Steroids' Long History at the University of Miami
Illustration by Mike Ray
The following is an excerpt from the book Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era, published by the Penguin Group and released this week. The story began in Miami New Times.
Frankie Ratcliff's phone buzzed just before 7:30 p.m. September 10, 2010. The text message was garbled but clear enough: "Got ur number frm my boy He said ur shit is good Can I get a half How Much?"
Ratcliff was best known on the University of Miami's palm-lined campus as an up-and-coming infielder on the storied Hurricanes baseball team. Three months earlier, the speedy Key West native had finished a promising freshman season at Alex Rodriguez Park, where he popped six homers to go with 13 stolen bases and a .276 batting line.
Steroids' Long History at the University of Miami
But to a subset of kids in the Coral Gables dorms, Ratcliff was much more famous as a reliable connection for good weed.
Florida Launch vs. Chesapeake Bayhawks
TicketsSat., Jul. 15, 7:00pm
Florida Launch vs. Charlotte Hounds
TicketsSat., Jul. 22, 7:00pm
Intl. Champions Cup pres. by Heineken: Paris Saint-Germain v Juventus
TicketsWed., Jul. 26, 8:30pm
EL CLASICO MIAMI: Real Madrid CF v. FC Barcelona
TicketsSat., Jul. 29, 7:30pm
See also: "Tony Bosch and Biogenesis: MLB Steroid Scandal."
Ratcliff didn't recognize the number vibrating his phone that Friday night, but that wasn't so unusual — pot dealers relied on word-of-mouth references on the large campus. Ratcliff told his new customer he could sell him a half-ounce, talking up its potency as they haggled for a price: "Shit is fire got purple in it," he bragged.
They settled on $220 and met on a bridge outside a residence hall. Just after Ratcliff handed over the goods, the new customer flashed a badge and arrested the young second baseman. A few miles south, police with a drug-sniffing dog burst into his messy off-campus apartment.
They found 100 grams of weed in plastic baggies and a scale inside a black Air Jordan shoe box in his bedroom. Then an officer yanked open the bottom drawer of Ratcliff's dresser. Two boxes sat inside. One contained a hundred 29-gauge insulin needles. The other had 19 blue-topped bottles of Hygetropin, a synthetic human growth hormone.
The arrest of a UM infielder for HGH possession made a local TV broadcast and got a few hundred words in the Miami Herald.
But unreported in that brief media attention was Major League Baseball's reaction to the arrest. MLB already had an eye trained on the campus. There were too many minor-leaguers coming out of the school who were failing drug tests.
Now league investigators followed a trail that began with the Ratcliff arrest. An official worked with players and police and discovered that prominent UM players had been suspended, according to an MLB source familiar with the investigation, due to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) but that such punishment was kept quiet by team administrators and coach Jim Morris. The league shared its concerns, which were not disclosed to the media, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
"It showed that the University of Miami program is dirty as sin," says a former MLB official familiar with the league's investigation. It's not known whether the NCAA had any reaction. The University of Miami declined to comment for this story or to make Coach Morris available for an interview.
That MLB investigation didn't turn up the fact that one of the players' off-campus sources was a fake doctor named Tony Bosch who had set up shop just across the street. Bosch and his clinic, Biogenesis, would later become the center of an MLB steroid scandal after a Miami New Times investigation revealed he'd been providing performance-enhancing drugs to scores of big-leaguers; 15 in all would later be suspended for their ties to the clinic, including Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended a record 211 games.
But Bosch's own records confirm that his ties to the UM program ran deep. It wasn't until UM alumni-turned-MLB stars began testing positive for PEDs that league officials learned how right they had been about the school's years-long PED problem.
The U may be most famous nationally for its lightning-rod football program, but UM's baseball teams are just as dominant. The school has worn a path to Omaha's College World Series since the early '70s and has won four national titles. Jim Morris has helmed the team since 1994 and wears two of those championship rings, from 1999 and 2001. One graduate in particular became among the best ballplayers of his generation — until he and several other fellow former UM Hurricanes drew national attention to the program for all the wrong reasons.
