KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The Performance-Enhancing Drug Tour 2008 ended here Tuesday.
No T-shirts were for sale.
No comments were in abundance.
Miguel Tejada had plenty when asked about his alleged performance-enhancing drug use. The Justice Department's federal perjury inquiry probably had something to do with that.
"I can't really talk about that situation because everything is under investigation," Tejada said.
Stupid fuzz. Always trying to break up the tour.
This was the third and final leg, and it should have been the best show. More than Andy Pettitte the day before, more than Paul Lo Duca three days ago, Tejada has been ensnared in this mess from the get-go – or at least since Rafael Palmeiro heaved him in front of a moving train. Nailed to the wall by the Mitchell Report, Tejada found his name on the tongues of angry Congressmen who would love nothing more than to hang an athlete's pelt to the wall. With potential jail time lingering, Tejada has more to lose at this point than Roger Clemens.
That Tejada cribbed Palmeiro's defense – he'll talk when it's the right time – was simultaneously ironic and understandable. It's still surreal to see baseball players standing in front of crowds to apologize for mistakes or transgressions or whatever phrase du jour they choose. Fallen heroes always look the saddest.
How they bounce back varies. There's Pettitte, who opted for honesty. And Lo Duca, who chose murkiness and apparently was the model for his partner in crime, Eric Gagne, who read from the same script far away in Maryvale, Ariz. And finally Tejada, who acted as though he'd been dabbed clean by Magic Eraser.
"I've been waiting for this day for a long time," he said.
Why? So he can play baseball, of course.
The first leg of the tour started in Viera, Fla. Paul Lo Duca arrived at Washington Nationals camp at 2:40 p.m. He's short, at least 3 inches under his listed 5-10. Gray has crept from his temples to all over his head. He does not look like a ballplayer and certainly not like the archetypal performance-enhancing drug user. He looks like Pauly from Brooklyn who might work at the grocery store or the auto-repair shop.
In reality, Lo Duca was one of the Mitchell Report's focal points, portrayed as a desperate minor leaguer who needed that extra push to make the major leagues. More than $25 million later, he's the guy who should be standing up and expounding on the virtues of steroids.
But no. Lo Duca planted himself in a cold room with nine reporters and nary a TV camera present. He read his opening statement in which he issued a vague apology – "The Giambi", if you will – and took questions.
One of the first asked for what, exactly, he was apologizing.
"C'mon, bro," Lo Duca said. "Next question."
Never did he utter the words human growth hormone, the drug for which he was fingered. By apologizing, he confirmed the veracity of the Mitchell Report, and yet something was missing. What's an apology if you can't muster up the courage to even say the reason behind the apology?
"You do something wrong in your life, and you get away with it, and you still have something inside of you that burns," Lo Duca said. "And it's been a big relief for me just to know that I've come to grips with it, that I made a mistake."
Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and manager Manny Acta stood against the wall to Lo Duca's right. Bowden put his hands behind his back, his gleaming white tracksuit looking like the latest in pimp couture. Acta, dapper as usual, folded his arms in front. They nodded as Lo Duca spoke about wanting to move on with his life and his career.
"It's time to prove people wrong now," he said.
The next day, he walked into the Nationals' locker room for the first time and saw the old lockers painted retirement-community green. This was a new start, so different from the glare of Los Angeles, where he broke into the big leagues after nine minor league seasons and became an unlikely, hulking star, and New York, where he spent the last two seasons.
He'd said sorry. For him, that sufficed.
The piece of paper flapped in the wind. Andy Pettitte had dictated his thoughts to his wife, Laura, as he drove, and she jotted down the notes. The tour's second leg, in Tampa, Fla., would no question be the most popular, and he needed to put on more than an average show.
It wasn't just the 100-plus media members under a tent at the New York Yankees' complex. Millions of people would see Pettitte's apology on the national news and millions more would read about it the next morning. He is a central figure in what is quickly becoming the biggest story – bigger than even Barry Bonds – since performance-enhancing drugs so rudely introduced themselves to the sport: Roger Clemens' fight against Brian McNamee's accusations that he used steroids and human growth hormone.
Cameras lined up along the concrete, as though readying for the guilty criminal to walk with a cop on each side. Pettitte strode surrounded by his lawyers, a Yankees public-relations official and flashbulbs firing like AK-47s. His feet crunched on the blue Astroturf carpet. A soft breeze from the 14 fans spinning above eased through his hair. He sat down and for the next 59 minutes offered a mea culpa.
"I was a nervous wreck and scared to death to come up and talk about this today," Pettitte said. "I am relieved. I hate it."
Pettitte acquitted himself well enough, though he's fooling himself to believe his involvement ends with the tour. No matter how many times he says he's sorry, no matter how much of the truth he admits, no matter how heartfelt he is in quoting Bible verses – Romans 13:4-5, in case you were wondering, which outlines a Christian's obligation to government – Pettitte will forever have to answer questions, which makes his tack, that of complete honesty, a dangerous one.
His openness, so laudable, exposes him. Maybe that was the point. No performance-enhancing drug user since Ken Caminiti blew open the steroid secret has been as forthright as Pettitte. None has received the lauding Pettitte has, either. His vulnerability won hearts and minds. Pettitte is proof that perceived honesty and apology works.
In it came perhaps the most sincere commentary yet from a player. Pettitte said he didn't watch the Congressional hearings last week, but he did see Clemens' lawsuit against McNamee and hear the secret recordings of phone conversations and soak in the salacious nature of the case.
"I couldn't believe what was going on," Pettitte said. "The extent that stuff was going on. Taped phone calls and stuff like that. It was just strange to me.
"More than anything, I was just sad."
He's right. Everything performance-enhancing drugs touch is tinged with sadness, from Viera to Tampa to Kissimmee for the tour's final stop. We're sad the home run record is owned by an alleged juicer and we're sad the best pitcher of this generation is an alleged juicer and we're sad that in a time of such great baseball, with so many interesting, intelligent, fun-to-watch young players, that the specter of any and all of them juicing will remain for the breadth of their careers.
One person seemingly not sad Tuesday was Tejada. He traipsed into the Houston Astros clubhouse wearing a white Oakley hoodie with a Louis Vuitton man purse slung over his shoulder. He made sure to go around the room and shake the hand of everyone wearing an Astros jersey. No one ever accused him of being a bad teammate.
As Dave Borkowski sat by his locker doing a crossword puzzle and Lance Berkman stood in front of his changing into his uniform, a crescent of camera lights surrounded Tejada. Some foofs asked Tejada how he felt about joining his new team, which would have been like asking President Clinton about Buddy the Dog during the Lewinsky scandal.
Eventually, the questions worked toward all of the damning evidence in the Mitchell Report against Tejada. And every time, the same answer. "I can't really talk about that situation," he said.
"I can't really talk about that because it's not my position to talk about that," he said.
"Not at all," he said.
And that was it, a man wondering when he might get indicted keeping his mouth shut so as not to help the government's case. He might as well have pleaded the fifth.
The tour was over. No one asked for an encore.
- Paul Lo Duca
- Lo Duca