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A Cousin with a Rocket Launcher
The crisp ping of metal on rubber and hard cork echoed across the neatly trimmed fields just outside Birmingham, Alabama. A few dozen spectators in lawn chairs arched their necks in unison, tracking a softball arcing across the sky.
Tony Bosch was twenty-seven years old, with a preppy mop of black hair over thick eyebrows. He’d worked for years and spent thousands of dollars waiting for this moment.
When the final out of the game landed harmlessly in the outfielder’s glove, every fielder sprinted toward a second-base celebratory pile-on.
It was 1990, and the Miami Meds were national softball champions.
Bosch hadn’t played an inning of the tournament. But like an extremely low-rent George Steinbrenner striking deals for beer-bellied all-stars, he was the man who’d made this title happen. Ever since he’d grown up obsessed with baseball in Queens, New York, Bosch had struggled to find a way into the game. Too short and slow to stick as a player, he’d long since abandoned his dream of smacking game-winning homers like his childhood New York Mets heroes Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones.
But here, in the intensely competitive late ’80s and early ’90s Miami softball circuit, where coke dealers funded teams like glamour projects and major league stars including Jose and Ozzie Canseco showed up to bash slow-pitched leather grapefruits over the wall, Bosch had found his niche.
He’d turned his medical supply company—Miami Med Marketing, Inc.—into one of the biggest sponsors in the local league, drawing top-notch league players and even a few former college stars to wear nylon tributes to his beloved Mets.
On weeknights after work and weekend mornings before games, he’d obsess over statistics and watch video of his upcoming opponents. He’d fill notebooks with his neat, all-caps handwriting, plotting out who would pinch-hit, how he’d arrange his fielders for each batter, and what situational matchups he’d expect. On game day, he’d be on the bench commanding the field. Every once in a while, if the game was a blowout, he might even pencil in his own name and take an at-bat or two.
“For Tony, this was absolutely a passion. He put in just an incredible amount of time and money,” says Roger De Armas, a lifelong friend and Tony’s partner in Miami Meds, both the company and the softball team. “He was super excited to win it all.”
Sure, it was far from Major League Baseball, but on that night in Alabama, softball brought Tony a joy as unalloyed and pure as he’d felt as a kid watching the 1969 Miracle Mets hustle their way to a World Series ring.
Anyone who knew Tony knew that he truly loved baseball. But moments like this, where the game returned the affection, were rare. In truth, Tony Bosch’s relationship with the game more closely mirrored the doomed marriages and acrimonious business partnerships that stalked his life. The ill-fated flirtation ended with a historic scandal and attorneys brawling on Park Avenue.
Tony’s family came from a nation with its own conflicted relationship with baseball. In Cuba, politics and sports were often intertwined, as was violence. That explosive strand ran through the Bosch family history.
His father, Pedro, was born on October 19, 1937, in Jatibonico, a hamlet of forty thousand people right in the center of the Cuban island. More than two hundred miles southeast of bustling, cosmopolitan Havana, with its world-famous casinos and brothels, and nearly as far from the cooling ocean currents of the Caribbean coast, Jatibonico was sun-baked and fly-ridden. It was the sort of unpaved provincial town a gifted student like Pedro fled as soon as he could.
He did so in September 1955. The noisy chaos of Havana would have been a shock for any seventeen-year-old from the sticks, but Pedro Bosch must have felt especially small when he arrived at the University of Havana and enrolled in the school of medicine. The first mention of his name placed him in the shadow of a revolutionary cousin who was already a towering figure at the med school.
Orlando Bosch was nine years older than Pedro, from an even smaller Cuban village eighty miles west of Jatibonico. Like his younger first cousin, he was too talented and restless for life in a country town.
During his own tenure at the university, Orlando had become chums with a loquacious, brilliantly charismatic classmate named Fidel Castro. Orlando’s and Fidel’s paths followed close trajectories: As the fiery Orlando fought his way to become president of the medical students, the captivating Fidel won the same leadership role in the law school.
They both loathed Cuba’s corrupt, American-supported puppet regime, especially after a puffed-up military officer named Fulgencio Batista grabbed power in a 1952 coup. The palm-shaded university campus became ground zero for dissent, and Bosch and Castro were among the most active student leaders. The pair regularly plotted revolution in the school’s decaying, Greek-inspired buildings.
Fidel turned Cuba upside down starting in late 1956, when he crash-landed a yacht filled with rebels to spark a bloody three-year revolution. But during their school years, Orlando Bosch was arguably the more feared of the two campus leaders. His fellow med students had nicknamed him Piro, short for pyromaniac, as a nod to his explosive temper. During one campus uprising, he famously punched a police lieutenant.
