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Chasing A-Rod

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Rodriguez with his lawyer Joe Tacopina outside Major League Baseball headquarters, September 30.  

The New Times story offered a road map, but it would mean little without the notebooks themselves. Selig dispatched the head of his investigations unit, a former New York City cop named Dan Mullin, who had a team of a dozen investigators working for him, along with local private detectives.

Some witnesses were offered six-figure sums for information or documents—Carbone said he was offered $200,000. If money didn’t work, tougher tactics were tried. One of Rodriguez’s trainers, Bruli Medina Reyes, initially said he saw someone inject Rodriguez with drugs but later repudiated his statement, maintaining that MLB investigators had threatened him by suggesting that his visa to the United States would be in danger if he didn’t work with them. Patrick Houlihan, a lawyer for MLB, called up one potential witness, Marcelo Albir, and left a voice-mail: “We may need to involve law enforcement.” And Mullin even slept with one potential witness, according to the witness. (Rodriguez’s attorneys later paid $105,000 for text messages between Mullin and the witness.)

For all the bullying, by mid-February, MLB wasn’t any closer to the notebooks. Then the phone rang. It was Fischer. He had a copy of the notebooks on a flash drive—and it might be available.

Fischer wanted to change his life, and why shouldn’t he benefit from the commotion he’d started? “All I know is there’s a lot of people making fucking money,” he complained to several people.

In the back of an SUV, an investigator handed Fischer an envelope with $5,000 in cash in return for a sample of the documents. Fischer wasn’t impressed. “I wanted fucking out of it,” he told a friend. He wanted to disappear, start over. In the next few months, he started drinking heavily, holed up in the guesthouse. He wanted a new home and thought he would get help setting up a tanning business. Major League Baseball’s offer eventually climbed to $125,000, and there was vague talk of a job. But Fischer was offended by these blandishments—what was offered wasn’t enough to protect him.

Fuck you, he thought. He rejected the $125,000 offer, after which Mullin stopped calling.

When the New Times story broke, Rodriguez was in the early stages of rebranding, beginning to look beyond baseball—and beyond his tabloid ubiquity—to another kind of life. He was impressed by figures like Magic Johnson, who’d transformed his basketball genius into enlightened moguldom. A-Rod was already a philanthropist, spreading his wealth around South Florida, where he’d grown up. He’d given $1 million to the Miami-Dade Boys and Girls Club, whose couch he slept on as a kid while waiting for his mother to get off her second job, and $3.9 million to the University of Miami to rebuild a baseball field he’d snuck into as a kid. But A-Rod got little credit for his generosity. The media in fact reported that he was stingy.

And so he’d taken meetings with L.A. public-relations man Mike Sitrick, whose specialty is “reputation enhancement” and who’d done work for Rodriguez’s friend Kobe Bryant, among other clients. Like Bryant, Rodriguez faced another reputational challenge: messy and very public marital discord. Sitrick suggested to Rodriguez that he might be repositioned as someone with broad interests and wide-ranging successes off the field—people might like to know that he’s an art collector, for instance, and a very successful businessman.

Rodriguez wasn’t like his buddy Jay Z, whose investments bring as much glamour as wealth. Rodriguez had always run scared; he figured he was one twisted ankle away from unemployment. “Signing my contract when I was 17 years old at the Grand Bay Hotel of Miami,” he said, “I knew that day that the end was close.” For A-Rod, business was a hedge. “Eventually, my W-2 income will wind down, and my investments can actually make that up.”

Rodriguez was a cautious, deliberate businessman who went into decidedly unglamorous businesses—gyms, car dealerships, low-end real estate. He was dully practical—“very slow, very methodical, very boring, one step at a time,” he explained to me. “There’s nothing wrong with a 6 percent yield when you’re making good W-2 income.” The real-estate company he founded in the mid-aughts, Newport Property Ventures, owns 6,000 rental units (and manages an additional 6,000), which throws off substantial income. Altogether, Rodriguez earns as much as $20 million a year from non-baseball sources.

More and more, A-Rod thought of himself as a businessman as well as a ballplayer. As he barnstormed the country with one baseball team or another, he reached out to CEOs, who were his idols. “They want to talk to me about baseball,” he said. “I want to talk to them about business.” Rodriguez dined with Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, and golfed with Bill Gates, and when his contract talks with the Yankees stalled in 2007, he phoned his friend Warren Buffett for advice—Buffett told him to deal directly; he did, signing for $275 million.


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