Tony Bosch's strongest link to the team came through his decades-long relationship with an incendiary pitching coach. Lazaro Collazo — who goes by "Lazer" — was a hard-throwing pitcher who anchored the relief squad on the UM team that won the 1985 College World Series.
Collazo later returned as an assistant coach and then the squad's pitching coach. Bald-headed and with the rock-solid bulk of a drill sergeant, he sports the sunglasses tan lines of a man who spends his life on a baseball field. While coaching at UM, he started a profitable side project, the Hardball Baseball League, a nomadic training league. Among his students: an adult Tony Bosch, always desperate to improve his personal game.
Though Collazo was a well-respected pitching coach — taking future pros like Danny Graves and Jay Tessmer under his wing at UM — his erratic behavior tended to sabotage his career with Anthony Weiner-like frequency. In 2003, the NCAA found that the hardball academy had violated multiple rules, including Collazo using it to funnel talented high-schoolers to the Canes and paying college players for their instruction.
The scandal nearly harpooned the baseball program. After 17 years there, Collazo resigned. The players paid homage by hanging his number 42 jersey in the Hurricanes dugout.
His next gig, as head coach of Miami's Gulliver baseball team, imploded the next year in even queasier fashion: He used a motivating tactic he was famous for, now with kids who were far too young. In the locker room after a loss, he whipped out his genitals in front of the high school team. He angrily wondered, according to a police report, if they "had a set of these or were equipped with a vagina." After resigning again, he ended up working with his cousin, an uncertified baseball agent in Miami.
Still a ubiquitous figure in South Florida youth ball, Collazo maintained relationships with UM stars, and Bosch maintained a relationship with him. He appears more than a dozen times in Bosch's notebooks, which indicate the steroid peddler also treated Collazo's baseball-playing sons for $60 a week.
Collazo trained young kids who had raw ability and no money just because he saw a glimmer of talent. That's why he had taken a prepubescent pitcher named Israel Chirino under his wing and become like a "father figure" to the kid, according to Kevin Santiago, who was Chirino's college roommate. And then, when Chirino went to UM and was drafted by the White Sox, he soon ended up in Tony Bosch's records.
In one note dated September 2011, Bosch writes, "Lazer: Re: Meeting with Gaby Sanchez." The future major-league first baseman, whose own PED problems in college have not been reported until now, was one of at least 11 UM players, coaches, and trainers whose names ultimately showed up in Bosch's notebooks.
The 2004 and 2005 Hurricanes baseball squads were two of the most talented teams in the school's storied hardball history. Those rosters included eight future major-leaguers, including one — Ryan Braun — who went on to win a National League MVP award. Gaby Sanchez slammed homers, center fielder Jon Jay was a menace on the bases, and preternaturally talented relief pitcher Chris Perez threw 90 mph fastballs.
But beyond the bright lights at the stadium, some players also brought the program trouble. Five key players were suspended and expelled, including two stars who several sources say were banned for a full season for testing positive for PEDs. The teams never snagged the College World Series title for which they seemed destined.
In on-the-record interviews, two players said that steroids were a known problem on the team, that PED tests posed little deterrence, and that if Jim Morris and other coaches showed any concern, it was only because the issue might boil over and destroy the baseball program. Little had apparently changed five years later, when a UM player made similar claims to an MLB investigator.
In March 2004, the team had steamed to 18 wins in 22 games when suddenly the veteran set-up man, Shawn Valdes-Fauli, was dismissed and starter Brandon Camardese was suspended. UM is a private school, under no obligation to reveal the reasoning behind player discipline. Jim Morris was tight-lipped, and with no information one newspaper columnist congratulated the coach on his apparent sternness. "He could have indulged the player misbehavior for the sake of bringing a better overall team into the playoffs," wrote a Miami Herald scribe. "Instead, he did right. The coach taught."
A little more than a month later came another suspension, this time of one of the best pitchers in Hurricanes history. Morris suspended closer George Huguet, along with his otherworldly 0.39 ERA, for "violating team policy," fresh off setting a new team record for saves. Though Morris again wouldn't dish, Huguet's teammates knew he had drug issues — and not of the steroid variety. "He had 'Ricky Williams syndrome,' " says one former high school player who was friends with many on the UM team that year. Weed was his vice, he claims. Huguet never played another game for the Canes, and within a few years his life had spiraled far off course: Once destined for Major League Baseball, instead he — along with another former-athlete friend who sold AK-47s on Facebook — was busted for selling cocaine to an undercover cop in Hialeah.