Pedro arrived at the school two years after Orlando graduated. The older cousin had briefly lived in the United States, studying pediatrics at an Ohio university, before returning to his native province to become the first doctor administering polio vaccine in the rural area. Pedro was an equally proficient student. He earned a spot at the Calixto Garcia Hospital in downtown Havana and worked his way from the ob-gyn department to general surgery.
During the revolution, Orlando was a leader of the 26th of July Movement, Fidel’s revolutionary organization, in his native Santa Clara Province. Orlando met guerrilla forces in the rugged mountains around central Cuba, plotting attacks on Batista’s garrisons and communicating with Fidel and his revolutionary leader, Che Guevara.
While Orlando was fighting through the jungle with Fidel and Che, Pedro learned medicine. As Fidel’s rebels and Batista’s soldiers massacred one another, Pedro Bosch tended to patients and studied with physicians at Calixto Garcia. As Che and Castro led the decisive final march into Havana in 1959, which finally ended with Batista being ousted from power, Bosch worked in the surgery department. At school, he met another young med student named Stella, whom he soon married.
But if the teenager from Jatibonico mirrored his famous cousin in smarts and medical proficiency, he lacked Orlando’s explosive political gene. Pedro hadn’t escaped dusty Jatibonico and learned medicine in order to practice it for a pittance in a Socialist paradise.
In 1961, soon after Castro cemented his new revolutionary Marxist government, Pedro and Stella fled the island to Miami. Pedro and his wife then moved to New York, settling into a small Cuban niche in Astoria, Queens. In 1963, Tony was born. As Pedro perfected his credentials, at one point moving alone to Spain to complete his training at a Madrid university, Stella remained behind with baby Tony.
In a New York neighborhood packed with Greeks, the Bosches joined a budding network of other Cuban immigrants who had escaped Fidel’s reign. These countrymen included Roger De Armas’s parents.
Roger’s earliest memories in New York are of watching baseball with kindergarten-aged Tony Bosch, who loved playing catch in the street and talking about his hometown team.
“Tony always had his hands on a baseball,” Roger remembers.
The New York Mets were a team only a six-year-old could truly love. They were nearly the same age as Tony Bosch, in fact, and their pedigree was that of the worst team in history, playing in garish orange-and-blue uniforms in a concrete stadium in New York City’s blue-collar borough.
As the 1969 season kicked off, Bosch was just old enough to start seriously idolizing the boys of summer down the road. For most of the year, the Mets looked like they’d be adding another tally to their long losing streak. By August 13, the team was ten games behind the first-place Cubs.
Then miracles started happening by the filthy Flushing Bay. Led by fireballing young aces Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and unlikely offensive heroes like the workmanlike Ron Swoboda, the Mets reeled off thirty-four wins while losing only seventeen in the season’s final two months. In the end, they powered past the Cubs and into the playoffs. Then, even more improbably, the Amazin’s swept the Braves to win the National League and destroyed the Orioles 4–1 in the World Series. The Miracle Mets were world champs, and young Tony Bosch—listening in on the radio, catching glimpses on the TV—was hooked.
The next year, Pedro earned a residency in the ER at Miami’s North Shore Medical Center, and soon thereafter, young Tony packed up his Seaver posters, his bat, and his glove, and moved with his parents to Coral Gables, the leafy, moneyed neighborhood that’s home to the University of Miami.
While Pedro followed an ambitious career track, his notorious cousin had gone well off the rails. Orlando Bosch, like many formerly in Fidel Castro’s camp, had quickly come to believe that “El Comandante” was just as bad or worse than the despotic president he’d overthrown.
Orlando had also moved to Miami, harboring his incongruous cocktail of medicine and violence. He was fired from his position as assistant director of a hospital after his bosses found out he’d been storing bombs there. In 1964, he’d been caught towing a homemade torpedo through downtown Miami during rush hour. In 1966, rural sheriffs in Central Florida had stopped Orlando’s rickety Cadillac convertible and found six one-hundred-pound aerial bombs in the trunk.
And in 1968, Orlando had pulled his car over to the shoulder of the MacArthur Causeway, the highway spanning Biscayne Bay between South Beach and downtown Miami alongside the Port of Miami. He calmly opened his trunk, pulled out a fifty-seven-millimeter bazooka, and took aim at a Communist Polish freighter docked across the water.
