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Original Issue

Swampland Chronicles

Florida is the focus in baseball's war on PEDs. Keeping up with cheats is hard, but at least MLB has an effective doping policy—unlike the NFL

If Bud Selig and his PED investigators were to deploy the manic corkboard methodology of Carrie Mathison, the bipolar CIA agent from Homeland, their rogues' gallery would be as eclectic as any from the cable drama. Baseball's thumbtacked would include Manny Ramirez, the goofy juicer; a father and son practicing in the wellness field; an infamous Cousin Yuri; Juan Nuñez, a foot solider for the embattled ACES baseball agency; Melky Cabrera, the outfielder who conspired last summer with Nuñez to doctor a website to create a fake tainted supplement and throw investigators off his scent; and, of course, Alex Rodriguez, a.k.a. Cacique, who has displaced Barry Bonds as the recidivist archvillain of baseball's doping melodrama.

Mix in other players with code names such as Al Capone and Mohamad and all the threads lead to one place: Coral Gables, Fla., where Major League Baseball gumshoes found themselves on Monday attempting to verify the latest PED reports.

Baseball officials were scheduled to sit down with staff members of the Miami New Times, the weekly publication that last week connected seven players to Biogenesis, a murky Coral Gables "anti-aging" center, through what the paper identified as handwritten logs of the clinic's director, Tony Bosch. The documents, according to the report, detail the sale and distribution of banned substances such as HGH and testosterone.

Four of the seven players already had been pegged as users: Rodriguez, the Yankees' third baseman, who in 2009 admitted to PED use from '01 to '03 with the help of his cousin, believed to be Yuri Sucart (who is also named in the New Times report); Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon; Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal; and Cabrera—the last three of whom tested positive last year for synthetic testosterone. The report also named Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez and Tigers minor league pitcher Cesar Carrillo, none of whom had been previously connected to PEDs. Lawyers for Bosch promptly denied the allegations, while Rodriguez, Cruz and Gonzalez all denied having been patients at Biogenesis. The other players implicated hadn't commented on the report by Monday evening.

The bombshell wasn't all bad news for baseball; it gave MLB the opportunity to flex its muscles on fighting PEDs against the backdrop of Super Bowl week and the lax policies of the NFL.

Users of HGH and synthetic testosterone face stricter MLB protocols in 2013, including in-season blood testing that can detect HGH, and a so-called longitudinal profile program, in which significant spikes in a player's testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio can warrant carbon-isotope-ratio testing that, unlike routine urine tests, can identify synthetic testosterone. A normal T/E ratio is about 1:1 and does not significantly vary. Baseball has used 4:1 as a baseline to trigger the more sophisticated test, though last month it empowered its lab director, Christiane Ayotte, to use carbon-isotope-ratio testing in all cases.

The NFL still does not test for HGH, and, under threat of a $500,000 fine, does not permit the public disclosure of substances that trigger violations, a lack of transparency that gives steroid users the cover of blaming, say, an ADHD prescription.

Unlike baseball, football engenders far less public concern about its drug culture. A report by SI last week that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis obtained deer antler spray, a product that contains IGF-1, a banned substance, caused little of the hand-wringing that occurs when even marginal baseball players are connected to PEDs. In defense of his star, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, as well as many media outlets, parroted the line that Lewis had passed every test, a meaningless bromide that should have been retired with Lance Armstrong.

Three days after the Lewis story broke, commissioner Roger Goodell held his state-of-the-NFL news conference in which he made an opening statement and took 26 questions—none on Lewis and only two on HGH. "Baseball, Olympics, everyone believes that the science is there and are utilizing the tests," he said in response to the second, "so we need to get to that agreement [with the players' union]."

Yes, you heard the man: the NFL lags behind baseball. Even another PED allegation against Rodriguez, code name Cacique (chief or boss), did not rattle the league too much. For one, the league's Department of Investigations has been following smoke plumes in Miami since Ramirez was suspended for 50 games in '09 for obtaining a prescription for a banned substance from Dr. Pedro Bosch, the father of Tony Bosch (who is not a physician). The elder Bosch denies writing any prescription for Ramirez. One team executive says there has been enough concern about Rodriguez's connection to PEDs in Miami that he advised a prospect to "stay away" from A-Rod, who fancies himself a mentor to young players in the area.

Only more smoke surrounds Rodriguez. The Yankees have almost no chance of voiding the $114 million and five years left on his contract. What they have is a player coming off a second hip surgery who turns 38 this summer, who over the past two seasons is a .274 hitter ranking 123rd in hits and 90th in home runs, and who, if you believe the New Times, returned to doping immediately after his confession and did so with a strip-mall faux doctor with a degree from Belize.

To defend himself, Rodriguez hired Miami lawyer Roy Black, who got William Kennedy Smith acquitted of rape charges in 1991, after which Black married one of the jurors, who would turn up on The Real Housewives of Miami. Into this swampland now wades MLB with the task of finding not just truth but verifiable truth, on which will ride possible suspensions.

If it all sounds like something out of a Carl Hiaasen novel, you would be, as Hiaasen once admitted, underselling the nefariousness Miami breeds. "The Florida in my novels is not as seedy as the real Florida," Hiaasen once said. "It's hard to stay ahead of the curve." Baseball knows that truth too well.


Lakers forward Antawn Jamison's name is misspelled as Antwan three times on his official website's "About Antawn" section.