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.
“Where do you want to be?” asked Bosch, according to the Miami New Times.
“Well, in a perfect world, I’d like a Stallone body,” Fischer said.
“We can get you there,” Bosch told him. For $300 or so a month, Bosch had him on a program that included human growth hormone and testosterone.
Fischer was ecstatic with the results. In a matter of months, he dropped more than 40 pounds and acquired a newly chiseled physique. He was by nature an enthusiast, and was so pleased with Bosch’s treatments that he wanted to work for him. By then, Bosch had relocated his operation to a strip mall. That’s around the time Fischer tried to persuade Bosch to hire him as marketing director—Bosch, after all, didn’t even have a sign on the door. Fischer, not one to keep such things quiet, also mentioned the windfall he’d received. Bosch didn’t think he needed a marketing director, but he agreed to let Fischer work in his office as essentially an unpaid intern. He was interested in Fischer for something else. Bosch was experiencing a “slight cash-flow issue,” and asked Fischer to lend him some money. Fischer, eager to please, wrote him a check for $4,000, which Bosch promised to repay in biweekly installments and with interest.
Bosch made two payments but then stopped. He claimed he didn’t have the money, and seemed to enjoy rubbing it in. “I’m Dr. Tony Bosch,” he told Fischer. “What are you going to do about it?”
One reason Bosch didn’t want a marketing director may have been that he didn’t exactly want to be noticed. “He was always trying to fix his life,” says Bosch’s first wife, Tiki Rodriguez (no relation to Alex). Then one day he stumbled onto a particularly rich clientele. A sports agent came to him. He had a ballplayer who was about to become a free agent, and his performance was way off. Bosch looked at his blood work. It was obvious he was using banned substances; he was just using them wrong. Bosch adjusted the schedule, and the guy started smacking the ball. And, as important, he avoided detection. Bosch boasted that he was 30 years ahead of the drug testers.
Suddenly, athletes were knocking at the door. Athletes paid more—sometimes ten times as much as regular patients. Bosch prided himself on a certain ethical flexibility: If they want to take banned substances, that’s on their head.
Bosch’s brush-off infuriated Fischer, who still had the run of the Biogenesis office. He became obsessed with revenge. “It was then I started collecting the documents,” Fischer said. Among the first items he stole were Bosch’s personal notebooks.
At first, Fischer didn’t have anything specific in mind for the four black-and-white composition notebooks. Then, flipping through them, he recognized a few names from among the hundreds listed. He wasn’t a baseball fan, but even he had heard of Alex Rodriguez, one of twenty Major League ballplayers who MLB later said were linked to the clinic. Fischer walked his trove into the Miami New Times, a free weekly newspaper whose parent company also owns The Village Voice. Reporters spent months corroborating the contents. Before publishing on January 29, the paper called subjects for reaction, which is when Fischer’s life began to blow up. He hadn’t taken into account the damage he could do to people’s reputations—not just those of ballplayers, but of coaches, trainers, hangers-on, and tough guys, at least some of them on steroids.
Fischer has said he got a phone call from Carbone, his friend from Boca Tanning Club.
“You’re in danger,” Carbone shouted into the phone. “You’re going to be killed.” That was the word “on the street,” Carbone said.
Carbone drove to Fischer’s house. Fischer hid in a Honda parked in the driveway, afraid that Carbone intended to do the job himself. He had his own gun loaded and cocked. But Carbone was there to talk.
“What do you really want?” Carbone shouted at Fischer, as if inviting him to name a figure.
“I want the fucker to pay for fucking me over. I want my fucking money back.”
“I can do that,” said Carbone. Fischer went to his closet, dug under a pile of clothes, fished out the notebooks, and handed them to Carbone.
The next day at the tanning club, Carbone gave Fischer $4,000.
For Major League Baseball, the New Times bombshell was an epic embarrassment. Bud Selig, 79, who earns a superstar’s salary of $22 million a year as commissioner, hoped to be remembered as the guy who, in his twenty-plus-year reign, cleaned up baseball through an aggressive drug-testing program—not the one who’d presided over the “steroids era” of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and others, during which one congressman called for Selig’s resignation. Yet none of the fourteen players later suspended had tested positive for banned substances. There was no way to undo the harm of the lax testing, but a vigorous investigation followed by harsh sanctions might cauterize the problem and safeguard at least some of his legacy. And Rodriguez, with all his flaws and his huge contract and, MLB believed, his constant violations, was an inviting target.
