Lost amid the Miami New Times' flailing, logic-deprived rationale behind refusing to hand over documents linking Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and dozens of other baseball players to a South Florida performance-enhancing-drug peddler was some real news.
And, for Major League Baseball, real good news.
The government is in. Despite the failings of federal officials in past high-profile cases that married athletes and PEDs, the Florida Department of Health has started an investigation into Anthony Bosch, operator of the Biogenesis clinic that allegedly provided drugs to players, the New Times reported.
While MLB may have the budget and resources to go after players who used PEDs – one official said the league office is "obsessed" with finding evidence to discipline the players in the Biogenesis documents and devoting "massive amounts of resources" – it lacks one very important tool the government has at its disposal: subpoena power. Even if the government focuses on Bosch – the New Times said it could go after him for practicing medicine and compounding drugs without a license – MLB could use testimony to pursue punishment against players.
Any governmental intervention is a gift to MLB, which has struggled to find footing early in what it expects to be a long and drawn-out pursuit of the Biogenesis players – and of 50-game suspensions for those it can tie to the clinic via a non-analytical positive. Before interviewing major league players, investigators are seeking sources on the periphery: minor leaguers not protected by the MLB Players Association, associates to the players named and others in Biogenesis documents.
One notable figure is Marcelo Albir, whose name appears multiple times on a Biogenesis document obtained by Yahoo! Sports that initially linked Braun with the clinic. Albir is a former teammate of Braun's at Miami who investigators believe played an important role in Braun's relationship with Biogenesis.
The document lists Albir's name next to Braun and Cesar Carrillo, a pitcher who was Braun's road roommate at Miami. Underneath is a notation: "RB 20-30K," with an arrow pointing to Chris Lyons, one of Braun's attorneys in his appeal. Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers star playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, said he paid Bosch a fee for consulting during his appeal for a positive testosterone test that was overturned in arbitration because of chain-of-custody issues.
He did not explain what comes next in the document: One line reads "[follow up with] Lyons, Marcelo, Carrillo, 3K, etc." On the next line: "Total owed 23-33K + Marcelo Albir," followed by Lyons' name and cell phone number on the final line.
When asked Tuesday to explain why the $3,000 next to Lyons, Albir and Carrillo's names was wrapped into Braun's bill, Lyons declined comment. Investigators have not found Albir since the Biogenesis documents leaked, and attempts by Yahoo! Sports to contact Albir were unsuccessful.
Because Carrillo is not on the Detroit Tigers' 40-man roster, the league could compel him to speak with the threat of discipline. Another minor league player in the Biogenesis records was met at his home by an MLB investigator soon after the initial New Times report and warned he was subject to suspension if he did not cooperate, according to two sources with knowledge of the encounter. Both declined to name the player.
Major league players have far more protection from the collective-bargaining agreement. Any interview would include union attorneys and, in all likelihood, would provide little insight for MLB. Every player named by the New Times, Yahoo! Sports, ESPN.com, the New York Daily News and Sports Illustrated in the Biogenesis documents has denied using PEDs or declined comment.
The steadfast denunciation of the New Times report and Biogenesis documents opened the possibility that the alt-weekly would share the documents with MLB. Editor-in-chief Chuck Strouse told Yahoo! Sports in January that in addition to being a news-gathering organization, "we're also in the business of justice." MLB officials Rob Manfred and Patrick Courtney met with New Times editors in February to formally request the documents.
Strouse's column Tuesday made it clear the newspaper would not hand them over, though the reasoning behind withholding them was flimsy. Strouse first blamed commissioner Bud Selig, conflating his problems as commissioner – allowing Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to run amok and standing by as the steroid scandal mushroomed in the 1990s – with his suitability to handle important documents. Strouse also cited the Black Sox scandal of nearly a century ago and the racism of former owners Calvin Griffith and Marge Schott as reasons MLB would be unfit to properly use material completely unrelated to either subject.
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While Strouse's proclamations on ethical issues were well-reasoned, one of his strongest statements – "We have given baseball and anyone else interested in the scandal everything important" – rang hollow. The New Times' initial report named only seven baseball players. More than a dozen names have surfaced since then, and investigators believe more have yet to be revealed publicly.
Were the Department of Health to follow past governmental investigations and work with MLB, the league could wind up with all of the Biogenesis documents anyway.
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