With an apology to Congress, baseball fans and the kids who looked up to him, All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada received a sentence of one year of probation Thursday for misleading Congress about the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Tejada faced possible prison time, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay issued a sentence of probation, 100 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. Kay waived drug testing often required of other convicts on probation and said he wouldn't restrict the Houston Astros player's travel.
Tejada stood before the judge and gave a 45-second statement, speaking softly in accented English. He said he takes "full responsibility for not answering the question" and apologized to Congress, fans of his sport, "and especially the kids."
He added: "I learned a very important lesson."
Last month, the 34-year-old athlete pleaded guilty to withholding information when questioned by a House committee's investigators in August 2005 about an ex-teammate's use of steroids and human growth hormone.
He also acknowledged he bought HGH while playing for the Oakland Athletics, but said he threw the drugs away without using them. Prosecutors said they have no evidence to contradict that.
Tejada did not stop to take questions as he left the courtroom or on his way out of the building. Asked by a reporter if he was relieved, Tejada replied, "Yes."
"He's looking forward to playing ball," said one of his lawyers, Mark Tuohey.
The five-time All-Star and 2002 AL MVP is the first high-profile player convicted of a crime stemming from baseball's steroids era. He was sentenced at the same federal courthouse where a grand jury has been meeting to determine whether seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens should be indicted on charges of lying to Congress about whether he used steroids and human growth hormone.
Tejada faced up to a year imprisonment and a fine up to $100,000, but Kay followed the recommendation of prosecutors who said he deserved the lighter sentence. Prosecutors noted that a $5,000 fine should not be a hardship for Tejada, who has earned more than $50 million over his baseball career.
"We're happy that this issue is resolved," Astros general manager Ed Wade said in a statement released by the team. "Miguel can now focus on baseball and direct all of his energy toward being a key member of the Astros. It was resolved the way Miguel and his representatives believed it would be, and we can now all move forward."
U.S. Attorney Steven Durham told Kay that Tejada made a bad decision to mislead Congress.
"No one has that right -- not the people who are well-known, not the people who are unknown," Durham said. "Since that point and time, he's made a series of good choices."
Durham praised Tejada for lifting himself out of the depths of poverty in the Dominican Republic and described him as hardworking, a mentor to young players who gives back to the community and cares for his father. He also said Tejada has accepted responsibility for his crime, understood what he did was wrong and has no prior record.
Tuohey thanked the prosecutors for their gracious remarks and said he couldn't have said it better himself.
Kay told Tejada that he obviously was very successful through hard work and athletic skill, but that his achievements didn't minimize the seriousness of the crime. The judge said Congress was trying to protect baseball with its investigation, but he had no doubt that Tejada regretted his action. He said he hoped Tejada would use his status as a hero to young people to encourage disadvantaged youth and specifically tell them to avoid conduct that violates the law.
Tejada's case grew out of the March 17, 2005, congressional hearings on steroids in baseball at which Mark McGwire refused "to talk about the past," and Rafael Palmeiro -- Tejada's teammate with the Baltimore Orioles -- jabbed a finger toward lawmakers and denied taking steroids.
Palmeiro was suspended by baseball later that year after failing a drug test. That House panel looked into whether Palmeiro should be investigated for perjury; he said the positive test must have been caused by a tainted B-12 vitamin injection given to him by Tejada.
That led investigators to Tejada, who was questioned at a Baltimore hotel. He was not under oath, but court documents say he was advised "of the importance of providing truthful answers."
During that interview, Tejada told congressional staff "he had no knowledge of other players using or even talking about steroids or other banned substances," court documents say.
But in the Mitchell report, Oakland outfielder Adam Piatt is cited saying he discussed steroid use with Tejada and provided Tejada with testosterone and HGH. The report included copies of checks allegedly written by Tejada to Piatt in March 2003 for $3,100 and $3,200.
Congress decided not to ask the Justice Department to pursue charges against Palmeiro. But in January 2008, lawmakers referred Tejada to the Justice Department, a little more than a year before they asked that Clemens be investigated.