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.
Sitrick’s firm proposed reaching out to business magazines for a possible cover, an idea A-Rod liked.
And then the story broke, and his priorities abruptly shifted. Sitrick advised him to take the high road, issuing a few lawyerly statements. But Rodriguez was seething.
In South Florida, MLB was frustrated. Investigators were still pounding on doors, but the holy grail of the notebooks was eluding them. Then a guy calling himself “Bobby from Boca” phoned MLB headquarters. He had a flash-drive copy of the notebooks, too.
Bobby’s real name is Gary Jones. He turned out to be the most important middleman in the whole affair—a South Florida Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca. He met me at a Starbucks in Deerfield, outside of Boca Raton. He’s a big man, six-two, 285, with thick hands and a head the size of a car battery. He was dressed in a faded blue T-shirt and basketball shorts. The outfit and presentation are calculated, he told me in a gravelly voice.
“You don’t mind playing dumb,” I said.
“Complete idiot,” he said. Complete idiot. Being underestimated gives him an advantage, he thinks.
In fact, Jones is as crafty as they come. He’s a seasoned ex-con with an unerring instinct for maximizing an opportunity. He was proud of his bank-robbing feats, and mashed a finger into the table as he recounted them: “I got $262,000 from one bank and then, 24 hours later, $190,000 from another.” He backed his truck up to the wall. “I ripped out the night-deposit boxes. When it came off, the bags [of money] went everywhere.”
Jones retired from crime, he said, after spending three years in federal prison, and recently made a living in the tanning industry, which is how he met Porter Fischer, who’d been commiserating with him throughout the drama.
Jones almost felt sorry for Fischer. “He was stupid,” said Jones. “He didn’t know how to make money. That was ridiculous going to New Times.”
Jones said he “obtained” flash drives from Fischer, though Fischer doesn’t recall giving him one.
Jones had followed Fischer’s disastrous negotiations with MLB—and once they crashed, he leaped into the breach. He began by making a market. Bobby from Boca cold-called A-Rod’s camp, which wasn’t interested, nor was the “handler” of Ryan Braun, another player linked to Biogenesis. He even called the Baseball Hall of Fame, figuring he could sell the documents as memorabilia.
Then he reached MLB.
“A few hundred thousand isn’t going to hurt you,” Jones said. Mullin flew down from New York. They finally agreed on a price of $125,000, which Jones knew was what Fischer was offered. Jones wanted cash.
In March, Jones met Mullin at the Cosmos Diner on East Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach. Jones and Mullin sat at a booth, Jones in his usual shorts. Mullin pushed a yellowish envelope across the table. Inside were $100 bills in bands of $1,000, which, in turn, were in bands of $10,000.
An MLB spokesman insisted its investigators didn’t know the documents were stolen. If that’s true, they were the only ones in South Florida who didn’t.
Jones, who has a flawless instinct for such things, knew that sliding cash across a table didn’t exactly look like the way an upstanding institution should do business. It was, in his mind, one more opportunity to be monetized. From a booth across the room, Jones had a buddy film the meeting on an iPhone, which he later sold to Rodriguez for $200,000, who planned to use it to focus attention on MLB’s tactics. (Rodriguez insisted that Jones fill out an IRS W-9 form.)
At Starbucks, I was listening to Jones’s tale of outmaneuvering just about everyone, missing my flight back to New York.
“I know the whole story,” Jones told me, but, of course, he’s not giving it away. “You should buy it from me,” he said.
“I can’t do that,” I told him.
He wasn’t upset. “I did pretty good already,” he said, and then drove off in his powder-blue vintage Mercedes.
The notebooks are strange documents. They’re written in blocky capital letters, a running stream of consciousness over four years, 2009 through 2012. In part, they’re a dream journal by a man with grandiose dreams. Bosch sketches out business plans one after another. He will go national, then global; he will open a chain of retail outlets that will stock his line of private-label products. He wants not only fortune—“a yacht” and “a plane”—but prestige. He imagines selling off an interest in the business to fund a stem-cell-research-and-therapy institute. He searches for the right title for himself. He lists “founder,” “chairman,” “CEO,” though in the end he goes with the more distinguished “physician scientist.” Of course, he is neither.
The pages are a place to dream big, but even here a meaner reality nips at his heels. Next to one business plan, Bosch listed personal problems to deal with: IRS, child support (which he was always behind on), smoking, finances in general. Indeed, most of the notebooks are about money he’s owed. They’re a running debt ledger, like a bookie might keep. There are lists of hundreds of names, each with a number next to it, the amount owed.
