Blood Sport: A-Rod and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era

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9780147516268: Blood Sport: A-Rod and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era

“Blood Sport is riveting . . . a tragicomedy filled with characters straight out of a Carl Hiaasen novel.” —The Washington Post

The effects of the Biogenesis case—the biggest drug scandal in the history of American sports—are still being felt today. Fifteen Major League Baseball players were suspended, including Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, who returns to the field in 2015, after his record season-long steroids ban. Ten men were indicted in federal court. And a new MLB commissioner was elected based on his role leading the response to the case. Now, Tim Elfrink—who broke that first story in the Miami New Times—joins forces with Pulitzer Prize finalist investigative reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts to tell the shocking full story behind the headlines. Blood Sport blows the lid off the most expensive scandal in the history of the game, and now includes a brand new epilogue revealing the stunning aftermath of the scandal and its effects for years to come.

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About the Author:

TIM ELFRINK is the managing editor of the Miami New Times. He lives in Miami.

GUS GARCIA-ROBERTS is an award-winning investigative reporter for Newsday. He lives in Brooklyn.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE
A Cousin with a Rocket Launcher

The crisp ping of metal on rubber and hard cork echoed across the neatly trimmed fields just outside Birmingham, Alabama. A few dozen spectators in lawn chairs arched their necks in unison, tracking a softball arcing across the sky.

Tony Bosch was twenty-seven years old, with a preppy mop of black hair over thick eyebrows. He’d worked for years and spent thousands of dollars waiting for this moment.

When the final out of the game landed harmlessly in the outfielder’s glove, every fielder sprinted toward a second-base celebratory pile-on.

It was 1990, and the Miami Meds were national softball champions.

Bosch hadn’t played an inning of the tournament. But like an extremely low-rent George Steinbrenner striking deals for beer-bellied all-stars, he was the man who’d made this title happen. Ever since he’d grown up obsessed with baseball in Queens, New York, Bosch had struggled to find a way into the game. Too short and slow to stick as a player, he’d long since abandoned his dream of smacking game-winning homers like his childhood New York Mets heroes Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones.

But here, in the intensely competitive late ’80s and early ’90s Miami softball circuit, where coke dealers funded teams like glamour projects and major league stars including Jose and Ozzie Canseco showed up to bash slow-pitched leather grapefruits over the wall, Bosch had found his niche.

He’d turned his medical supply company—Miami Med Marketing, Inc.—into one of the biggest sponsors in the local league, drawing top-notch league players and even a few former college stars to wear nylon tributes to his beloved Mets.

On weeknights after work and weekend mornings before games, he’d obsess over statistics and watch video of his upcoming opponents. He’d fill notebooks with his neat, all-caps handwriting, plotting out who would pinch-hit, how he’d arrange his fielders for each batter, and what situational matchups he’d expect. On game day, he’d be on the bench commanding the field. Every once in a while, if the game was a blowout, he might even pencil in his own name and take an at-bat or two.

“For Tony, this was absolutely a passion. He put in just an incredible amount of time and money,” says Roger De Armas, a lifelong friend and Tony’s partner in Miami Meds, both the company and the softball team. “He was super excited to win it all.”

Sure, it was far from Major League Baseball, but on that night in Alabama, softball brought Tony a joy as unalloyed and pure as he’d felt as a kid watching the 1969 Miracle Mets hustle their way to a World Series ring.

Anyone who knew Tony knew that he truly loved baseball. But moments like this, where the game returned the affection, were rare. In truth, Tony Bosch’s relationship with the game more closely mirrored the doomed marriages and acrimonious business partnerships that stalked his life. The ill-fated flirtation ended with a historic scandal and attorneys brawling on Park Avenue.

Tony’s family came from a nation with its own conflicted relationship with baseball. In Cuba, politics and sports were often intertwined, as was violence. That explosive strand ran through the Bosch family history.

His father, Pedro, was born on October 19, 1937, in Jatibonico, a hamlet of forty thousand people right in the center of the Cuban island. More than two hundred miles southeast of bustling, cosmopolitan Havana, with its world-famous casinos and brothels, and nearly as far from the cooling ocean currents of the Caribbean coast, Jatibonico was sun-baked and fly-ridden. It was the sort of unpaved provincial town a gifted student like Pedro fled as soon as he could.

He did so in September 1955. The noisy chaos of Havana would have been a shock for any seventeen-year-old from the sticks, but Pedro Bosch must have felt especially small when he arrived at the University of Havana and enrolled in the school of medicine. The first mention of his name placed him in the shadow of a revolutionary cousin who was already a towering figure at the med school.

Orlando Bosch was nine years older than Pedro, from an even smaller Cuban village eighty miles west of Jatibonico. Like his younger first cousin, he was too talented and restless for life in a country town.

