Alex Rodriguez currently has a thriving TV career as a baseball analyst, commentator and host, as well as a new engagement to fiancée Jennifer Lopez. That second-act success has come on the heels of a storied playing career that resulted in one World Series title, three MVP awards, 14 All-Star appearances, 696 home runs and earnings of $452 million—the most in the history of Major League Baseball. By most accounts, his is a charmed life marked by fortune and fame, with only an induction into the Hall of Fame missing from his illustrious résumé.
Of course, there’s a reason for that exclusion: Alex Rodriguez is also a notorious cheater and liar, as Screwball (in theaters March 29) reminds us in hilariously damning fashion.
Directed by Billy Corben with the same brand of playful comedic electricity that marked 2006’s Cocaine Cowboys (a kindred saga of Miami-set malfeasance), Screwball is a definitive documentary about the performance-enhancing drug (PED) scandal that rocked MLB in 2013. At its center was Tony Bosch, a man in a lab coat who, armed with a degree from the Belize Medical College, established the Biogenesis clinic, an anti-aging facility that sold and administered steroids, testosterone and other PEDs to lawyers, businessmen, police officers and—most lucratively—athletes, be they in high school, college or the pros.
And no client was bigger than A-Rod.
Screwball’s focus invariably falls on the former Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and New York Yankees superstar. By all accounts—led by Bosch, who provides running interview commentary that’s short on remorse but long on unfavorable anecdotes—A-Rod was not only an unrepentant PED user, but a guy in bed with some extremely shady people, and, once the Biogenesis story broke, someone willing to do anything to cover his own behind. That’s apparent from his reported purchase of Biogenesis evidence from Bosch’s right-hand criminal man, Jorge “Ugi” Velazquez, and Boca Tanning Salon proprietors Pete and Anthony Carbone (themselves described as mafioso types). It’s evident from his multiple on-camera assertions—to ESPN in 2009, about cheating in 2001-2003; and to WFAN’s Mike Francesa in 2013, as the Biogenesis scandal climaxed—that he’d done nothing wrong, despite that obviously not being the case. And it’s most plain in a late sequence involving protesters outside his MLB arbitration hearing in Manhattan, whom he’d allegedly hired to appear and hold up identical-looking signs of support.
In a film teeming with low-lifes, A-Rod—he of the infamous mirror-kissing picture and centaur painting, whom Bosch dubs “crazy” before dialing it back to the more polite “eccentric”—easily manages to come out as the worst of the bunch. Nonetheless, what’s so compelling about Screwball isn’t just its condemnation of the athlete—it’s the insanely scuzzy story it spins. And just as importantly, the amusing way it spins it.
Though Corben’s film is driven by conversations with many primary figures as well as archival news coverage, he truly enlivens his material with dramatic recreations starring children lip-syncing the comments made by interviewees. It’s a Drunk History-style device that results in regular laughs, given that his pint-sized actors—sporting fake facial hair and tattoos, and wearing padded shirts to make them look more muscular—perform in an exaggerated bug-eyed cartoon style that underlines the absurdity of the entire affair. More than just a means of highlighting the ridiculousness of Bosch and company’s misconduct, however, Corben’s gimmick also emphasizes how the Biogenesis scandal directly affected kids: exposing their idols as frauds, revealing pro sports as a cutthroat world where individuals care about themselves above all else, and undermining the notion of fair play at every level.
After a brief prologue, Corben’s tale begins in earnest with Bosch, who after failing to follow in his physician father’s footsteps, got his “fake doctor” degree and set up shop in Miami. There, he promptly became the go-to drug-regimen specialist for Los Angeles Dodgers all-star Manny Ramirez. Their relationship would be fruitful until the player, in a typically stupid example of “Manny Being Manny,” tested positive, thus making the Feds interested in Bosch’s business, which also involved his Dad, who was renting out his prescription pad to his son. Luckily for the Boschs, however, their time in the spotlight would be brief, thanks to the headline-consuming deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, and they’d quickly start anew with another outfit: Biogenesis.
Biogenesis was a sketchy operation that, when its legal drug supplies ran low, procured them on the black market—including from a Ugi contact who cooked steroids in his home garage. Still, such sleaziness didn’t matter, because Biogenesis got big-time results, and their roster of athletes across all age spectrums (including pros like Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera) soon had them raking in money. Except that Bosch was spending it as fast as he could make it on parties, properties and drugs. As a result, when client Porter Fischer begged him to be Biogenesis’ marketing manager—a dumb position, considering that Biogenesis was an illicit drug-dealing operation—Bosch agreed, on the condition that Fischer pay him $4,000, which would be returned with 20 percent interest in the coming weeks.
It was a fateful transaction, since when Bosch reneged on the deal, Fischer—who in interviews comes across as gregarious but slow on the uptake—sought revenge by stealing Biogenesis files and notebooks, and giving them to the Miami New Times. As Screwball details, the ensuing pandemonium included Porter having his Bosch files pilfered by the Carbones, MLB paying off Bosch and others for evidence against A-Rod, and Bosch cooperating with MLB after giving an all-time stupid drunk interview on ESPN.
Moreover, it compelled A-Rod’s camp to leak the names of others on the Biogenesis client list to the press—including his own New York Yankees teammate Francisco Cervelli. Self-interest doesn’t come much scummier.
“It’s not the most believable story, but then again, you can’t make this shit up,” laughs Bosch at the end of Screwball. Yet in this era of corporate-executive greed, college admissions cheating schemes, and Trump—an unrepentant liar and crook who suffers few serious consequences for his behavior—it’s all too easy to buy that people would skirt the law and ethics to get rich and famous, be they a huckster like Bosch or a superstar like A-Rod. The saddest thing about Screwball isn’t that it’s eye-opening and infuriating; it’s that its duplicity and villainy feel commonplace, if not inevitable.