Amid the turmoil, the 2004 Hurricanes made it to the second round of the World Series, buoyed by pitcher Cesar Carrillo's undefeated 12-0 record.
The summer following that season, Braun, Sanchez, and Carrillo all played for the collegiate Cape Cod League, on a team called the Brewster Whitecaps. Braun struggled all summer and ultimately left early, but what his Brewster teammates remember is the 21-year-old kid bragging about his close relationship with 30-year-old superstar Alex Rodriguez. "He said him and Alex worked out together in Miami some when Alex came into town," says Steve Tolleson, who went on to play for two major-league teams. Another teammate remembers Braun ostentatiously talking to Rodriguez on the phone during a bus trip. And a third, outfielder Ryan Patterson, says most Brewster teammates found Braun's constant showboating about his famous friend to be annoying. "It bothered a few of the guys," Patterson says. "It was 'Alex has this car, and did this with me,' and the guys were like 'OK, can we play some baseball?' "
In 2005, the two suspensions that had the most obvious bearing on the later Biogenesis scandal hit.
A Christopher Columbus High graduate, pitcher Marcelo Albir was an heir to a mop fortune. His father, Carlos, owns the Miami-based ABCO Products. The elder Albir sits on bank boards and is a member of the Nicaraguan American Chamber of Commerce. Marcelo's brother, Carlos Jr., had already seized his corner office in the massive factory, where the walls are covered in highly stylized glossies of the string-topped cleaning implement.
But later, police records indicate Marcelo was no mild-mannered mop magnate. Arrest reports following his graduation from the school describe Albir pushing a Key West waitress as he railed about how much money he had spent at the bar, and another time yelling with friends at the bartender of a Miami-area hotel as they were getting kicked out for belligerence that they wished "they had their pistol with them because they would shoot him." (Neither arrest was prosecuted.)
Such antics were Albir's preferred stress relief even when he was at UM, according to an associate of the team who recalled him narrowly avoiding arrest at a South Beach club after it was explained that Albir was a Hurricane. Albir was close friends with teammate Sanchez, whose nickname among friends was "Hijo" — or "Son" — because he seemed perpetually attached to his father.
Albir and Sanchez were suspended in January 2005, again for those mysterious "university policy" violations. They did not play for the entire season. But the pair was, in fact, suspended after failing tests for PEDs, multiple sources with knowledge of the team confirm. Sanchez didn't respond to multiple requests for comment left with his agent.
Outfielder Kevin Santiago says he, Albir, and Sanchez were among seven players tested on a day in October 2004. Santiago remembers it was the first time the school subjected students to a PED test that wasn't during a College World Series. The students were instructed to give a urine sample in a bathroom adjacent to a trophy room. "I came in when Gaby was in there," Santiago says. "He was sitting in a stall, and it looked like he was trying to buy time."
Some weeks later, the team first heard that Sanchez and Albir were suspended. Santiago says Morris held an all-team meeting. " 'Certain guys have been suspended, and I don't want to say what it was for,' " Santiago says Morris told the team. " 'But I think you know what it was for.'
"The point of the meeting was, 'If you're using something, stop now, because we don't want the program to get into trouble,' " Santiago says.
Pitcher Raudel Alfonso says it was well known that Sanchez and Albir had failed the PED test.
Alfonso "Flaco" Otero was formerly a coach on the Westminster baseball squad and has run baseball camps at UM for more than 20 years. He has known Sanchez since he was 12 and confirms the player was suspended for testing positive for PEDs. "That caught a lot of people by surprise," Otero says. "It was a mistake, and Gaby has moved on." When MLB investigated the program, the league also learned that Sanchez and Albir had failed a test for performance enhancers, according to two MLB officials.
