Decades from now, when baseball historians try to sort through the vagaries of the game shortly before and after the turn of the 21st century, when they try to decode sordid acronyms like HGH or PED, or science fiction names like Biogenesis and BALCO, how will they define the era?
Will they look back on it nostalgically, or wish they could erase it from memory? Will they think of it as lost years, a time of lies and excess? Will they struggle to find a name for it? The Steroid Era seems too simplistic.
What about calling it the Miguel Tejada era? No one player encapsulates baseball's modern era better than the former Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles shortstop -- now clinging to his last shot in the majors as a utility man with the Kansas City Royals. His career is the story of the game as we know it.
Tejada, 38, is baseball's version of Forrest Gump, an observer and participant in some of baseball's most defining moments of the era: Tejada, from a devastatingly poor village in the Dominican Republic, lied as a teenager about his age in order to get signed, which foretold a period of corruption in the signing of Latin American players; Tejada was a main protagonist of Moneyball, the baseball tome and theorem that would change the way teams were constructed; Tejada was involved in the first major steroid controversy of the testing era when he became embroiled in Rafael Palmeiro's suspension; he was named in the Mitchell Report, baseball's feeble but famous attempt to reveal its unsavory past; and he was part of baseball's reckoning in Washington when he was investigated by Congress on charges of perjury.
Tejada played in the Bay Area in the time of BALCO -- though he was never implicated. He was named in former pitcher Jason Grimsley's affidavit to federal investigators, which revealed the government's eager, some would say misguided, interest in chasing PED users. He was a six-time All-Star, an MVP, a Home Run Derby winner, a high-priced free agent and a World Baseball Classic champion. Eventually, Tejada even became a character in an Oscar-nominated movie.
"I've had a good career," Tejada says. "Really, none of us are perfect in life. We all have highs and lows. The most important thing is that when someone falls, you get yourself up again. I thank God, not because of talent he gave me as a player, but for the talent he gave me as a human being. That's what I appreciate the most.
"The negative things in my career made me realize that in life sometimes difficult things can happen. I thank God for keeping me strong mentally to get past those things. And also to be an example to show people that despite all those things happening I didn't let it affect me in my life or in my career."
There may not have been a more important or representative player in this era than the stockily built Tejada, from the tiny village of Los Barrancones, on the outskirts of Bani in the Dominican Republic.
* * *
Tejada has one final chance to change the narrative that's trailed him in the second half of his career. There is no glory for him now. He's a utility man, a thankless position that's usually reserved for those who weren't quite good enough to be a regular player. Rarely do players with Tejada's resume end up at the end of a bench. Most don't have the stomach to accept such a role. And Tejada doesn't financially need to play. He's amassed millions of dollars.
"I just love baseball," he said.
Most considered Tejada a longshot to end up on Kansas City's opening day roster. He wouldn't have a full spring to endear himself to his Kansas City coaches because he was leaving the team to represent the Dominican in the WBC. But Tejada had a stellar spring for both the Dominican and the Royals, and made the team.
"He's a legend," said Indians catcher Carlos Santana, Tejada's WBC teammate.
In Tejada, the Royals saw a player who could not only fill in for several starters in the infield, but who could be a positive influence in the clubhouse for both veterans and young players.
A scene from this spring training showed how perfectly Tejada fills that role. Only a few steps away from the entrance of the clubhouse one morning this spring, Miguel Tejada sat eating breakfast on a fold-up table with a group of Latin players. Mostly, Tejada ate quietly. When he did speak, the players lifted their head, stopped eating and paid attention. He commanded respect. Tejada has always had that type of presence, even more so with Latin players.
"He's one of the best teammates I've ever had, and not only in his leadership and presence," said Kansas City pitcher Bruce Chen, who also played with Tejada in Baltimore. "The attitude he brings just makes everyone better."
Last season, Tejada couldn't find a team in the offseason, and ended up signing a minor league deal with the Orioles midseason. He lasted a month before asking for his release. Baltimore had no intention of calling him up to the majors. Tejada subsequently spent the year with his family at his home in Florida, and he happily played the role of chauffeur for his two children.
