“Rodriguez is over!” the baseball official exclaimed in annoyance, frustration and exasperation at the mention of Alex Rodriguez’s name. But is it over? Will it ever be over? Even if Alex Rodriguez has disappeared from the baseball public’s view, will he fade from its memory?
Just last Sunday a 2,500-word article appeared in the Long Island (N.Y.) newspaper Newsday and on its web site detailing Major League Baseball’s tactics in its investigation of players’ alleged acquisition of illegal performance-enhancing drugs from the South Florida anti-aging clinic Biogenesis.
The article, which painted those tactics as highly questionable, caught my attention but more important, MLB’s attention. The Internet link is long and unwieldy but worth its use:
If everything portrayed in the article were true, it would paint a tale of ugly behavior by MLB and its investigators, who seemingly did what they had to do to railroad Rodriguez and a dozen other players into suspensions they might have deserved but very possibly would not have suffered had baseball’s impartial arbitrator known the full story behind the investigation.
The “if” that began the previous paragraph, though, is a big “if.” MLB officials vehemently say the facts as portrayed were not accurate.
I learned that when I commented to Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer, about the good work that went into the Newsday article. His reaction surprised me, not that he disputed Newsday’s version but that he offered to lift MLB’s characteristic silence about such stories and authorize a high-ranking official to speak publicly about the incident.
This was the story’s headline:
MLB’s A-Rod inquiry: Investigators were told documents were stolen, but bought records anyway, officials say
The documents referred to were records maintained by Tony Bosch, who owned and operated Biogenesis. A disgruntled former employee took a batch of documents when he left, and they were allegedly stolen when the car that was carrying them was broken into in Boca Raton, Fla. MLB supposedly bought those documents for use in its case against Rodriguez et al.
The problem with the Newsday story, MLB said, was its chronology.
“We got the documents before the Boca break-in,” said Dan Halem, senior vice president and general counsel for labor. In other words, MLB did not buy or use stolen documents.
“Documents that made the Biogenesis investigation were a set of covered composition notebooks maintained by Bosch,” Halem said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “What happened to the original notebooks? We don’t know. They vanished. We purchased four flash drives for $100,000 March 20, 2013. The burglary took place four days later so the documents we received couldn’t contain stolen documents.”
Halem did acknowledge that MLB made a second purchased of Bosch files, which presumably had been in the Boca burglary. “We did purchase a second set of documents for $25,000 – office files from Bosch’s office – but we didn’t use them,” he said. “There was nothing in them to use. The March 20 documents were the ones important to our case.”
In addition, MLB officials are skeptical that a burglary even took place.
“The police had multiple theories; we made a judgment on what we had,” Halem said. “They haven’t proven that they were stolen. We operated on the theory that they weren’t stolen.”
Under the MLB theory, Porter Fischer, the disgruntled Biogenesis ex-employee, conspired to stage the automobile break-in with Gary Jones, an ex-convict and the man MLB paid for the documents.
“Jones knew things we talked to Fischer about,” Halem related. “Fischer expressed concern for his personal safety if he was the guy selling the documents. All of a sudden Fischer goes silent and Jones contacts us knowing what we talked to Fischer about.”
Neither Sandra Boonenberger, a spokeswoman for the Boca Raton police department, nor Detective Terry Payne returned telephone calls seeking an update on the burglary and on MLB’s theory.
“Did anyone prove the documents were stolen?” Halem asked. “Did anyone prove we used stolen documents?”
Payne was the primary investigator in the case, and it was his report that Newsday used for its story.
One arrest has been made in the auto incident. The New York Daily News reported last Dec. 11 that a 20-year-old man, Reginald St. Fleur, was arrested after police found blood stains containing his DNA in the car.
Gus Garcia-Roberts, a 31-year-old Newsday reporter, wrote the article based largely on Payne’s report and MLB documents police subpoenaed in the investigation of the automobile burglary that Newsday obtained under a Freedom of Information request.
Garcia-Roberts has also co-authored a book on the Biogenesis case, “Blood Sport,” which Dutton will publish July 8. His co-author is Tim Elfrink, managing editor of Miami New Times, who wrote the original Biogenesis story in the weekly newspaper in January 2013.
After the New Times article was published, MLB sent two officials to Florida to try to buy the documents from the newspaper, but Elfrink declined to share the material. Apparently Fischer took the documents or copies when he left the New Times, presumably in a dispute over money he said was owed to him.
MLB has been criticized in some quarters for the way it conducted its investigation.
“Baseball engaged in tactics that were violative of what they are permitted to do under the Joint Drug Agreement,” said a lawyer who apparently believed that MLB bought stolen documents. “Therefore their findings and results are fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The lawyer, who has no connection to the Players Association, was also critical of the union, saying, “I think the union dropped the ball in not intervening in the Bosch civil suit in Florida and not filing an NLRB charge.”
David Prouty, the union’s general counsel, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
MLB sued Bosch as an integral part of its strategy to force him to cooperate with its investigation. The strategy worked.
“This institution was held up to some considerable criticism for being soft and slow on performance-enhancing drugs,” Halem said. “I do find it ironic that we went out and conducted the most far reaching and successful investigation of professional athletes in history and suspended everyone who was involved.”
Despite MLB’s unusual candor, skepticism remained over one development, the dismissal of three members of the relatively young investigative unit that conducted the Biogenesis investigation.
The popular view was that Commissioner Bud Selig was unhappy with accusations of improper behavior by investigators, including an alleged inappropriate sexual relationship between a witness and Dan Mullin, head of the unit.
But COO Manfred denied that the investigators, including Mullin, were fired. He said structural changes resulted in the elimination of the jobs.
When I reached Mullin Tuesday, he said he was busy packing up children for and from college and would call me Wednesday, but he did not.