MLB was only interested in a small part of what Bosch had written. One page caught investigators’ attention. At the bottom of one lined page from 2012 is written the name “A-Rod.” Under it is the alleged protocol, which included what Bosch said were code words for HGH and other banned substances. But as tantalizing as that was, it didn’t mean anything. Maybe Bosch was listing Rodriguez the way he listed a yacht and a plane—things he’d like to have.
Without Bosch (who through a lawyer declined to comment for this article) to explain and authenticate the notebooks, they were useless against Rodriguez. Of course, if A-Rod could get Bosch to refute the charges, Major League Baseball’s case would disappear. So it was a race. The problem was that Bosch had disappeared.
By August, baseball had reached an agreement with thirteen other ballplayers whose names were linked to Biogenesis. They accepted suspensions of 50 to 65 games. But Selig had imposed a 211-game suspension on Rodriguez, claiming that he’d used the drugs for longer than the other players and also that he’d worked to “obstruct and frustrate” their investigation, though it wasn’t specified how. The suspension might end his career. And it would also be expensive. If he didn’t play, he’d potentially lose more than $30 million next season.
So, with little to lose, A-Rod chose to fight, assembling a squad of big-name lawyers. For lead litigator he chose Joe Tacopina, a fierce cross-examiner who, as a college hockey player, had spent a lot of minutes in the penalty box. Tacopina et al. went to war, filing suit against MLB in October, accusing it of a “witch hunt.” For good measure, they sued a Yankees doctor for allegedly trying to ruin A-Rod’s playing career, accusing him of medical malpractice and lack of informed consent. Rodriguez replaced the restrained Sitrick with Berk Communications, a small shop founded by Ron Berkowitz, who’d come up through the celebrity and high-end-restaurant circuits but had a crucial advantage: Berk actually liked A-Rod. And then, as the last element of his dream team, Rodriguez signed up Andy O’Connell of Guidepost Solutions, which had helped clear the sexual-assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn by exposing the questionable background of his accuser.
O’Connell’s first task was to get to Bosch before MLB. Before he’d disappeared, Bosch seemed to be on Rodriguez’s side. He had released a statement through his lawyer denying that he’d given any banned substances to MLB players. If he’d sign an affidavit to that effect, it was game over.
Since his character is part of the story, Rodriguez wanted me to talk to a character witness, and his choice was an odd one: Cynthia, his ex-wife. “You’re going to love her. She’s an amazing lady. I love her to pieces,” he said, “and she’s one of my best friends.”
Cynthia met me in a café in Coconut Grove and then a second time in the elegant though hardly ostentatious home she designed on Biscayne Bay. She’s not just toned but muscular, an attractive, petite blonde with smooth skin and piercing eyes and two bright diamond earrings. She met Rodriguez when he was 21 and she was 22. She wasn’t a sports fan. He told her he played baseball. “That’s great, but what do you really do?” she’d said. Cynthia is a traditional girl from a close-knit, religious family who lived a few blocks from her parents for a time—and she was a college graduate, which impressed Rodriguez. She’d earned a master’s degree in psychology and had practiced as a therapist.
She had every reason in the world to dislike Rodriguez. He’d humiliated her in the press; there were reports of Madonna and Rodriguez together shortly after the birth of their second child. But five years later—they divorced in 2008—she simply said, “I was disappointed.” She still esteems him. In the aftermath of the separation, he was generous and thoughtful. “He really made sure that everything was taken care of,” she told me. “It was a very nurturing process.” For her, that wasn’t an exception. “I saw something in him that I still see in him, and what I see is still very good.”
But she also sees damage. She spooled out the now-familiar story as to its causes. His father left the family when Alex was 10; he lived with his mother and lost touch with his father. The absence of a father made him the man of the house, big pressure for a teenager. “I was in a full sprint to make sure my mother never worked again,” he said.
Rodriguez’s success added to the emotional distortion. “Everything was about growing him as a baseball player,” Cynthia said. “He wasn’t learning anything but how to hit the fastball.
“What happens to everything else? It’s stunted, completely.” Without an authority figure, he listened willy-nilly to the advice of whoever was with him at the time.