During his own tenure at the university, Orlando had become chums with a loquacious, brilliantly charismatic classmate named Fidel Castro. Orlando’s and Fidel’s paths followed close trajectories: As the fiery Orlando fought his way to become president of the medical students, the captivating Fidel won the same leadership role in the law school.

They both loathed Cuba’s corrupt, American-supported puppet regime, especially after a puffed-up military officer named Fulgencio Batista grabbed power in a 1952 coup. The palm-shaded university campus became ground zero for dissent, and Bosch and Castro were among the most active student leaders. The pair regularly plotted revolution in the school’s decaying, Greek-inspired buildings.

Fidel turned Cuba upside down starting in late 1956, when he crash-landed a yacht filled with rebels to spark a bloody three-year revolution. But during their school years, Orlando Bosch was arguably the more feared of the two campus leaders. His fellow med students had nicknamed him Piro, short for pyromaniac, as a nod to his explosive temper. During one campus uprising, he famously punched a police lieutenant.

Pedro arrived at the school two years after Orlando graduated. The older cousin had briefly lived in the United States, studying pediatrics at an Ohio university, before returning to his native province to become the first doctor administering polio vaccine in the rural area. Pedro was an equally proficient student. He earned a spot at the Calixto Garcia Hospital in downtown Havana and worked his way from the ob-gyn department to general surgery.

During the revolution, Orlando was a leader of the 26th of July Movement, Fidel’s revolutionary organization, in his native Santa Clara Province. Orlando met guerrilla forces in the rugged mountains around central Cuba, plotting attacks on Batista’s garrisons and communicating with Fidel and his revolutionary leader, Che Guevara.

While Orlando was fighting through the jungle with Fidel and Che, Pedro learned medicine. As Fidel’s rebels and Batista’s soldiers massacred one another, Pedro Bosch tended to patients and studied with physicians at Calixto Garcia. As Che and Castro led the decisive final march into Havana in 1959, which finally ended with Batista being ousted from power, Bosch worked in the surgery department. At school, he met another young med student named Stella, whom he soon married.

But if the teenager from Jatibonico mirrored his famous cousin in smarts and medical proficiency, he lacked Orlando’s explosive political gene. Pedro hadn’t escaped dusty Jatibonico and learned medicine in order to practice it for a pittance in a Socialist paradise.

In 1961, soon after Castro cemented his new revolutionary Marxist government, Pedro and Stella fled the island to Miami. Pedro and his wife then moved to New York, settling into a small Cuban niche in Astoria, Queens. In 1963, Tony was born. As Pedro perfected his credentials, at one point moving alone to Spain to complete his training at a Madrid university, Stella remained behind with baby Tony.

In a New York neighborhood packed with Greeks, the Bosches joined a budding network of other Cuban immigrants who had escaped Fidel’s reign. These countrymen included Roger De Armas’s parents.

Roger’s earliest memories in New York are of watching baseball with kindergarten-aged Tony Bosch, who loved playing catch in the street and talking about his hometown team.

“Tony always had his hands on a baseball,” Roger remembers.

The New York Mets were a team only a six-year-old could truly love. They were nearly the same age as Tony Bosch, in fact, and their pedigree was that of the worst team in history, playing in garish orange-and-blue uniforms in a concrete stadium in New York City’s blue-collar borough.

As the 1969 season kicked off, Bosch was just old enough to start seriously idolizing the boys of summer down the road. For most of the year, the Mets looked like they’d be adding another tally to their long losing streak. By August 13, the team was ten games behind the first-place Cubs.

Then miracles started happening by the filthy Flushing Bay. Led by fireballing young aces Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and unlikely offensive heroes like the workmanlike Ron Swoboda, the Mets reeled off thirty-four wins while losing only seventeen in the season’s final two months. In the end, they powered past the Cubs and into the playoffs. Then, even more improbably, the Amazin’s swept the Braves to win the National League and destroyed the Orioles 4–1 in the World Series. The Miracle Mets were world champs, and young Tony Bosch—listening in on the radio, catching glimpses on the TV—was hooked.

The next year, Pedro earned a residency in the ER at Miami’s North Shore Medical Center, and soon thereafter, young Tony packed up his Seaver posters, his bat, and his glove, and moved with his parents to Coral Gables, the leafy, moneyed neighborhood that’s home to the University of Miami.

While Pedro followed an ambitious career track, his notorious cousin had gone well off the rails. Orlando Bosch, like many formerly in Fidel Castro’s camp, had quickly come to believe that “El Comandante” was just as bad or worse than the despotic president he’d overthrown.

Orlando had also moved to Miami, harboring his incongruous cocktail of medicine and violence. He was fired from his position as assistant director of a hospital after his bosses found out he’d been storing bombs there. In 1964, he’d been caught towing a homemade torpedo through downtown Miami during rush hour. In 1966, rural sheriffs in Central Florida had stopped Orlando’s rickety Cadillac convertible and found six one-hundred-pound aerial bombs in the trunk.

