It’s called the “Steroid Era,” but even that moniker is a fake. Labeling a period of time suggests that there was a beginning and an end. When it comes to performance enhancing drugs in baseball, you’d have to be painfully naive to think much has stopped.
Regardless, it’s unlikely that whatever is going on now can compare to the glory days of cheating in the game, when quarter-mile home runs and 60-dinger seasons were not only commonplace, but the characters that fueled such things reached absurdity levels too good to make up.
Fans long ago grew dizzy and disinterested over the details -- BALCO, Biogenesis, denials, Congressional testimony, lawsuits, lawyers and so on. It all runs together.
Yet behind the scandal is a story and documentary filmmaker Billy Corben (“Cocaine Cowboys”, “The U”) has always been adept at finding the fun deep in the muck, especially the muck of his native South Florida which has been, shall we say, home to plenty of colorful criminals and misfit shysters.
And so here is “Screwball,” the story of how an unlicensed Florida doctor helped fuel Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and a host of others before the wildest and most entertaining scandal of the era that blew up over a $3,600 debt. Seriously.
If you are looking for a movie that tsk’s tsk’s the steroid era or dives deep into the ethics of the sport, then go elsewhere. If you want an unlikely comedy -- complete with child actors portraying the real adults who behaved in childlike fashion -- then “Screwball” is for you (in select theaters and video on demand).
Corben makes a mockery of it all because there is nothing else to do but mock it. The entire story begins with Tony Bosch, or “Dr. Tony” as he liked to be called even though his medical credentials are suspect. In an entertaining, yet telling tangent, Bosch, a cocaine enthusiast and general hustler, gets salty over being called a “fake doctor” rather than an “unlicensed physician” because he did attend some kind of a med school in Belize, after all.
Yes, of course.
Regardless, Bosch had a concoction that could help those looking for the fountain of youth or hundred million dollar baseball contracts and he found plenty of willing customers in both categories. This is Florida before Florida Man became a thing. Eventually Bosch got hooked up with a trainer named Porter Fischer, who after getting stiffed out of a small loan, wound up the unlikely, yet well-tanned, whistle blower for a scandal that would cost millions, reputations and even Bosch’s freedom.
Along the way comes just endless ridiculousness.
Some prescriptions were written by a doctor who was dead. Key evidence was stolen during a tanning salon appointment. Bosch occasionally read Manny Ramirez bedtime stories to help the slugger fall asleep (“A very eccentric character,” says Bosch, who himself is a very eccentric character). A MLB senior vice president had an affair with a nurse at Biogenesis, the very outfit he was supposed to be investigating.
Then there was A-Rod’s camp buying a notebook with the names of various Biogenesis clients thinking that would squash everything. Alas, copies had already been made and the story got out through the Miami New Times, so then A-Rod’s camp allegedly dished out to the media the names of other players, including teammates, involved with Bosch in an effort to deflect his involvement.
And then there was the capper: now MLB commissioner Rob Manfred allegedly making a multi-million dollar deal with Bosch. That occurred only after Bosch signaled he was willing to work with the league during a sweaty, outrageous interview with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez outside a Coconut Grove bar where Bosch had been drinking in all day. Bosch’s attorney stood alongside him wearing blue jeans, sunglasses and holding a cigar because, well, of course he did.
And then the night before Bosch testifies for MLB against A-Rod, he trashes his Manhattan hotel room during a wild, cocaine-fueled party, only to arrive at the arbitration hearing to find a crowd of so-called “A-Rod fans” heckling him, except it turns out they weren’t A-Rod fans, just people who were paid to be there with the promise of free pizza.
It goes on and on, one scene crazier than the next as this collection of South Florida hucksters and wannabes bring America’s Pastime to its knees -- only in the end to see A-Rod somehow re-established as a lovable star and Manfred promoted to the top job in the game.
Whatever. This story is best told as a you-won’t-believe-this-caper full of halfwits and dreamers and lots of jokes.
It needs no victims. It’s entertaining beyond belief, one of the great, in its own ridiculous way, baseball movies ever made.
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