But Tejada was not ready to retire. He continued to practice and aimed to play winter ball in the Dominican. Tejada excelled this winter with the Aguilas Cibaeñas, the team with which he's played his entire winter-ball career. Even during his years as a superstar, Tejada always played winter ball, a rarity among big-name players. He believed he had an obligation to give his countrymen an opportunity to see him play up close.
His strong winter earned him an opportunity with the Royals, who were looking for a veteran to liven up their clubhouse. Tejada has earned a reputation for doing just that.
During his rookie year with the A's, Oakland teammates Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez and Ben Grieve noticed that Tejada rarely said a word. Tejada had dropped out of school at a very young age to help support his family in Bani. The lack of education had made learning English very difficult for him. He didn't want to appear foolish in front of his English-speaking teammates, so he didn't say much.
To encourage him to speak, Giambi and the other veterans asked Tejada to learn a new English word every day. Each day, when Tejada arrived in the clubhouse, he was asked to recite the word and its meaning to the group. Gradually, Tejada grew more comfortable speaking in front of everyone. It was always in his nature to be a leader. But after his English lessons, Tejada felt more comfortable doing so.
"I'll never forget those guys," Tejada said of his Oakland teammates. "They didn't just worry about me as a player. They did things to help me out as a person. I totally am grateful for it, especially when it came to learning English. Those are things that I can't possibly repay. I always have that in my heart. When I see those people, I show them my appreciation."
But Tejada is rarely remembered anymore by the casual American fan for what he's accomplished on the field. His name has become more notorious than celebrated here, although his reputation is spotless in the Dominican.
It wasn't supposed to be that way, of course. Before all the turmoil that came with being ensnared in Palmeiro's suspension in 2005 -- the first baseman said he believed he had tested positive because of a vial of B-12 Tejada had given him -- Tejada, who entered the 2013 season with 304 career home runs and a .793 career OPS while playing a position not usually regarded for its offensive production, was considered one of the best and most popular players of his generation. But although it was never proven that Tejada was involved, the Palmeiro link started a public relations descent from which he's never quite recovered. It was a stark turning point in his career.
After that incident, former pitcher Jason Grimsley named him as a possible steroid user in his testimony to federal investigators, and he'd later be investigated for perjury because his appearance in the Mitchell Report contradicted some of Tejada's testimony to Congress during the Palmeiro investigation. Then he was ambushed in a television interview by ESPN in 2008, when the network discovered he had lied about his age as a teenager. Many fans' perception of Tejada changed dramatically. He was now cast as a cheater and a liar. Hardly anyone in the game thought of him that way, but his public persona was ruined.
* * *
I first met Tejada in the summer of 2004 when I was hired to cover the Orioles for The Washington Post. He was in the first season of the six-year, $60 million contract he had signed after spending six seasons with Oakland. The 2004 season would end up being the best of his career, even better than his MVP year in 2002.
In 2004, Tejada had an .894 OPS with an astounding, league-leading 150 RBI. Most memorable about that season was not necessarily how Tejada uncannily, at almost every opportunity, delivered a big hit with men on base, but how he played with a fervor that was unlike anything I had ever seen, and haven't seen since. After each hit, Tejada immediately looked into the dugout to acknowledge his teammates. He was the rare player who thought first about sharing his success with them instead of celebrating himself. It was an attitude that endeared him to almost every teammate he ever had. Not once in my time covering the team, or afterward, have I heard any of Tejada's former teammates utter a bad word about him.
Most everyone called Tejada "Miggi," but Latin players called him "La Gua Gua," which is Spanish Dominican slang for "Bus," since Tejada always carried everyone on his team.
"You try to find players like him, like Larry Bird, guys who are not only good, but players who make everyone else around them better," said Jim Beattie, one of the Baltimore GMs -- along with the late Mike Flanagan -- when the team signed Tejada.
Tejada finished fifth in the MVP voting that year, which was due more to Baltimore's losing season than a judgment on his performance. It would be a familiar theme of Tejada's five-year Orioles tenure. He would perform well. The team would not. The Orioles never had a winning record with Tejada.
Tejada could be intimidating. He hardly ever said much. He still doesn't. At times he appeared unsure of how he would appear publicly if he spoke too much. His lack of communication with other reporters could have been blamed on the language barrier, but when we spoke in Spanish he would still not give much. Even though he was a superstar, he never wanted to appear weak, ignorant or dumb. It was as if he knew he'd never escape being the uneducated kid from a poor neighborhood in the Dominican.
