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Chasing A-Rod

The struggle between Major League Baseball and one of its greatest hitters over steroids is total war—fought with six-figure payoffs in the tanning salons and strip malls of South Florida.

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I first met Alex Rodriguez at the Delano, the chic South Beach hotel in his hometown of Miami. In the rear of the outdoor restaurant where I waited, a towering white curtain substituted for a wall—like the curtain of a theater. Rodriguez entered stage right, his chin tucked into his chest to avoid recognition, wearing a dark-navy tracksuit and sneakers. He sat down and looked at me brightly—his eyes are a startling hazel. He was oddly upbeat given his current situation, fighting for his professional life after Major League Baseball accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs and suspended him for 211 games, a penalty that could very well end his career.

The drama had made him both combative and reflective. He recalled that when he played on the national youth team, a Major League scout approached him. “I’ll never forget what he said to me,” Rodriguez said. “ ‘If you don’t fuck this up, son, you’ll be the first pick.’ ” He had just finished his junior year of high school. “It kind of paralyzed me a little bit.” On the same trip, the same day, he recalled, he met Scott ­Boras, the superagent, who told Rodriguez he wanted to represent him when he was ready to go professional. “I’m like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ And from that day forward, my life’s been kind of different.” Later, Boras helped negotiate the contract that made him the highest-paid player in the history of baseball.

The story A-Rod tells about himself is one of damage amid enormous success, of someone who closed himself off, a kid with an absent father who missed his adolescence and young-adulthood while pursuing a singular dream. In our conversations, he mentioned his age—38—several times. He’s obviously exhausted; whatever happens, a page is being turned. “It’s a game that just takes so much out of you. Every aspect of your life has to be very narrow, very focused. Everything else has to go away. And because of that, I think it’s obviously not healthy.” He was quick to add: “The last thing I’m looking for is sympathy.”

The subtext, unspoken but ever present, is that A-Rod knows chapter and verse what sportswriters and fans and sometimes teammates and coaches have said about him: “A selfish prick,” as one member of his entourage put it. By this point, it’s a voice in his head. He’s spent the last few years thinking about it, evaluating his flaws as a human being, wondering what his role in the creation of his image has been, and hoping that it can be undone.

For all the attorneys and corporate interests and publicists and vast sums of money at stake, the surprising thing about the A-Rod scandal is how personal it is. Rob Manfred, the COO of Major League Baseball, has called A-Rod “tarnished” and privately fumed that he had “besmirched” baseball. In Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame–induction weekend, Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, was heard saying that he hated A-Rod and was going to enjoy ejecting him from baseball, according to one news report. (MLB denies Selig mentioned Rodriguez.) A-Rod’s own team seems disgusted with him. Brian Cashman, the Yankees general manager, possibly not unhappy to rid himself of Rodriguez’s huge contract, said in public last summer that A-Rod should “shut the fuck up.”

Epic as it’s been, there’s a pettiness and a tactical ugliness to the struggle, along with a roster of hustlers out of an Elmore Leonard novel. Cars were burglarized; secret films were made and sold. Whatever its results, the investigation of Alex Rodriguez will have tainted everyone it touched.

The largest drug scandal in the history of baseball started over $4,000. The money was a debt owed to Porter Fischer, a steroid user who was involved with the South Florida clinic known as Biogenesis, through which Rodriguez is alleged to have procured his performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). ­Fischer, well built and extravagantly tanned, possessed many large ideas about his future, which reality seemed determined to frustrate. He’d bounced around with little purpose, from managing a theme park to a couple of years at National Tobacco, until he was fired for selling samples on eBay. Lately, he had been describing himself as a freelance marketer and lived in a guesthouse in his mother’s backyard.

Then, one day in March 2011, Fischer’s luck changed. He was hit by a car, and not just any car—it was a Jaguar. Injuring his knee, he received a settlement of $35,000, after which he started telling people, “I came into a little money.”

Fischer (who through a lawyer declined to comment for this article) spent a surprising amount of his cash at tanning salons. He liked a spray-on tan. “Some people like to paint, some people like origami; I enjoy tanning. I’ll take the jokes,” he told a friend. For a time, his favorite was Boca Tanning Club in Coral Gables, owned by a former New Yorker named Pete Carbone. It was there that Fischer met the pivotal player in the A-Rod drama, Tony Bosch, or Dr. Tony Bosch, as he called himself, though it would turn out he wasn’t licensed to practice medicine. Bosch worked at an anti-aging clinic in the back of Carbone’s salon. Fischer decided to give it a try. He told Bosch that he was feeling a middle-aged sag: lack of energy, weight gain. Is this all there is? he wondered.


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