Passing motorists gaped as he pulled the trigger. The rocket whistled over Government Cut and sizzled past docked ships before bouncing off the freighter and falling harmlessly into the channel.
And in 1976, when thirteen-year-old Anthony Bosch was in middle school, Orlando was tied to a far more atrocious crime while out on parole from the bazooka attack.
Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 had taken off from Barbados’s Seawell Airport bound for Jamaica on October 6, 1976. Among the seventy-three passengers were twenty-four members of Cuba’s national fencing team, which had just won gold at a competition of Central American and Caribbean nations. Eleven minutes after takeoff, two dynamite bombs wired with timers ripped through the jet.
The plane plummeted eighteen thousand feet into the Caribbean. All passengers on board died. Twelve days later, Bosch was arrested with another notorious Cuban terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, in Venezuela and charged as the leader of the operation. He was ultimately acquitted in that country due to a lack of admissible evidence. Later-declassified American covert records incriminated him in the attack, though he continued claiming his innocence until his death in 2011.
The bombing monopolized Miami newspaper ink for months, and teenage Tony was linked by his last name to the most infamous Cuban terrorist. “Of course everyone knew they were related,” De Armas says. “[But]it’s not like Orlando was dropping by family barbecues, and they sure didn’t bring him up. Having a cousin who blows up airliners isn’t the kind of thing that you talk about a lot in public.”
• • •
Tony’s own upbringing in Miami was a world away from Third World environs and militant activism. He was a baseball-obsessed doctor’s son, and in 1979 he enrolled as a freshman at the exclusive Christopher Columbus High School. An all-boys Catholic institution just west of Coral Gables, Columbus boasted one of the best academic programs in Dade County. Tony’s fellow alumni included CEOs, a county mayor, the official poet at Barack Obama’s 2013 presidential inauguration—and several professional baseball players.
The late ’70s were a boom time for baseball in the Magic City. For nearly two decades, refugees from hardball-crazy Cuba like the Bosch family had been finding political refuge in Little Havana and Hialeah. They joined growing communities in the city from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and every other Latin baseball powerhouse. The city was a simmering hotbed for young players.
In fact, as Tony showed up for his freshman year, one of the best—and most hated—baseball players of his generation enrolled at Miami Coral Park High School, just a mile north of Columbus. Like Bosch, Jose Canseco’s parents had fled Castro’s Cuba for Miami. And just like Bosch, presteroidal Canseco struggled for playing time in a talent pool of mammoth boys.
Miami’s high school teams had never been more stacked. “I didn’t even make the varsity team until my senior year of high school,” Canseco wrote in his first memoir, Juiced. “How many future major leaguers can you say that about?”
A short way south, Tony Bosch didn’t make any more of a splash at Columbus High. He’d started playing on youth teams at the Big Five Club, an exilio institution in west Miami founded by the members of Havana’s five most prestigious country clubs. But Tony never really filled out. By the time he showed up at Columbus, his unathletic build was already beginning to betray him.
And the Columbus baseball program was filthy with talent, both playing and coaching. The varsity squad included future big leaguer Orestes Destrade and Seattle Mariners draftee David Hartnett. The JV squad’s head coach that year was a fresh-faced twenty-four-year-old who had agreed to teach at Columbus while he looked for a job as a baseball broadcaster. His name was Jim Hendry, and the few years he spent working his way up the coaching ranks at Columbus propeled him on to the most remarkable baseball career of any alum, including a nine-year stint as the Chicago Cubs general manager and vice president.
Hendry now works in the New York Yankees’ front office, a workplace in which Bosch’s name later became toxic. But the former Columbus coach can’t add much to the portrait of the steroid dealer as a young athlete. “I don’t remember this guy being much of a player at all,” Hendry says. “If he was, he would’ve stuck with me.”
“He was not a significant player on our team,” agrees teammate Mickey Maspons.
Nick Martin-Hidalgo, another member of that freshman squad, is even more blunt: “He was no good,” he says. “He spent a lot of time on the bench.”
Christopher Columbus president Jim Bernhardt calls Bosch “just a shadow in the park.”
Look at the team’s yearbook photo and it’s easy to see why. Even among the fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds in blue polyester Columbus jerseys, he looks small. Dark hair hangs over his eyes as he peers out past the shoulder of a larger, already more muscular teammate.
Bosch got the message. He never played competitive baseball again after his freshman year. But that doesn’t mean he stopped thinking about how to find his way back in.
