Rob Manfred, MLB's New Commissioner, Led Biogenesis Investigation in South Florida
Rob Manfred, MLB's new commissioner
On February 4, 2013, an effusive man with short-cropped hair and a prominent gap between his front teeth strolled into Miami New Times' newsroom. He shook hands with staffers, admired our wall of fading award plaques and old cover illustrations, and then got down to business. Just a week earlier, New Times had turned MLB on its head with an investigation exposing a Coral Gables clinic called Biogenesis as a shadowy source for PEDs for a host of stars, including Alex Rodriguez.
And Rob Manfred had come to Miami to ask for the hundreds of pages of clinic records that a whistleblower had given the paper.
Today, Manfred was unanimously elected the 10th Commissioner of MLB. That meeting in an alt weekly's conference room marked the start of one of Manfred's defining moments: the Biogenesis investigation, which ended with 15 ballplayers suspended but also a host of questions about MLB's methods in gathering evidence in South Florida. Manfred, for better and worse, was the man pulling the strings.
In his visit to New Times, we saw two sides to his personality: The charming bureaucrat who politicked his way this afternoon to a 30-0 election as the top dog in our national pastime, and the ruthlessly efficient attorney with two Ivy league degrees and a razor mind who secured a season-long ban for A-Rod.
Manfred (along with MLB's senior VP of public affairs, Pat Courtney) met with me and New Times editor Chuck Strouse for about an hour, pitching us on why we should consider handing over the Biogenesis records that whistleblower Porter Fischer had given the paper. It was the only way to ensure the bad guys would get punished, he argued, and would mark a historic end to the investigation.
He was a thoroughly convincing speaker, and we took his arguments seriously. But Strouse, in the end, decided journalistic ethics precluded New Times from handing over source material to a private corporation like MLB. (He also called Manfred a "charming bulldog.")
Manfred and MLB were on their own. They turned to the Department of Investigations, a sort of MLB secret police made up of former NYPD cops, to get the evidence they needed.
By July, they'd succeeded -- MLB had purchased two sets of records from the clinic and thanks to a looming civil lawsuit, soon flipped Tony Bosch, the clinic's owner, to cooperate. By August, Manfred's boss -- outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig -- had, he hoped, altered his legacy as the "Steroid Era Commish" with the largest mass round of suspensions in U.S. sports history.
But the results didn't come for free. Accusations flew that the DOI and an army of private eyes had intimidated witnesses and pretended to be cops. The head of the DOI had an affair with a Biogenesis nurse. And MLB bought stolen records from a guy named Gary Jones, who now faces federal charges for illegal weapons sales.
Still, Manfred showed his mettle in the conflict still to come. As A-Rod challenged his record 211-game suspension, Manfred acted as MLB's main internal witness for the prosecution.
In my new book on the scandal -- Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era -- my co-author Gus Garcia-Roberts and I report on a transcript we obtained from those closed, confidential hearings.
Manfred -- who has degrees from Cornell and Harvard -- is efficient, feisty and effective in taking on A-Rod's team of high priced attorneys.
Pushed by Rodriguez's attorney Joe Tacopina on some of the seedier aspects of MLB's investigation in South Florida and their reliance on Tony Bosch -- a guy who sold drugs to minors -- Manfred pushes right back.
"So, of course, you had an indication Mr. Bosch was distributing drugs to minors before you entered into this agreement with him, correct?" Tacopina asked Manfred.
"Honestly, whether or not Mr. Bosch had distributed drugs to minors was not of paramount importance to me," Manfred replied. "Rarely do you get a witness who is prepared to testify firsthand about his distribution of drugs to professional athletes who hasn't engaged in other conduct that's detrimental."
Tacopina wasn't satisfied and asked whether MLB's "public policy goals" of eradicating PEDs was served by promising to help a guy like Bosch with legal aid. Manfred fired back.
"I believe those goals were advanced by disciplining players who had used performance enhancing drugs," he said, "and thereby set a terrible example for young people who might be tempted to do the same thing, yes."
A few weeks later, Manfred and Selig had their victory: A-Rod's suspension was upheld (though reduced to 162 games) and the Biogenesis investigation was closed.
Would Manfred have earned his crown as the next commissioner if things had gone differently after that February meeting in Miami New Times office?
Who knows, but it's clear that his relative success in punctuating Selig's career with a record round of doping suspensions surely didn't hurt.