‘Roids R Us: Screwball (***½)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 30, 2019)

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Did you know there is now a popular aggregator website called Florida Man, created to keep track of a seemingly endless stream of bizarre news items from The Sunshine State?

There is a possibility that the site is satirical. That said…the stories seem plausible to me.

It is in this spirit that one must dive headfirst into Screwball, the newest “is he making this shit up?” documentary from film maker Billy Corben (perhaps best known for his Florida drug trade trilogy-Cocaine Cowboys, Cocaine Cowboys 2 and Square Grouper).

I had some trepidation going in. On the upside, the film involves one of my favorite things (drugs). On the downside, it also heavily involves my least favorite thing (sports).

The subject of the film is Anthony Bosch, a Florida man (heh) who gained notoriety from his involvement in the Biogenesis “performance-enhancing drug” scandal back in 2013. Biogenesis was the name of Bosch’s clinic, where he “consulted” (“dispensed”, mostly) for a wide-ranging variety of clientele, from parents looking to juice up their kids’ performance on the school team to some very high-profile names in professional sports.

Bosch’s clinic had a shaky start. From a 2013 Miami New Times expose by Tim Elfrink:

Biogenesis’s history really begins in 2009, when Bosch started a firm, called Colonial Services, based in Key Biscayne.

That same year, on May 7, Major League Baseball suspended L.A. Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez after he tested positive for HCG — a women’s fertility drug often used at the end of a steroid cycle to restart testosterone production. Ramirez, who lives in Weston, issued a statement that a “personal doctor” had prescribed a medication he didn’t realize would violate the drug code.

Reporters at ESPN quickly identified that doctor: Pedro Bosch, whose son, Anthony, was “well known in Latin American baseball circles,” the network reported. “His relationships with players date at least from the earlier part of the decade, when he was seen attending parties with players and known to procure tickets to big-league ballparks, especially in Boston and New York,” ESPN wrote.

The DEA was “probing” both Bosches for their role in getting Ramirez the medication, ESPN reported. MLB President Bob DuPuy also confirmed he was “aware” of the investigation and cooperating.

Tony Bosch never responded to the allegations, but in a letter to ESPN, Pedro lashed back two weeks later, claiming that Ramirez was never his patient, that he’d “never prescribed” anyone HCG, and that there was no federal investigation. No charges were ever filed.

(Pedro Bosch was a defendant in an unrelated federal civil case that same year. The U.S. attorney accused him, along with more than two dozen other doctors and a similar number of lab owners, of running a kickback scheme to inflate drug costs. The government withdrew the claims two months later.)

While father and son both dodged a bullet in 2009, it’s a telling prequel to where Corben picks up the story; it also gives you an idea of what types of characters are involved. It is quite the tale, told by Anthony Bosch himself (along with some of his former associates).

Corben employs an interesting variation on the usual docudrama tropes. He uses child “reenactors” throughout the film. At first, it was distracting; it felt “gimmicky” and borderline precious. However, as the story gets wilder, the reenactments accrue more entertainment value (it’s the same quotient that makes Drunk History so funny). Bosch is quite the entertaining raconteur himself (as most bullshit artists and con men tend to be).

In fact, I was so entertained I nearly forgot how little I care about sports. Joking aside, the film is not so much “about” sports, as it is about the business of sports. It’s also about that peculiar obsession homo sapiens have with “winning”. In my 2013 review of Rush, I wrote this:

I’ll admit up front that I don’t know from the sport of Formula One racing. In fact, I’ve never held any particular fascination for loud, fast cars (or any kind of sports, for that matter). If that makes me less than a manly man, well, I’ll just have to live with that fact.

However, I am fascinated by other people’s fascination with competitive sport; after all, (paraphrasing one of my favorite lines from Harold and Maude) they’re my species. There’s certainly an impressive amount of time, effort and money poured into this peculiarly human compulsion to be the “champion” or securing the best seats for cheering one on; even if in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t mean shit to a tree.

There is an interesting political sidebar to the story. Turns out, Anthony Bosch is related to Orlando Bosch. From my 2007 review of the documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro:

The most chilling revelation concerns the downing of a commercial Cuban airliner off Barbados in 1976 (73 people were killed, none with any known direct associations with the Castro regime). One of the alleged masterminds was an anti-Castro Cuban exile living in Florida, named Orlando Bosch, who had participated in numerous CIA-backed actions in the past.

When Bosch was threatened with deportation in the late 80’s, a number of Republicans rallied to have him pardoned, including Florida congresswoman Ileana Ross, who used her involvement with the “Free Orlando Bosch” campaign as part of her running platform. Her campaign manager was a young up and coming politician named…Jeb Bush. Long story short? Then-president George Bush Sr. ended up granting Bosch a pardon in 1990. BTW, Bosch had once been publicly referred to as an “unrepentant terrorist” by the Attorney General. (Don’t get me started.)

Oh, what a tangled web you weave, Florida Man.

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