Preppy and privileged, teenage Tony Bosch couldn’t have seemed more distant from his bomb-building cousin. But maybe he did share some of the same kinds of genes with Orlando Bosch. After never gaining footing in the game of baseball, he aimed his own kind of bazooka at the establishment.
• • •
You can’t get much more American than a New York Yankee who collects Cognac, shops Armani, travels in a Maybach, owns a Picasso, and declares Wall Street to be his favorite film.
But Alex Rodriguez’s grandfather had worked for centavos behind the San Juan Municipal Slaughterhouse in Santo Domingo, stretching and stitching cowhides into shoes. And before leaving the Dominican Republic for New York, Alex’s father, Victor, was an outspoken activist against the brutal president who had ruled the island.
In the northernmost Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, where the family landed and Rodriguez was born in 1975, his childhood apartment was crazy like the inside of the 1 train: parents, siblings, a steady stream of cousins, towers of ladies’ shoes in boxes, and the customers who flocked to the apartment to buy them. With a protective mom, Lourdes, Alex was rarely allowed to leave this hive of activity.
So he ran up and down the apartment’s hallway, one of those confined spaces that an adult covers in three quick steps but that unrolled like a playing field to a kid filled with rambunctious energy.
That’s how Ana Lopez remembers her younger cousin every time she visited in the first four years of Alex’s life. Alex would be running from his officious older half sister, screaming and laughing down that hallway, as he tried to avoid taking a shower. Or he’d be playing hallway baseball, using any ball he could get his hands on and a stick, running back and forth, always yelling. And always buck naked.
To Lopez, who lived in the Dominican Republic but visited every summer on her way to American camp, the Rodriguezes were like the Washington Heights Brady Bunch. Both Victor and Lourdes had children from previous marriages. Lourdes’s son Joe shared a bedroom with Alex, and her daughter, Susy, had her own princess-themed boudoir. (Victor’s son from his previous marriage, Victor Jr., was largely estranged from his father. He went on to be a high-ranking US Army official who barely knew Alex Rodriguez.) And Lopez remembers another constant presence in the crowded apartment, a chubby teenager who was inseparable from Alex.
Yuri Sucart—with the first name pronounced by Spanish-speaking tongues as “Judy”—was the son of one of Lourdes’s brothers, Lopez says. A deadly car accident in the Dominican Republic had left Yuri orphaned as a baby. So extended family on both the island and in the United States took him in. Victor and Lourdes became Yuri’s guardians for at least part of his childhood.
Thirteen years older than Alex Rodriguez, he was a big brother to the baby boy. “He’s been with me since I was born,” Rodriguez said much later, when his relationship with Sucart had turned notorious but he still kept him around—to a point.
Victor Rodriguez, Alex’s father, made a living driving to outlet malls in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, filling his vehicle with Nine West and Anne Klein heels, and selling them out of his apartment to fellow Dominicans. Lourdes worked long hours on an assembly line at a Ford automotive plant in Mahwah, New Jersey. When that closed, Lourdes bounced to another Jersey town, getting work at the Ford plant in Edison.
Lourdes’s brother, Augusto Bolivar Navarro, lived with his own family in Washington Heights. “Tio Bolivar,” as family called him, was a Yankees fanatic. A gregarious, corpulent man, he spent his workdays in Manhattan’s diamond district, prepping precious stones for display. At home, he angled his armchair in a corner of the living room and held court there so steadfastly that it was forever indented with a mold of Tio Bolivar’s ass.
He hung a big photo of Alex as a kid in a baseball uniform on the wall. Visiting relatives teased him that the place looked like a memorabilia store.
When Tio Bolivar and Yuri crowded into the kitchen, those same relatives had another bit. “Get them out of the kitchen!” Lopez says family members yelled of the uncle and nephew. “They’re going to eat everything!”
Bolivar was almost like a father to Alex and Yuri. When Victor ultimately left the family, Alex’s uncle tried his best to fill that void. “It was a very close-knit family at that time,” says Lopez.
It wasn’t an easy life in Washington Heights. But there’s a truth Alex Rodriguez’s parents experienced, one known by many in Miami with Third World roots: Once you escape the grips of a despot, lesser struggles become almost sweet in comparison. And like Anthony Bosch, Rodriguez had the genes of a political agitator.
The general who had taken control of the Dominican Republic when Victor was an infant, Rafael Trujillo, was an effete, round-faced man whose head was crowned with a severe sheen of white hair. He was a plotter. He encouraged baseball in his country in order to keep the lower classes distracted, and the Dominican Republic would one day become the spigot that would flood the major leagues. He offered safe haven and a livelihood to Jews fleeing Europe during World War II, not for humanitarian reasons (he had just earlier ordered the massacre of more than twenty thousand Haitians) but because it was an opportunity to “whiten” his island.