Los Barrancones defined Tejada. It said everything about him, and he never strayed from being that person. Despite the money, the fame, and adulation, Tejada was always true to his roots. He was charitable to his countrymen. He built baseball fields, donated money after natural disasters, and, perhaps most importantly, he made appearances. He didn't just send checks.
After that tumultuous 2005 year -- he had also asked for a trade in the offseason -- I traveled to Bani to interview Tejada. His status with the team was very much in doubt. But before I spoke with Tejada, who was in the middle of the winter ball season, I visited Los Barrancones.
The roads around his neighborhood were littered with mounds of trash. The area was treated like a dump, which couldn't possibly be good for the self-esteem of the people who lived there.
When I arrived in the neighborhood, my taxi driver and I approached an old woman who was in the middle of the village filling a couple buckets of water from a faucet that was the town's lone clean water source. The woman, who appeared to be in her 70s, had dark weathered and wrinkled skin, but her forearms were taut and strong. We asked her where we could find Tejada's childhood home and she pointed us in the right direction.
We then asked her if we could help her carry those buckets back to her house. She declined. Instead, she put each bucket on the end of a long wooden beam. She then put the beam over her shoulders and balanced the buckets on both ends. Slowly, she trudged away into the horizon and we did not see her again.
Poverty was the defining feature of Los Barrancones, but so too was this elderly woman, who represented the hardworking, proud nature of Tejada's hometown. She may have been poor, but she didn't need charity. Pride still mattered even in the midst of day-to-day survival.
When people would later criticize Tejada for some of the decisions he had made in his life, you only needed to remember Los Barrancones to realize that often people don't know anything but survival. Tejada himself always offered few clues to his life. But the answers were all in Los Barrancones if you cared to look. Most didn't.
The Palmeiro investigation in 2005 seemed to change Tejada. It was undoubtedly a distraction, whether he admitted it or not. He never did. But he slumped badly at the end of that season -- he hit just .264 with one home run in September and October -- and he rarely smiled. One would always know how Tejada was feeling because he was such an outwardly emotional person. His public persona had been damaged and that hurt Tejada deeply.
"I think it embarrassed him that people were talking about it," said Chris Gomez, Tejada's former Oriole teammate. "You wouldn't know it by how he was in the clubhouse. But you figured since he was sensitive guy how could it not affect him? But he didn't let it show. He didn't want to be a burden to the team."
The trade demand seemed to be a manifestation of his discontent with the entire situation in Baltimore: the losing, the Palmeiro link, the feud he ended up having that season with Sammy Sosa, who seemed to be unhappy with the respect Tejada commanded in the clubhouse.
Shortly after the end of the winter meetings that offseason, new Baltimore general manager Jim Duquette, who replaced Beattie, was informed by Tejada's representatives that he wanted to be traded. The agent said that Tejada was unhappy with the team's direction.
Duquette, less than two months into the job, was shocked. But he tried his best to accommodate Tejada; there was no point in having an unhappy player. Several weeks of discussions with almost a dozen teams did not net any legitimate offers. The most serious discussions were with Boston, who had offered their own unhappy superstar, Manny Ramirez. But the two sides could never agree on the other players in the deal. Instead, Duquette realized that he needed to try to convince Tejada to stay.
Duquette and Flanagan flew out to the Dominican to meet with Tejada, who had arranged for a helicopter to pick up the pair and take them to Bani.
"It was one of the scariest things in my life," Duquette said of the helicopter ride.
The helicopter landed in an empty lot adjacent to Tejada's property. Duquette didn't know what to expect. Armed guards were at the front of Tejada's house.
When the Orioles executives walked through the door, they were greeted by an embrace from Tejada. In the background, dozens of Tejada's family were milling about. The executives expected a tense meeting. Instead, they walked into a party.
"I'm sorry," Tejada said. "I said it out of frustration. I don't want to go anywhere."
The meeting told Duquette everything he needed to know about Tejada. He was not a pampered superstar, but a humble and genuine person. And he was a family man.
It was the type of thing that anyone who got to know Tejada would say about him.