And in 1968, Orlando had pulled his car over to the shoulder of the MacArthur Causeway, the highway spanning Biscayne Bay between South Beach and downtown Miami alongside the Port of Miami. He calmly opened his trunk, pulled out a fifty-seven-millimeter bazooka, and took aim at a Communist Polish freighter docked across the water.

Passing motorists gaped as he pulled the trigger. The rocket whistled over Government Cut and sizzled past docked ships before bouncing off the freighter and falling harmlessly into the channel.

And in 1976, when thirteen-year-old Anthony Bosch was in middle school, Orlando was tied to a far more atrocious crime while out on parole from the bazooka attack.

Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 had taken off from Barbados’s Seawell Airport bound for Jamaica on October 6, 1976. Among the seventy-three passengers were twenty-four members of Cuba’s national fencing team, which had just won gold at a competition of Central American and Caribbean nations. Eleven minutes after takeoff, two dynamite bombs wired with timers ripped through the jet.

The plane plummeted eighteen thousand feet into the Caribbean. All passengers on board died. Twelve days later, Bosch was arrested with another notorious Cuban terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, in Venezuela and charged as the leader of the operation. He was ultimately acquitted in that country due to a lack of admissible evidence. Later-declassified American covert records incriminated him in the attack, though he continued claiming his innocence until his death in 2011.

The bombing monopolized Miami newspaper ink for months, and teenage Tony was linked by his last name to the most infamous Cuban terrorist. “Of course everyone knew they were related,” De Armas says. “[But]it’s not like Orlando was dropping by family barbecues, and they sure didn’t bring him up. Having a cousin who blows up airliners isn’t the kind of thing that you talk about a lot in public.”

• • •

Tony’s own upbringing in Miami was a world away from Third World environs and militant activism. He was a baseball-obsessed doctor’s son, and in 1979 he enrolled as a freshman at the exclusive Christopher Columbus High School. An all-boys Catholic institution just west of Coral Gables, Columbus boasted one of the best academic programs in Dade County. Tony’s fellow alumni included CEOs, a county mayor, the official poet at Barack Obama’s 2013 presidential inauguration—and several professional baseball players.

The late ’70s were a boom time for baseball in the Magic City. For nearly two decades, refugees from hardball-crazy Cuba like the Bosch family had been finding political refuge in Little Havana and Hialeah. They joined growing communities in the city from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and every other Latin baseball powerhouse. The city was a simmering hotbed for young players.

In fact, as Tony showed up for his freshman year, one of the best—and most hated—baseball players of his generation enrolled at Miami Coral Park High School, just a mile north of Columbus. Like Bosch, Jose Canseco’s parents had fled Castro’s Cuba for Miami. And just like Bosch, presteroidal Canseco struggled for playing time in a talent pool of mammoth boys.

Miami’s high school teams had never been more stacked. “I didn’t even make the varsity team until my senior year of high school,” Canseco wrote in his first memoir, Juiced. “How many future major leaguers can you say that about?”

A short way south, Tony Bosch didn’t make any more of a splash at Columbus High. He’d started playing on youth teams at the Big Five Club, an exilio institution in west Miami founded by the members of Havana’s five most prestigious country clubs. But Tony never really filled out. By the time he showed up at Columbus, his unathletic build was already beginning to betray him.

And the Columbus baseball program was filthy with talent, both playing and coaching. The varsity squad included future big leaguer Orestes Destrade and Seattle Mariners draftee David Hartnett. The JV squad’s head coach that year was a fresh-faced twenty-four-year-old who had agreed to teach at Columbus while he looked for a job as a baseball broadcaster. His name was Jim Hendry, and the few years he spent working his way up the coaching ranks at Columbus propeled him on to the most remarkable baseball career of any alum, including a nine-year stint as the Chicago Cubs general manager and vice president.

Hendry now works in the New York Yankees’ front office, a workplace in which Bosch’s name later became toxic. But the former Columbus coach can’t add much to the portrait of the steroid dealer as a young athlete. “I don’t remember this guy being much of a player at all,” Hendry says. “If he was, he would’ve stuck with me.”

“He was not a significant player on our team,” agrees teammate Mickey Maspons.

Nick Martin-Hidalgo, another member of that freshman squad, is even more blunt: “He was no good,” he says. “He spent a lot of time on the bench.”

Christopher Columbus president Jim Bernhardt calls Bosch “just a shadow in the park.”

Look at the team’s yearbook photo and it’s easy to see why. Even among the fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds in blue polyester Columbus jerseys, he looks small. Dark hair hangs over his eyes as he peers out past the shoulder of a larger, already more muscular teammate.

Bosch got the message. He never played competitive baseball again after his freshman year. But that doesn’t mean he stopped thinking about how to find his way back in.

Preppy and privileged, teenage Tony Bosch couldn’t have seemed more distant from his bomb-building cousin. But maybe he did share some ...

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