“I used to say to Alex, ‘Don’t you just know what to do? Don’t you just have that voice in your head that tells you?’ He said, ‘No. I don’t.’ I think, looking back, he was probably uncomfortable with his place in the world.”
Later, when their marriage was crumbling, Cynthia thought a lot about Rodriguez’s issues. One day, she ran into Cal Ripken, one of his baseball heroes and a friend.
“What is it about Alex that I’m not seeing?” she asked Ripken. “What is it that I don’t get?”
“Cynthia, let me tell you the problem,” he said, and told her a story. “I might be wearing a suit, and Alex will see me and say, ‘Cal, I love your suit. Where did you get that suit?’ Then somebody else might walk in the locker room, and they have a completely different kind of suit on. And Alex might say, ‘Hey, I love your suit.’
“Cynthia, he tries to please everyone. That’s the problem.”
Rodriguez would often be charged with insincerity, but Cynthia didn’t see it that way. “He’s trying to say the right thing, trying to fit in. I would say immature, not insincere.”
At the end of May, Team A-Rod got what seemed to be a crucial break. O’Connell’s people got a cryptic call. A man on the phone said Bosch wanted to meet. A rendezvous was set up at a restaurant in the lobby of the Fortune House, a condominium development.
At the appointed time, Bosch appeared. He looked a little bedraggled. He’d been staying at a hotel under an assumed name. O’Connell, a lean, shaven-headed former federal prosecutor, came armed with an affidavit asserting that Bosch hadn’t administered PEDs to Rodriguez, as he’d seemed to indicate in his carefully worded public statement issued through his lawyer five months earlier. O’Connell handed it across the table.
Bosch examined the document. He’d always wanted to be seen as a stand-up guy, not a rat. Earlier, Rodriguez had given him $25,000 to retain a lawyer, which looked suspicious to MLB, but Bosch was grateful. He felt he and A-Rod were in this together.
Now, however, Bosch was noncommittal. To O’Connell, he seemed to be feeling out the situation, pondering the amount a signature on the document might cost. “I lost a $5 million business,” Bosch said, “and I don’t have $125 million like a ballplayer.”
O’Connell told Bosch he wasn’t authorized to pay him anything but said he would take a request back to the lawyers. He pressed. “What do you want?”
Bosch was cagey and vague. “I got it, I figured it out. I’ll get back to you,” was all he said, and he left.
Now it was MLB’s turn, and Rob Manfred, a gap-toothed, intense, Harvard-trained lawyer, had come up with an ingenious stratagem to exert leverage. MLB sued Bosch (and several others) for “tortious interference.” By delivering performance-enhancing drugs to Major League players, the suit charges, Bosch had somehow interfered with MLB’s joint drug agreement. It was far-fetched, to say the least, but a brilliant tactical move.
Bosch had gotten the message from MLB, and it struck hard. He didn’t have the funds to contest a lawsuit. “You can’t fight Major League Baseball,” said a person close to him. “You have to deal.” And then, cunningly, MLB had sued Bosch’s brother as well, who had a lot to lose. A phone call was placed to MLB: Bosch wanted to come in from the cold.
Of course, his lawyer asked for money. Manfred told him he couldn’t pay for testimony. He could, though, offer other compensation. MLB dropped both Bosch and his brother from the lawsuit. Bosch also had concerns about his safety, and Manfred said MLB would pay for a security detail for a year, a commitment of over $800,000. MLB also agreed to pay his legal fees. Bosch had three lawyers, who earned more than $1 million from June to October, plus a PR person. For MLB, the price was worth it. They had their prize.
Meanwhile, more documents were floating around the tanning salons of South Florida, and Gary Jones was still working to monetize them. The last time he’d met Mullin at the Cosmos Diner, the investigator had mentioned that original documents would be worth a lot more than copies on a flash drive. Maybe ten times as much. Jones did the calculation: “A million dollars.”
One Sunday, Fischer was on his way to Ocala, where he’d stored originals of patient records and other documents taken from Bosch. He planned to turn them over to the state health department, which he’d persuaded to investigate Bosch.
Jones kept in touch with his hapless friend. To him, shoveling valuable documents to the health department was one more example of Fischer’s stupidity. That morning, when Jones checked in, Fischer mentioned his Ocala errand.
Jones knew just what buttons to push. He had a new spray-on tanning solution. “Hey, you need to try this new solution of mine. Great color,” Jones said.
On his way home, Fischer met Jones at a Boca tanning salon, where he tried the new solution. A half-hour or so later, Fischer came outside to find the trunk of his car pried open. Four boxes of documents had disappeared, along with a laptop and a handgun.