* * *
In March 2009, then-Astros general manager Ed Wade received a phone call from Tejada's attorney. Wade's acquisition of Tejada had seemingly blown up in his face when he appeared in the Mitchell Report on December 13, 2007, a day after the trade. Furthermore, Tejada was called up to Washington D.C. in 2009 to speak with the members of congress with whom he had spoken during the Palmeiro investigation. Tejada's possible steroid use outlined in the Mitchell Report put him in danger of being charged with perjury.
Through his attorney, Tejada asked for a meeting with Wade, team president Tal Smith and Astros owner Drayton McClane. It was set up for the same day that Tejada would fly from his home in Florida to Washington: He would make a pit stop at a local private airport in Houston and meet the three men at a hotel.
"I feel bad I put the team in this circumstance," Tejada told them.
What Wade remembers most from that day is how Tejada looked at all three in the eye when he spoke. It would become one of the traits that Wade most admired about the shortstop: Wade never had a conversation with Tejada when the player didn't look him in the eye. In that meeting, Tejada said all the right things, but most importantly he appeared genuine and contrite. Wade believed that Tejada was truly sorry.
The meeting lasted only an hour. Shortly after it ended, Tejada went back to his plane and went to Washington, where he faced an onslaught of questions. He would later accept a plea of obstruction of justice, although not related to testimony of his own use. Tejada has never admitted publicly, or in any document made public, that he used performance enhancing drugs. He declines to talk about the issue. The only evidence that he has used PEDs stems from former Oakland infielder Adam Piatt's testimony to George Mitchell saying he and Tejada had several conversations about steroids, testosterone and HGH. Piatt provided Mitchell with several cancelled checks from Tejada. Neither MLB nor the Astros suspended him.
"I don't think anybody in the organization used the Mitchell Report as a measuring stick for what Miguel was about," Wade said. "He was judged on his own merits as a player and a person."
In Houston, Tejada was a two-time all star, though his Astros tenure was mostly unmemorable. The team never won. He brought more controversy than success. But Wade has no regrets about having acquired him.
"I do know that we in this sport a lot of times try to find a leader or we try to invent a leader," Wade said. "But not every good player is designed to lead a club. That was the rare aspect of the type of player that Miguel was. Leadership can't be contrived. Teammates see through it. You couldn't ask another player to do the things that Miguel did as a leader."
After his two years in Houston, Tejada returned to Baltimore on a one-year deal. Tejada struggled in his second stint with the Orioles, but a midseason trade to San Diego in 2010 revitalized him.
The Padres, in the midst of a pennant race, took a low-cost gamble on Tejada. San Diego was sputtering after the All Star break, and general manager Jed Hoyer thought Tejada would bring a spark. His days as a starting shortstop appeared finished: At the time of the trade, Tejada had just a .670 OPS for the Orioles, and his range defensively had deteriorated badly. But he came cheap, and the expectations were low.
"When guys got tired, he's the guy that you wanted around," Hoyer said. "We needed a guy like Miguel at that point."
When I saw him in San Diego shortly after the trade, he appeared as happy as I had seen him in a long time, hopeful that he'd return to the playoffs for the first time since he had left Oakland. Having one more chance at the postseason, one more shot to win a championship, was incredibly important to Tejada. I had never met someone in my reporting career who cared as much about winning. It pained him to lose, not figuratively, but literally. Each moment in the clubhouse after a loss was agonizing for him.
Despite Tejada's strong play -- he had a .730 OPS in 59 games -- the Padres collapsed in August, and San Diego missed out on the playoffs by two games.
What Tejada had proven, however, is that he had outlasted his Moneyball reputation and even his alleged PED past. A progressive front office, led by the Theo Epstein protege Hoyer, now recognized Tejada's value. He may have still been "Mr. Swing at Everything" -- a tag Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane put on Tejada that famously appeared in Moneyball -- but he was also a valuable clubhouse presence.
"He really confirmed what I had thought of him," Hoyer said. "You want him on your team."
* * *
During this year's WBC, Tejada, despite the year away from the majors, appeared on television to be physically the same player I had remembered from his Oriole days. Perhaps his range had deteriorated a bit, and his throwing arm -- which Giambi remembered had left bruises on his hand from throws to him at first base -- was not so powerful anymore, but he looked good.
It was only when I saw Tejada up close this spring that I noticed how he had aged. The graying hair and the white speckled five o'clock shadow betrayed his good appearance.