And failing such a test at UM took some skill, says the Hialeah-born Alfonso. "Drug testing was a joke," the former pitcher says. "A plain-out joke." He says athletes were typically informed on a Sunday night that they would have to submit to a test early the next morning at the Hecht Center, the University of Miami's athletic administrative hive. He recalls UM football players speaking openly about using Whizzinators, fake penises designed to fool drug testers. Another option was checking into the hospital with any ailment, which negated the test. Third, if athletes didn't show up at the Hecht Center on time, they were told to go to an outside testing center. So the most common ploy was for ballplayers to give their driver's licenses to similar-looking teammates who were clean and have them urinate at an outside center.
The UM team's steroid reputation was so widespread it even reached players from other colleges. "Everybody knew that the guys from Miami somehow had a connection," says Ryan Patterson, who played for Louisiana State University and then in the Blue Jays and Marlins organizations. But besides the one speech following the suspensions of Albir and Sanchez, Morris and other coaches didn't seem too concerned about getting to the bottom of the problem. "They didn't care," Raudel Alfonso says. "They didn't give a shit."
And neither did major-league scouts, apparently.
The Hurricanes fell flat to end the 2005 season, losing against the Huskers in a game in Lincoln, Nebraska. But a whopping nine UM players were drafted by MLB teams that year. Four of the five players who went in the first ten rounds — Braun and Carrillo, both drafted in the first round, as well as Gaby Sanchez and Israel Chirino — were named in Bosch's records, with Braun and Carrillo destined to be suspended in the Biogenesis case. Those names come as no surprise to teammates like Raudel Alfonso, who says they were all in the team clique surrounded by constant steroid rumors.
It's exactly those sorts of draft results that drive college players to juice. Though Alfonso says he didn't use steroids at UM, he gets why players did. The college baseball grind is "miserable," he says. You wake up at 5 a.m., work out and practice all week, play ball all weekend, and spend every day so sore you can't stand in the shower. When you see another player able to stand in the shower, you wonder if he's on PEDs, and you want to feel that same comfort. "It was never 'I'll take steroids to throw harder or hit a few more home runs,' " Alfonso says. "It was all about recovery."
And they were everywhere. "It was maybe as easy as getting marijuana," posits Kevin Santiago, who also says he never used steroids but seriously considered it.
For his part, Alfonso says if he wanted to procure steroids, he knows whom he would have asked first: Marcelo Albir. Another associate of the team, in an interview with an author of this article, says that when he did buy steroids, he got them from Albir.
And Major League Baseball came to believe that Albir was the conduit to players like Braun for Tony Bosch as well, according to a league official with knowledge of the Biogenesis investigation.
Tony Bosch — whose empire fell apart when a $4,000 debt wasn't paid to an employee who then took boxes full of incriminating documents — didn't always make his rent check. But sometimes he could be prescient. One of the reasons he homed in on UM ballplayers was because they would potentially graduate to the bigs and open another avenue for Biogenesis into the major leagues. And that's exactly how it played out.
Years later, after Biogenesis exposes revealed to some extent Bosch's infiltration of UM player and coach ranks, the school still appeared more concerned with damage control than rooting out the problem. The university released a defensive statement in the wake of the scandal pointing out that 3,380 student-athletes had been tested for PEDs since 2005 and that all had passed. But the school doesn't test for HGH. And "the university did not specify why it chose to release results that began in 2005," read an Associated Press article about the statement.
Of course, Sanchez and Albir had failed their tests the fall before.
In total, at least six players from those two UM seasons — Albir, Carrillo, Sanchez, Braun, Chirino, and third baseman Danny Valencia — were named in Bosch's records. Four were future major-leaguers. Carrillo and Braun were later suspended over their ties to Bosch, while Albir was embroiled in expensive civil litigation. Sanchez, Valencia, and Chirino were either cleared of wrongdoing or never punished.
Though it's unclear when Bosch began treating them, the records make it obvious that the links to UM that Bosch maintained, particularly with Lazer Collazo, were key to his relationship with this stable of players.