But mostly, he slaughtered, imprisoned, and stole. In her unauthorized biography, A-Rod, Selena Roberts recounted the rebel leader mythology of Victor Rodriguez, an amateur baseball player. There were murky tales of Rodriguez’s insurgency leading him to be dragged from a bar by Military Intelligence Service goons and beaten with brass knuckles.
It is clear that Rodriguez was outspoken after the coup that ended Trujillo’s reign, a torrent of bullets killing the general in his blue Chevy Bel Air outside of Santo Domingo in 1961. Along with doctors, professors, and other Dominican activists, Rodriguez co-edited an anti-Trujillo newspaper called the Tribuna Libre. The newspaper called for the release of political prisoners and the erection of a monument to a countryman killed by Trujillo’s regime, and it waxed passionate about the “patriotic frenzy that one day will inspire a cry welling hopelessly from our breast: LIBERTY!”
But for all his boldness, Victor was flighty. He sifted through business enterprises and cities like a blackjack player trying his luck at different tables. Ultimately, he decided that financial stability was worth breaking his son’s heart.
When Alex was four, Victor decided that they would be better off in the Dominican Republic. The family moved back to Santo Domingo, living in Victor’s sister’s home, and began to struggle financially. Two years later, they bounced to Miami. Victor tried to convince Lourdes to move the family back to New York. He wanted the “fast-paced” life in the city, Alex later said, and Lourdes wanted to stay put.
So in 1985, when Alex was six, Victor packed a bag and left. “I thought he was coming back. I thought he had gone to the store or something,” Alex Rodriguez told the Seattle Times thirteen years later, in a rare introspective interview. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”
“He went back to New York to find a way to make a living,” says Alex’s cousin Ana Lopez. “But Tia Lourdes thought they had a future in Florida. I don’t think he intended to be separated from them, because he adored those kids.”
Alex Rodriguez didn’t hear from Victor until the day he was picked first overall in the Major League Baseball draft, and his father called to congratulate him. Lourdes was pissed, Rodriguez later said: “My special day, Mom thought, and my father had no right to be a part of it.”
• • •
After his baseball dreams died in high school, Tony Bosch always figured he’d find his destiny in medical school. Practicing medicine ran in the blood. Both his parents, as well as several cousins including Orlando, had donned a doctor’s white coat. In 1977, his dad, Pedro, had opened his own general practice, the Coral Way Medical Center.
The center was a true family business. Tony’s mom, Stella, was the financial director. Tony and his younger brother, Ashley, spent hours every week at the clinic.
“Tony always had a love for medicine,” says Hernan Dominguez, a childhood friend and later a business partner, whose father was also a doctor.
Unfortunately, Tony Bosch was no more dedicated to his grades than he was to improving his baseball game. When he graduated in 1982, there was no hope of a premed program taking him in. He bounced in and out of undergrad programs at two private schools in North Carolina before coming back home to start a two-year respiratory medicine degree at Miami Dade College, a community school in downtown Miami.
While studying, he met Tiki Rodriguez, an easygoing Miami native who was charmed by Tony. They dated for a few years, and in August 1984, they married. De Armas walked as one of Bosch’s best men. The next day, Bosch returned the favor by walking in De Armas’s wedding. The two newly married couples joined each other for a honeymoon in Acapulco.
Tony Bosch was radiant, and not just because he was a newlywed. He was about to take the next step toward joining the family trade.
Working as a low-paid respiratory therapist didn’t fit that bill. Bosch had enrolled at the Universidad Central Del Este in the Dominican Republic, one of the Caribbean’s biggest medical schools. It wasn’t recognized in the United States, but the degree would open doors toward getting into an American program, something Tony could never have earned with his middling grades. So after returning from their Mexican honeymoon, Bosch and Tiki packed up and moved to San Pedro de Macorís, the university town on the south coast of the Dominican Republic.
Once again, Tony couldn’t cut it. To him, home was a handsome, two-story house on a tree-shaded lane in a wealthy Miami enclave. Now twenty-three years old, he suddenly found himself living in a poverty-stricken city in the heart of the Third World, where electricity and water were spotty, with a new wife to support and Spanish-language medical classes all day.
Bosch tried for about two years but eventually bailed out and moved back to Miami. “He moved down there with his wife and it was just too much responsibility,” Dominguez says. “He had to drop out.”
So he devised an easier way to break into medical business: salesmanship. Bosch reconnected with De Armas, who’d recently moved back to Miami. The two old friends set up a business reselling medical supplies.
It wasn’t a glamorous gig, but, to De Armas’s surprise, the friends were good at it. Pedro’s connections in the medical world and among Little Havana’s tightly knit Cuban community gave them a natural in, and for the first time, Roger saw his childhood friend’s true gift.
Tony Bosch couldn’t hit or field and was nobody’s idea of an athlete. He was smart, but not nearly driven enough to cut it in medical school. He didn’t have his uncle Orlando’s fiery passion or his dad’s steely self-determination.
But damned if Tony couldn’t sell anything.
“Great marketers are basically great at bullshit, and no one was better at bullshitting than Tony,” De Armas says. “Tony could sell you a waterfront condo in the Everglades and you’d thank him on the way out.”
While De Armas held down the office and organized orders, Tony visited doctors’ offices around Dade County, selling them on new equipment, basic supplies, or anything else he could convince them to pay him for. With his coy smile and dark mess of hair, Tony was even more popular with the young women who worked at the front desks.
Miami Med Management Consultants made respectable profits. Bosch and his wife bought a small house in the Gables, and in 1987, they had a daughter.
Tony also found his way back out onto the diamond. He’d played recreational softball ever since graduating from high school. Now that he had a profitable company, which he shared with the equally baseball-loving De Armas, Bosch arrived at the idea of sponsoring a team.
Though the regional fad has been largely forgotten, in the late 1980s, softball in Miami was hitting a peak moment in the zeitgeist. Every weekend, on floodlit fields in Tropical Park or on baseball diamonds across Hialeah, thousands gathered to wallop slow-pitched balls and to swig beers after games. There’s no doubt that the heart of the softball scene was recreational and booze-soaked, but there was also a hard-edged competitive spirit growing.
In part, it was fed by the same incredibly deep talent pool that had made high school ball such a challenge for kids like Tony Bosch. The gifted players who had made those teams, and even the guys who went on to star in college or play in the minors, all flooded softball leagues to recapture their glory days.
Miami’s booming underworld of drug lords also saw an investment opportunity in the amateur teams. The city’s immigrant influx had changed it in more ways than just its baseball pedigree. In 1980, Fidel Castro had hoodwinked President Jimmy Carter into allowing more than 125,000 Cubans to immigrate to Miami. What Carter didn’t know was that a large number were violent criminals and mental patients culled from the island’s asylums and prisons. The Mariel Boatlift, as the fiasco became known, remade Miami as thousands of hardened criminals slaughtered one another in South Beach and made Biscayne Bay the heart of America’s cocaine trade.
Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta—a pair later betrayed by their own meticulous bookkeeping, which revealed the scope of their operation—imported roughly seventy-five tons of cocaine, worth about $1 billion, into Miami before they were caught. And they also built an ass-kicking softball team, called the Seahawks. Falcon and Magluta paid one nineteen-year-old Canadian pitcher $50,000, and gave him a bright red Porsche, to move to Florida to be the team’s ringer.
“Some of the biggest sponsors back then are in prison now,” says Jesus Morales, a longtime player, organizer, and unofficial historian of Miami’s softball scene. “There were guys who would spend $200,000 or $250,000 sponsoring a softball team.”
Bosch didn’t have the liquid assets of a cocaine kingpin, but he and De Armas sank a few thousand dollars into uniforms, and the Miami Meds were born. Every year, they added a few more competitive players and stepped up a rung on the competitive ladder. By 1990, the team was so stacked that Bosch and De Armas only penciled themselves into the lineup if there was a blowout.
The best player on that year’s squad was Paul Biocic, a speedy, powerful hitter who’d played college ball in Chicago before moving to Miami for work. “He truly loved what he was doing with the team,” Biocic recalls of Bosch. “He didn’t play hardly at all, but anything we needed done practice-wise, he was there: throwing batting practice, shagging flies, just helping out.”
With the stacked roster, the team pulled off a Miracle Mets–esque run through the playoffs, rolling to a state title in Clearwater to earn a bid to Alabama. There, they blasted through a ninety-one-team field to earn a title game tilt with another Miami-area team.
With Biocic starring, they won and hoisted a national title. It was just softball, but it was a big deal. The victory earned a write-up in the Miami Herald’s sports section, and Tony Bosch exulted in the victory, hosting a drunken celebration at his house when the team returned to town. “He was ecstatic,” De Armas says.
