Steroids' Long History at the University of Miami

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.

But to a subset of kids in the Coral Gables dorms, Ratcliff was much more famous as a reliable connection for good weed.

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.

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Tim Elfrink is an award-winning investigative reporter, the managing editor of the Miami New Times and the co-author of "Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era." Since 2008, he's written in-depth pieces on police corruption, fatal shootings and social justice issues across South Florida. He's won the George Polk Award and has been a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink