Blood Sport casts searing light on an unhealthy clinic

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 9.44.52 PMBiogenesis of America was the sort of pseudo health clinic that proliferates in South Florida, which for four centuries has been seeking the Fountain of Youth.  It catered to the burgeoning retirement community with an anti-aging program that included food supplements and creams and counseling.

It also serviced the University of Miami across the street, providing products to help its young athletes build muscles.

“I am a nutritionist,” insists Anthony Bosch, who’s depicted as a charlatan using his “clinic” for dispensing Performance Enhancing Drugs in Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball’s Steroid Era.

A year and a half ago, Biogenesis of America was known only by word of mouth from its clientele.  But then an ex-employee, Porter Fischer, disgruntled because Bosch owed him $4,000 in back pay, visited the office of a small but gritty alternative newspaper, the Miami New Times.

Fischer produced clinic records linking Bosch and PEDs to dozens of big-leaguers, including such stars as Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Manny Ramirez and Nelson Cruz.  Of more concern to Fischer were sales to amateurs.  He told the New Times, “Few seemed to care about the safety of the young athletes and civilian victims affected by the clinic.”

New Times reporters Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts (who’s now at Newsday) combined to write a book (published by Penguin) that depicts in almost cinematic detail the slimy ’roid culture of South Florida.  We read of Bosch withdrawing blood from A-Rod’s arm as they stand in a bathroom stall of a night club in the Fontainebleau hotel.

Bosch is succinctly described as “a twitchy, ingratiating character everybody called Doctor T.”  The irony is that he had no medical degree and is being investigated by the Florida Department of Health for possibly practicing medicine without a license.

But in the age of small government there’s little oversight of “nutritional” products.  No inspections by the Food and Drug Administration because they’re neither food nor drugs.  They’re supplements, shielded by lobbyists and the politicians they buy. 

Rodriguez first met Bosch in July 2010 after learning he conveyed testosterone to Ramirez, who proceeded to fail a drug test.  Bosch had promised his clients that if they followed his instructions they would not be busted.  He assured Rodriguez that Ramirez flunked because one of his cousins injected him at the wrong time.

Bosch’s “protocol” worked because he vigilantly monitored his client’s testosterone level, manipulating it – and masking it — to avoid detection.  He was collecting blood at the Fontainebleau so he could determine exactly how much additional testosterone to inject into Rodriguez to keep the cycle running on time.

This book reveals not only that Rodriguez in 2010 used PEDs but that in 2007 and 2008 was injecting testosterone which is banned by Major League Baseball.

Much has been said about MLB “allowing” A-Rod to supplement his natural testosterone.  Actually, he was operating within MLB rules, which allow “exemptions for therapeutic use (ETUs).”  After all, steroids are often prescribed to treat allergies, eczema and many other ailments.

So Rodriguez applied to the Independent Program Administrator, Bryan W. Smith, physician from High Point, N.C., for an exemption, citing his abnormally low testosterone count.

In granting A-Rod’s request, Smith may not have considered — and perhaps should not have considered – that Rodriguez failed a steroid test in 2003 (though not becoming known to the public until ’09) and that use of anabolic steroids tends to cause, eventually, lowered testosterone levels.

This book quotes Rob Manfred, baseball’s chief operating officer (and Bud Selig’s nominee to succeed him as commissioner) saying some biochemists believe that “with a healthy young male the most likely cause of low testosterone requiring this type of therapy would be steroid abuse.”

Elfrink, appearing on ESPN, said MLB has changed its anti-drug approach from the complacency of the 2002 BALCO scandal to a full “crack-down on these guys who were tied to the clinic.”

Elfrink accused Manfred’s office of fighting Bosch in a manner that “went completely over the top.  They were handing cash out to suspects.  They were buying records that were stolen from the whistle-blower’s car.  They were impersonating cops. . .  It’s turned into this South Florida noir crime tale that involves some of the richest athletes in this country and ended in fifteen suspensions.”

Including Rodriguez, MVP at age 32 in 2007, one of his therapeutic-exemption seasons. Now he’s suspended for the entirety of this season, after Bosch testified to administering a batch of hormones to him.

Garcia-Roberts on ESPN’s Olbermann described Rodriguez as “a teenage star who came into the league in . . . the heart of the steroid era.  After BALCO we now know he’s had this fascinating run of exemptions to use drugs, and then dalliances with these guys like Tony Bosch to try to get through loopholes.”

This is indeed a noir crime tale — not much Florida sunshine here.  The New Times reports the University of Miami baseball program is under investigation by MLB which suspects Biogenesis reached across US 1 to contaminate it, as Porter Fischer had feared.

“There were too many minor leaguers coming out of school who were failing drug tests,” the newspaper noted, quoting an unnamed “former Major League Baseball official” saying, “The University of Miami program is dirty as sin.” 

If there’s any hopeful message here, it’s that Major League Baseball is truly committed, as the book’s subtitle suggests, to ending the steroid era.  And that it’s especially interested in protecting teenagers from drug-pushers disguised as health-care workers.

It should have cared about these matters twenty years ago, but it was too busy counting its billions as turnstiles whirred and McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were drugging their way into the once sacred record books.

But while Selig and Manfred now have a take-charge attitude, the authors of Blood Sport raise legitimate concerns about appropriating gangsters’ tactics to acquire evidence against the drug pushers.  From far away it looks like a slippery slope.

Click here for Sports Illustrated article, “New book shows how MLB let Alex Rodriguez use PEDs.”


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