• • •
The story of how prepubescent Alex Rodriguez, the boy without a father, ended up playing organized ball is apocryphal, shifting in every newspaper profile, young adult tome, and unauthorized biography in which some version is retold. It’s Major League Baseball’s Malcolm-X-picking-up-the-Koran-in-prison moment. The elements are usually similar: sweltering Miami day. Eight-year-old Alex hanging alone on some monkey bars. A Little League team gathers to practice—or, alternatively, to play a game. They’re one kid short.
A big, bearded coach lands his eyes on the jungle gym runt. “Hey, kid, do you want to play?”
The heart of the story is true. The coach was J. D. Arteaga, who is said to have been the first to notice that Alex—playing that day against kids two years older than him—was of a special talent and composure.
Arteaga’s son, also named JD, became Rodriguez’s best friend. The Arteagas brought him to the Hank Kline Boys & Girls Club and introduced him to Eduardo Marcelino Rodriguez, the trim, intense coach forever prowling the facility. If your elbow sagged while batting, Eddie Rodriguez was the sort who would come running out of the dugout—screaming a blue streak—and slap your arm back to proper stance. Alex craved such tough love.
Probing for acceptance and guidance from older male mentors was a quest in which Rodriguez partook well into adulthood, with varying degrees of success. Scott Boras, Jose Canseco, and Joe Torre all found themselves taking under their wing this insecure kid named Alex with the net worth of a CEO and the sweet stroke of Joe DiMaggio. “He was constantly looking for people he could trust,” says childhood friend Tom Bernhardt.
Eddie was one of those first dad stand-ins, as Alex sometimes pulled out a sleeper couch to spend the night at the facility. “His mom worked two jobs,” says Bernhardt of Alex, “so the Boys Club was basically his home.”
It was also sometimes home for Eddie. Nicknamed “El Gallo” or “Macho Eddie,” he had first been hired by the facility at age sixteen. During a divorce, Eddie Rodriguez, who then made $28,000 a year, also lived on a fold-out couch at the Boys & Girls Club. And in 1993, the Miami Herald reported that he was arrested and suspended for allegedly accepting a $400 bribe to fabricate paperwork getting a traffic offender out of community service at the club. (That record has been expunged and Rodriguez refused to discuss the case with the authors.)
But as the reigning shah of Miami-area Boys & Girls Clubs, Eddie was the keeper of regional elite youth baseball talent. Danny Tartabull, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jose Canseco, all of whom became baseball superstars, played ball at the local clubs when they were young.
Eddie Rodriguez, a Cuban-born former minor league ballplayer who wore skintight black shirts and big crucifix necklaces, mentored Alex throughout his childhood and into his professional career—turning against his protégé only when A-Rod was nearly middle-aged and his constant scandals pissed Eddie off for the last time.
A peculiar baseball-obsessed family sprouted at the Boys & Girls Club. The de facto hitting instructor was a wizened security guard the kids called “The Old Man.” Septugenarian Rene Janero had played ball in Cuba and now lived on the club grounds. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but he was a master of the fluid swing.
Alex Rodriguez then lived in a Miami suburb called West Kendall with his mom, Susy, Joe, and, at times, Yuri Sucart. Rodriguez, twelve years younger than Anthony Bosch, lived six miles down the traffic-clogged artery of US 1, also known as West Dixie Highway, from Coral Gables, where Bosch grew up.
That short drive signified a world of change between Bosch’s upbringing and that of Rodriguez. High-end department stores became strip malls. Teenagers drove battered Mitsubishis instead of new BMWs. Red-tiled, white-stucco villas were replaced by the sort of shabby suburban family houses you’ll see anywhere in America, albeit with palm trees in the yard.
This was the divide Rodriguez struggled to reconcile throughout his teenage years, even into adulthood. At the time, baseball earned him entry to exclusive prep schools. While his classmates’ parents were doctors and attorneys, Lourdes’s two jobs included shifts at a place called El Pollo Supremo.
He was a latchkey kid from Washington Heights and the Dominican Republic, trying to break into the rarefied environs belonging to the Bosch children of the world. “Alex probably felt inferior,” says Tom Bernhardt, himself the son of a successful insurance agent. “On the outside he was cocky, but on the inside he was scared. He didn’t know who to talk to. He was around all these affluent people. He must have thought, I don’t have the background that all these kids have, so how am I going to make it? And the only answer was sports.”
