Commentary

What price victory for baseball?

MLB eventually got what it wanted, but it left a lot of marks along the way

Updated: August 6, 2014, 9:42 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPN.com

After laying out the sordid details of how Anthony Bosch and his associates supplied Alex Rodriguez and peddled steroids to high school kids, Mark Trouville, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's office in Miami, took off his glasses Tuesday afternoon in a federal courthouse and looked right at the TV cameras.

"Bosch is not a licensed professional," he said with obvious contempt. "He is not a doctor. He's a drug dealer."

[+] EnlargeMark Trouville, Wifredo Ferrer
AP Photo/Alan DiazU.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer announces charges against Anthony Bosch and others, while DEA special agent in charge Mark Trouville looks on.

Bosch is the "drug dealer" whom Major League Baseball worked with to bring down Rodriguez and 12 other big league players, who a year ago Tuesday were suspended by MLB in connection with the Biogenesis investigation.

He's the "drug dealer" whom commissioner Bud Selig and chief operating officer Rob Manfred could have kept at arm's length if MLB had simply allowed its own investigative unit and the DEA to do their job.

MLB succeeded in ridding itself of Rodriguez, and claimed its biggest victory yet in its war against PEDs, but not without a few self-inflicted wounds.

It had the spectacle of Rodriguez being suspended. He then appealed and played out the remainder of last season (and had his suspension ultimately reduced from 211 to 162 games).

It was left to defend what many consider dubious tactics used to seal that victory. Baseball authorized payments of tens of thousands of dollars to Bosch and others, hired bodyguards and lawyers for him, and cut deals designed to cushion him from the full force of the law.

In fact, the cleaner direction was the one laid out by the Mitchell report, which recommended that baseball work with law-enforcement agencies, and the course baseball's since-discredited Department of Investigations (DOI) sought to undertake, before its efforts were undermined from within.

The sight of Bosch in handcuffs Tuesday afternoon suggests that while it may have had to wait for its desired outcome, MLB could have charted a different course that would have prevented dissolving its investigative team, mitigated the spectacle of the Rodriguez suspension and left Selig's legacy a little cleaner.

"Operation Strikeout," as the DEA dubbed its investigation, was launched months before the January 2013 publication of a Miami New Times article that caused MLB to ratchet up the pressure on its own DOI, a branch of MLB formed after the 2007 Mitchell report urged the creation of an independent unit to investigate player wrongdoing.

The Mitchell report recommended that the DOI work hand-in-hand with law enforcement agencies, which is what the DOI set out to do in September 2012, when it made its case to the DEA of why the agency should become involved. That was the genesis of "Operation Strikeout," with a source telling ESPN.com that the DOI supplied its federal counterparts with targets, confidential sources, and critical information on how the drugs were being distributed.

In essence, baseball gave the feds a road map to take down Bosch, whom the DOI had known about since he supplied Manny Ramirez with the female fertility drug that led to his suspension in 2009 (despite the fact MLB had prevented the DOI from interviewing Ramirez at the time, the source said).

"The DOI knew everything," the source said, "and they just laid it all out on the table. They brought in experts in the field that were their sources, who explained exactly how it all worked."

The DEA signed on, and the case appeared to be progressing in a timely fashion until the bombshell that appeared in the Miami New Times, which published an investigation of Bosch's clinic after a former Bosch customer named Porter Fischer, angry at Bosch for not paying off a $4,000 debt, took Bosch's files and shared the documents with the newspaper.

"[MLB] went berserk," the source said. "The DOI was told, 'You guys better find this now or we'll find somebody else to do it.' The DOI guys kept trying to explain, 'That's not how a federal investigation works.' "

Unbeknownst to the DOI investigators working the case, the source said, MLB's labor relations department hired a new set of outside private investigators, including Mark Sullivan, a retired Secret Service agent. In March 2013, baseball filed a civil lawsuit against Bosch -- a game-changing moment because it was the work of the Labor Relations department investigators, not the DOI team that was working hand-in-hand with the DEA.

"The DEA positively did not know about it," the source said. "They were blindsided, caught completely by surprise. The lawsuit named all of the targets of their investigation, really compromising their work."

MLB used the lawsuit to strong-arm Bosch to flip, agreeing to drop the suit in exchange for him becoming the lead witness in its internal investigation. Bosch provided texts, e-mails and additional evidence against Rodriguez and other players. But along the way, among other disputed tactics, MLB paid $150,000 to an ex-convict for documents it may or may not have known were stolen (MLB officials have denied knowing there was a police report regarding missing clinic records before buying them from Gary Jones, who said he did not steal them).

DOI investigators who had had long and decorated law enforcement careers were fired, and the DOI was reorganized in May, with Manfred telling the New York Times: "After the Biogenesis investigation, we made a decision that certain structural changes were necessary in order to have a more efficient and effective investigative unit. Once we made structural changes, it resulted in the elimination of some positions."

And on Tuesday, the DEA, which had proceeded slowly and meticulously before presenting its evidence to a grand jury -- the usual way these things work with law enforcement and the judicial system -- announced that Bosch and nine others had been indicted in South Florida.

There are dozens of Bosches out there -- walk into any one of a hundred so-called wellness clinics in south Florida, and they can provide you with the same substances Bosch did. The real doctors who are involved in the same dirty business, they're light years ahead of Tony Bosch.

But MLB wanted to get its man -- Alex Rodriguez -- and Bosch, a wannabe, got his day in the spotlight as star witness. Tuesday, he got something else: handcuffs and a perp walk.

"The truth is," the source said, "the DEA would have found a way sooner or later to give MLB all the information they needed. All these players would have been suspended. They didn't want to go to jail. They would have talked.

"That would have happened, I guarantee you."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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