found easy to love, a guy who seemed to be visibly having fun on the field, a top prospect who had lived up to expectations and become the best shortstop in franchise history since Bert Campaneris. If you were an A’s fan, you were glad you had Tejada for as long as you had him, enough to forgive Tejada for all sorts of things, certainly his inevitable departure as a free agent and perhaps even his costly baserunning error in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS against the Red Sox.
And then, after all that history, after all that earned adulation, you have to decide whether you feel cheated by today’s news and his suspension.
This isn’t a singular experience for fans. You know it, and I know it: We’re a generation of baseball fans who have been lied to, and perhaps unavoidably, we end up having to decide how we feel about that. “Say it ain’t so, Joe” might be worse when talking about the severity of the crime -- there should never be room to forgive throwing the World Series -- but our on-field heroes haven’t just proved willing to take performance-enhancing substances while breaking laws and baseball’s belatedly added rules against them; they’re the generation that, much like Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the Black Sox, have had to reap the bitter fruit of their legacy of cheating during the course of their careers.
That’s different from the make-believe being played by fans and sportswriters about players from baseball’s so-called Golden Age -- a label bestowed on the ’50s and ’60s for little reason beyond a generation’s conceit of itself. But as Jim Bouton taught us toward the end of his career and as we learned about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays after their playing days were over, players were using amphetamines to boost their performance long before sports pages were dialing up their tardy outrage over PEDs.
There will be no retroactive punishments for that generation of cheaters, any more than there was for Alex Rodriguez, because there were no rules on the books and because baseball’s PED policy is about the present and the future. Catching the leftovers from the boom years of the PED era, men like A-Rod and Tejada, might fulfill some desire for vengeance.
But as a fan, I don’t feel that need for retribution, even as I feel sorry for what this means for Tejada’s place in history. I feel sorry for him even as I acknowledge the inflexible necessity for meting out this kind of punishment for anyone who runs afoul of baseball's needed policies on PEDs and amphetamines. It will not alter my already bittersweet memories as an A’s fan of the Moneyball teams of old, and I will not pretend that I did not root for Tejada. It’s an unwanted but inescapable feature of the present that all of us wind up having to come to terms with, as fans, as commentators or as analysts.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.