Rodriguez has said that he never knew how his private high school education was paid for. The answer, at least for one of the schools, was Tom’s father, Jim Bernhardt. Jim, president of both the regional Boys & Girls Club and Christopher Columbus High, admired the driven, lanky fourteen-year-old, whom he calls a “good listener.” “I knew he couldn’t go to a private school,” says Bernhardt. “I paid his tuition. I wish that wouldn’t be publicized, because he doesn’t even know that today.”
Seven years after Anthony Bosch graduated Columbus High, leaving barely a mark on the collective memory of the school’s baseball community, Alex Rodriguez enrolled at the top Catholic school near Coral Gables.
And the funny thing is, he didn’t fare much better on the baseball team than Bosch had.
His slick fielding had attracted attention at Gulliver Middle School. And under Eddie Rodriguez’s tutelage, he had held his own in travel team lineups full of kids several years older than him and already displaying disturbing amounts of facial hair. So as has been the case ever since, Alex Rodriguez’s arrival was preceded by hype. “We knew who he was,” says Kelvin Cabrera, who was in the same freshman class at Columbus as Rodriguez. “The word was, ‘Oh, there’s this kid that’s just ridiculous. He’s going to be really, really good. This is the guy.’”
But when he got there, and tried out for a team that already included future major leaguer Mike Lowell, Rodriguez sure didn’t look like much. Placed up against high schoolers, he was tiny. “He was this skinny, scrawny kid,” says Luis “Wicho” Hernandez, a senior during Rodriguez’s freshman year and a starting second baseman on the team. “He hadn’t filled out yet.”
Says another teammate: “He was so skinny he could hide behind a palm tree at Columbus.”
In fact, it appeared momentarily as if Rodriguez might have a brighter future in basketball than baseball. “He was a very cerebral player,” says Brother Butch Staiano, the Columbus varsity basketball coach. Rodriguez made quick mastery of drawn-up plays. A rash of guard injuries led Staiano to put him on the varsity squad in his freshman year.
His first game, he made several baskets with only one turnover in a close loss to vaunted Miami High, by far the best team in the county. Soon the beanpole in the navy-blue jersey was leading his team off the bench. “He was one of only three kids that I ever played on varsity as a freshman,” says Staiano. “I thought he had a shot at being a Division-I basketball player.”
But Rodriguez, who idolized Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., had his heart set on hardball. Blocking him at that position on the baseball varsity squad was another freshman, named Ryan Rodriguez. Unlike Alex, his nemesis had peaked early, filling out a six-foot, 170-pound frame by age twelve. The varsity baseball coach, Brother Herb Baker, a member of the Marist Brothers, a teaching order in the Roman Catholic church, was testy and hype-averse. He chose the solid, unremarkable Ryan over Alex, who often appeared to fancy himself already a big leaguer in his flashy fielding and the way he swaggered with bat in hand.
“He told Alex that as long as Ryan Rodriguez was on the team,” Hernandez says of Baker, “Ryan would be the starting shortstop.”
Says Tom Bernhardt, who went to Christopher Columbus with Rodriguez, of Baker: “He has a temper, and he says things he probably wishes he wouldn’t say.” Alex Rodriguez was relegated to junior varsity.
The consensus was that Rodriguez was too small to be a potential major league ballplayer. During a shit-shooting session in Eddie Rodriguez’s office, the gruff coach declared that Rodriguez would be his third choice to have a big league future—behind J. D. Arteaga and Tom Bernhardt. “Well, you’re not strong enough,” Eddie reasoned bluntly when Alex asked why the coach discounted his chances. “If you get a lot stronger, maybe you’ll have an opportunity to get there.” They were words Alex apparently took to heart.
By all accounts, Alex wasn’t wounded by the twin snubs of Herb Baker and Eddie Rodriguez. When his dad left, it appeared to have inoculated him against further daggers. Instead, he was motivated. “A certain part of Alex sees himself as the underdog,” says Hernandez. “So I don’t think he was hurt. I think his reaction was ‘Oh yeah? I’ll show you.’”
Rodriguez called Baker’s bluff. Before his sophomore year, he followed J. D. Arteaga ten miles north, to Westminster Christian. His mom eked out his tuition through grants. If Columbus High had been the waitress’s son’s introduction to the haves, the tiny, elite Westminster was Rodriguez being steeped in the 1 percent. And the place was a baseball machine, boasting several players who went on to major league careers. The squad was led by Rich Hofman, the winning-obsessed coach whose team’s success always blew away what would be expected of a school with such a small student body.
By his junior season, Alex grew his physique to match such a juggernaut squad. “It’s the last time the world saw Alex Rodriguez,” says one former Christopher Columbus teammate, “and not A-Rod.”