About a week later, the ever-resourceful Jones ended up with the haul from Fischer’s car, though he wouldn’t say how. He called Mullin, who flew down. On April 16, Mullin slid another envelope across the table at the Cosmos Diner, this one containing $25,000 in cash. MLB again claimed not to know the documents were stolen, but the Boca police report of the break-in says that an investigator working for MLB had called about the incident before the payment.
Major League Baseball had no illusions about Tony Bosch. To start with, there was the fact that Dr. Tony Bosch was a liar. After all, he wasn’t a doctor—though it said he was on the white coat he wore to attend to patients. Bosch had spent a couple of years at a medical school in the Dominican Republic and finished at a medical school in Belize. He returned to Miami and, always in a hurry, jumped into the booming anti-aging business. Why worry about a license? “Tony always believed he was the smartest guy around,” said Tiki Rodriguez. In medicine, he believed he had “a gift,” she said. He told people he could look at their lab tests and into their eyes and know just what they needed. His confidence, along with results like Fischer’s, earned him a steady stream of clients.
And yet Bosch seemed to be constantly broke. “Live like a king, party like a rock star” was a personal motto, according to friends. “It’s Miami,” he liked to say. “My vice.” There were allegations of cocaine use—later, on the advice of counsel, he took the Fifth when asked about them. And then he was generous, one more thing he couldn’t control. There were, for instance, young girlfriends to be spoiled—he always had two, he told people. So money was always his paramount concern.
Once Bosch made his deal, MLB got more than testimony. Bosch turned over the BlackBerry with which he communicated with Rodriguez. Experts extracted the messages. Rodriguez’s team pointed out that the records were fraught with errors—there were three versions from different experts, and some had messages that didn’t appear on others and thus were unreliable.
The exchanges, though, were provocative. In 2012, Rodriguez and Bosch talked about “food.” Rodriguez said he needed pinks or blues or gummies. Bosch met him in Detroit, Tampa, and other places. “Hurry,” Rodriguez wrote at one point. Bosch promised to meet him for Opening Day and during a playoff series in which Rodriguez was underperforming.
The exchanges are tinged with anxiety. Rodriguez seems dependent on the food, viewing it almost as magic. On April 3, he feels “explosive.” “Awesome,” Bosch wrote back a few seconds later. “Go with the same protocol.” Rodriguez didn’t have a great year in 2012—he hit only eighteen home runs during the regular season (a portion of which he missed because of injury) and sometimes joked with friends, “If I was doing them, I should get a refund.” But that changed nothing for MLB. Bosch said that food was code for testosterone and HGH. Rodriguez insisted that food meant food—the kind of nutritional edge he pursued across the planet.
For MLB, two key exchanges refute that explanation.
On April 2, 2012, Bosch uses the term meds in a message to Rodriguez. “Not meds dude. food,” comes the reply a few minutes later. There are many ways to interpret those four words. In the view of MLB’s investigators, Rodriguez was reminding Bosch of their ruse. And for MLB, the clincher was an exchange the day before, on April 1, 2012. That morning, Bosch asked, “Do u think they are going to test?” “Maybe” is A-Rod’s response later that afternoon. But if they tested, Bosch had it covered. A-Rod texted to ask when he should use the “food”: 10:45 for a 1 p.m. game? “10:30,” replied Bosch, as if it is a science of minutes. Rodriguez claimed the close attention to timing was only because he wanted maximum effectiveness from the food at game time; Bosch said it was an effort to avoid detection.
In Detroit, Rodriguez took a urine test—and passed. In fact, he didn’t fail a drug test during the three years he’s accused of using banned substances. In the view of Rodriguez’s legal team, it’s evidence that he was clean. For Bosch, it simply was proof of how good he was.
Everyone knew that Alex Rodriguez had been a steroid user.
We were seated at a conference table in the sweeping, marble-floored offices of Reed, Smith, one of his law firms. Rodriguez was in a midnight-blue suit, with a white shirt and a narrow tie. He looked immaculate, as usual. He was lively and engaged, ever youthful, though there was stubble on his face and it was gray. We talked baseball, the mental game. “The more you play baseball, the less depends on your athletic ability,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s a mental war more than anything.” For all athletes, confidence is an issue, but more so for Rodriguez. “Alex is the most insecure,” Bosch said.