"I'm the same weight I was when I was in Oakland," he proudly told me.
Although never quick, Tejada was nimble in his prime. His movements are now more calculated. Early in the morning, prior to when the Royals are scheduled to be out for stretch, Tejada and several infielders went to the backfields to practice double play exchanges.
While Tejada never shied away from work during his prime, he also was not the person to take early infield. He didn't need it. But he does now. Approaching 40 years of age, it takes Tejada more practice to stay in shape. But he still believes he can help a team.
"I stayed in this game because I felt I still had a championship to win," Tejada said. "I still felt that I wanted to be in the playoffs again. The Classic was an impressive achievement to play and win. I'm going to bring that winning attitude that we had here to this team."
Tejada says that when his career is over he'd like to become a coach and perhaps manage. He loves the game too much to simply walk away. One of his goals to is to manage the Dominican WBC team in 2017. It's almost certain that if Tejada wants it, someone will give him a job in the game once he retires.
"I think Miggi would be a very good manager," said Beattie, who is now a pro scout with the Blue Jays. "When you have that type of leadership it's important, even if you don't come across as book smart. Most important is how you deal with players and showing that you care about them. The baseball knowledge will flow from Miggy. He knows more about baseball than he thinks he knows. And he cares about people. He cares about players."
What does it say about Tejada that the people who should feel most duped by him, most betrayed -- the executives, owners and general managers who signed him to contracts or acquired him in trade based on an inaccurate age and a resume that may have aided by the use of PEDs -- are the ones who appreciate him the most?
"There are some people who will never feel that they can trust the guys in the Mitchell Report," Wade said. "But the reality is, if you talk to GMs, managers, teammates, almost universally, you'll get the same reaction to the type of character he has. Hopefully that, and his accomplishments, will shine through."
"The jury is still out on how people will view players from this era," Duquette said. "I think it does cloud his accomplishments a bit. But he's been a good hitter, a good human being. Maybe there wasn't enough guidance to tell him to stay away from that stuff. But I don't let it cloud what I think about him because I know him as a person."
Tejada became a favorite of gruff Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who signed the shortstop, not once, not twice, but three times -- the final time as a favor to a player who was trying to cling to the game he loved.
And what does it say about Tejada that those who have the most reason to hate him, the teammates whose careers he might have jeopardized because he earned jobs on false pretenses and possibly cost them opportunities, are the ones most willing to forgive him?
"To be honest, I forget most of that stuff," Gomez said. "There were so many guys doing the same thing that you just get blind to it. I just don't think about that aspect. I have fond memories."
Gomez has a unique perspective. In his 16 years in the game, he was teammates with some of the most notorious alleged and admitted steroid users of the era: He played with Giambi in college, played next to Ken Caminiti in the Padres infield and was an Oriole with Palmeiro, Sosa and Tejada.
Gomez considers Tejada, despite his complicated backstory, one of the best teammates he played with.
"I put more stock in how those guys were to teammates and whether they were unselfish players," Gomez said. "It came down to his willingness to play every day. You get a lot of respect for a guy that plays every day. Believe it or not, you will see a lot of guys that don't want to play every day. Some guys will make up injuries."
Gomez points out that Tejada -- whose 1,152 consecutive games played from 2000-07 is the fifth longest streak in history -- is still playing because there are still executives who believe in him. The game still appreciates what Tejada has done and what he's still yet to do.
"Those who don't know me, should ask those who do know me to know that I'm a good person, and a hard working person on and off the field," Tejada said. "I'm a person who only wants to play baseball. I try to respect the game as much as possible."
If Tejada carried such a negative reputation, Gomez reasoned, the Royals wouldn't have wanted to pair him up with some of their young players. Instead, Tejada was brought along to mentor those players. In spring training, it was no accident that Tejada lockered next to Royals young shortstop Alcides Escobar.
His lasting legacy, at least with those in the game, will be as a winner, not as a cheater.
Perhaps the lesson of Miguel Tejada is that he represents a time and a place that deserves forgiveness.
Perhaps the way we eventually think about Miguel Tejada should be the way historians think about the past 20 years of baseball: Imperfect and a bit dishonest, but in the end, there were memories and accomplishments worth appreciating.
* * *
Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.