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Thom Loverro: Tejada case stimulates the feds’ taste for blood

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The cover of the Baltimore Orioles' 2005 media guide should wind up in Cooperstown if the Baseball Hall of Fame ever stages an exhibit to document the sport's steroid era.

Media guide covers are a team's sales pitch, the place a club usually puts its biggest attraction.

The sales pitch for the Orioles entering that season was a cover photo of their three biggest stars - Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.

By the end of that season, Palmeiro was a national disgrace, the first big star in baseball to have a positive steroids test become public. Tejada, with his so-called "B-12" vitamin shots, was rumored to be the Dr. Feelgood of the clubhouse. Sosa shrank to the size of a batboy by season's end - he was so broken down and bad that he was told to stay away from the team.

Who would have thought those were the good old days of the steroids scandal?

Since then, we've had the Mitchell Report, which documented widespread steroid use in the game and revealed the names of players who partook.

We've had the circus of the Roger Clemens hearing before Congress, and Clemens now may be charged with lying to that body.

We've had revelations of steroid use by Alex Rodriguez. I have a feeling these will be the good old days for A-Rod when all is said and done.

And now, here in the District, we have the first major league player about to be punished for a crime connected to the steroids scandal.

Tejada, now 34 and playing for the Houston Astros, is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday to be sentenced for lying to congressional investigators during the 2005 season. He pleaded guilty after he admitted he lied during an interview with federal investigators Aug. 26, 2005, when he told them he wasn't aware of any teammates using steroids.

The investigators were there to talk to Tejada about Palmeiro, who made an infamous appearance before Congress that March, shaking his finger at the panel and declaring he had never used steroids - only to have a positive steroids test surface months later. Palmeiro later suggested the positive test may have resulted from a B-12 shot he got from Tejada.

Tejada's name surfaced again when the Mitchell Report came out - this time former Oakland Athletics teammate Adam Piatt said he had spoken with Tejada about steroids and human growth hormone and had given Tejada two checks to buy HGH.

That opened the door for the feds to go back after Tejada, and you can reasonably assume he had conversations about illegal performance-enhancing substances with more players than just Adam Piatt.

And faced with the possibility of jail for lying to Congress, Tejada, you can reasonably assume, shared those names with the feds. That would explain his guilty plea and no call from prosecutors for jail time from the U.S. attorney's office, which recommended Tejada receive probation, pay a fine and perform community service.

Palmeiro ought to be concerned about such a plea agreement and the leniency request by prosecutors. No charges were filed against Palmeiro in 2005 because investigators reportedly could not put together a case with enough evidence to pursue a charge of lying to Congress. That may change now.

If so, the question is: Do the feds have enough of a taste for blood to dig up the Palmeiro case again?

They are stuck in a messy battle with Barry Bonds over allegations of perjury before a grand jury, and they are assembling a case charging Clemens with lying to Congress.

Do they want to put another high-profile athlete on trial?

The strategy in the battle against illegal performance-enhancing substances has shifted in the last few years away from just trying to catch abusers through testing.

Now the goal is to create a campaign of fear by aggressively pursuing any name that surfaces in a steroid probe.

The new strategy has been the far more effective of the two - athletes have seen the damage done to those who faced criminal charges and to those whose names surfaced in a court document or the Mitchell Report.

Unless that strategy has changed, Miguel Tejada's service to the community may involve more than just talking to kids about the evils of steroids.

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