Rodriguez has spent a career worried about losing his edge and done everything possible to prevent that. He walked around the locker room with a mini-fridge slugging down green-colored shakes. He hired a performance coach, who worked on his focus. He traveled to Germany to have his blood enriched, which might help him rehab a bad knee and perhaps also to counter fatigue from 162 games. He reached out to Victor Conte, founder of the infamous Balco, the company at the center of the previous steroid scandal. Conte was back in the supplement business, this time on the right side of the law.
And, at least in one era, he did steroids.
At first, he’d denied it. On 60 Minutes in 2007, he looked Katie Couric in the eye and said, “I’ve never felt overmatched on the baseball field … so no.” Two years later, in 2009, following a press report that he’d failed a drug test in 2003, while on the Texas Rangers, he told a different story. He admitted that he and his cousin had bought over-the-counter drugs in the Dominican Republic. It was a different era; physicians recommended by the Players Association coached ballplayers on how to avoid detection. Rodriguez, who usually boasted of mastering details, said he didn’t know exactly what he was injecting. But Rodriguez knew he was crossing the line. “I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs,” he famously admitted. And his stats between 2001 and 2003 show a marked increase in power—he hit 57 home runs in 2002, a career high. But most important, he said he hadn’t used them since 2003. It was a difficult passage for A-Rod—but in 2009, his transgressions were mostly forgiven, if not forgotten. “I was hitting everything in sight,” he recalled. Led by Rodriguez, the Yankees won the World Series. “Thank God, otherwise I’d be under a bridge somewhere,” he told me.
It was past 7 p.m.—we’d been talking for an hour or more.
Why should anyone believe your denials this time? I asked him.
There were five seconds before he responded. “I’m not sure,” he said.
The secret arbitration hearing at which Rodriguez appealed his 211-game suspension took place at MLB headquarters on Park Avenue. Bosch had three security guards and three lawyers and a PR person; MLB had as many as nine lawyers; Rodriguez five. The hearing ended last week. By then, after two weeks of testimony, his legal team had given up hope of winning, despite vehemently denying that in the press. Their strategy by the end was to lay the groundwork for an appeal in federal court. They had been frustrated by the rules of evidence—or lack of rules. Hearsay, for instance, is permitted. And then hanging over the proceedings was a peculiarity of baseball’s arbitration system. If arbitrator Fredric Horowitz rules against MLB, it has the right to fire him; it fired an arbitrator in a similar situation last year. (The Players Association has the same right.)
Rodriguez was given ten days to present a defense, but cut it short after Horowitz ruled that Commissioner Selig didn’t have to testify. On hearing that, Rodriguez slammed his fist to the table and stormed out. “I thought I should get a chance to confront my accuser,” he told me. He had promised to testify the day after Selig. Instead, he took to the airwaves and denounced the hearing as a “farce,” then returned to South Florida to await the results. A ruling is expected later this month or early next year.
A week before his hearing, I’d met Rodriguez in the parking lot before a University of Miami football game—Rodriguez is on the UM board of trustees, and he plans to be a business student there. It was the tailgate party, and acres of cars had backed up to green-and-orange tents. Rodriguez showed up in his UM shirt and took a spot under the tent of his PR guy, a University of Miami alumnus. Word traveled quickly to the other tents, and fans, most of them excited young women, materialized, snapping photos with their smartphones and posting on Twitter or Instagram.
The new A-Rod is partly a media strategy. Good Morning America was there to record the good feeling. But Rodriguez was insistent that the changes are real.
“You think about 18, 28, 38,” he said. “Those are decades apart, and so much has changed. I’ve gotten so much more comfortable in our own clubhouse with my teammates.” He finally felt connected to other players—he’d recently vacationed with a few, including Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia.
The improved relationships are the result of an internal change. “I’m comfortable in my skin now,” he told me.
Horrible as it’s been, the scandal, and MLB’s hyperaggressive pursuit, have made him something he’s never been: an underdog. “Today, I was walking down the streets, and, I mean, literally, people were jumping out of their cabs, out of their Town Cars, out of their buses. Beeping, stopping. I shook a hundred hands. People were saying, ‘We’re behind you.’ Every guy was flying out of a window, ‘Go get ’em!!’ It was so emotional.”
He’s been a New York Yankee for ten years and hadn’t ever felt that kind of love. “No matter what I’ve done in baseball, including ’09 [and winning the World Series], it’s never felt like this. Never. Never.”