Soon after noting that he planned to meet with the ex-pitching coach about the former UM star Sanchez, Bosch's records suggest he set up several meetings with the Marlins first baseman. By 2011, when it appears the first meeting occurred, Sanchez was struggling desperately and would be shipped back to the minors. One of Bosch's notations next to Sanchez's name is simple: "$$$$." Sanchez was never suspended over his ties to Biogenesis, and baseball sources say they were unable to conclusively determine whether he was a Bosch client.
Once a prospect on par with Braun, Cesar Carrillo underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007 and never regained his pitching form. After several years of bush-league ball, he made his big-league debut for the Houston Astros in 2009, but his first start came against the Milwaukee Brewers, a powerful lineup anchored by none other than Ryan Braun. Carrillo was shellacked, giving up eight runs, including a two-run homer to his ex-teammate. Two games later, he was sent back to the minors for good. The notebooks indicate the pitcher turned to Bosch to break back into the bigs. The Biogenesis chief had at least six meetings with Carrillo and noted he had sold him HGH and testosterone.
Danny Valencia was a six-foot-two slugger who transferred to UM in 2005. He made it to the majors in 2010 with the Twins and racked up 330 at-bats and a .267 average while bouncing between Minnesota and the minors. Valencia is listed in one of Bosch's notebooks under the heading "Baseball," along with a number of other pro clients including Braun and Alex Rodriguez. As with Sanchez, MLB officials later decided they did not have ample evidence that Valencia had been a Bosch client after the clinic owner claimed he had never treated him; it's possible he's listed as a prospective client that Bosch simply hoped to nab.
Israel Chirino — nicknamed "Chique" by the faux doctor — never made it to the bigs, despite Collazo's and Bosch's best efforts. Drafted by the White Sox in 2004, he saw his career sputter to a halt in high-A ball in 2009. The records suggest that Chirino, like Carrillo, turned to Bosch for an unsuccessful comeback, with his name showing up in the notebooks at least four times.
As he treated these UM players-turned-pros, Bosch continued to acquire fresh clients from UM. In 2009, D.J. Swatscheno walked into his office. Once one of the top high school pitchers in Broward County, he asked for Bosch's help in recovering from Tommy John surgery during his freshman year at UM. Swatscheno had the same drastic surgery as a sophmore and then — after transferring to Florida International University — a remarkable third time in one college career. His name appears at least a dozen times in Bosch's books.
Swatscheno's teammate Yasmani Grandal was a prodigiously talented catcher from Miami Springs. By his senior season in 2010, the catcher was eating college pitching for breakfast: His year-end stats included a .401 batting average and 15 homers. He was also one of Bosch's most loyal clients, as revealed by the notebooks. Bosch, who used the nickname "Springs" for the catcher, later hand-delivered drugs to him in spring training before his rookie year with the San Diego Padres.
Soon after Grandal's teammate Frankie Ratcliff was busted in 2010 with 19 vials of HGH, Bosch's reach into UM's current program grew even deeper. He began treating a well-respected veteran trainer: James "Jimmy" Goins, a balding, goateed man in his early 30s, had been working in UM's gyms since 2004. He was just the type of customer who made Bosch's eyes light up, and from his notebooks it's clear he had big plans for Goins. In one entry, he includes Goins' name under a scrawled heading about "Scores Sports Management," an agency that Bosch wanted to launch.
On Saturday, February 11, 2011, Bosch recorded a meeting with Goins as a new patient. They met more than a dozen times afterward. A handwritten page dated the next month shows what Bosch was selling him: MIC, amino acids, Winstrol, testosterone, DHEA, and IGF-1, an insulin popular with bodybuilders to stimulate muscle growth.
Goins later denied distributing PEDs to students and sued Miami New Times, the Miami Herald, and other media outlets — a case later dismissed by a judge. UM opened its own probe, conducting more than 50 interviews and bringing in a third party to test all of its baseball players; the probe closed in March 2013, and the school says it found that any claims that Goins gave drugs to athletes were "unsubstantiated."
But Bosch's records certainly suggest he attempted to milk the trainer for his connections. On the same page of notes outlining Goins' purchases, Bosch wrote he sold Goins a $75 Christmas gift certificate with a $100 bonus for referring new patients.
The book Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era is available at Amazon.com.
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in South Florida.