MIAMI, Aug 5 (Reuters) - It began with an email from a disgruntled employee at a Miami-based anti-aging clinic named Biogenesis.
The email, sent to a reporter at a weekly Miami newspaper, hinted at new information about baseball players using drugs.
In late January, after almost four months of investigation by staffer Tim Elfrink, the Miami New Times reported that some 20 players, including New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, had purchased from the clinic substances that are banned by baseball, including human growth hormone (HGH).
Baseball's highest-paid player Rodriguez, who grew up in Miami, was suspended by Major League Baseball on Monday for 211 games through the end of the 2014 season. Twelve other players received 50 game suspensions. Rodriguez has said he will appeal.
Elfrink, managing editor of the Miami New Times, which is part of the Village Voice chain of weeklies, worked closely with the Biogenesis whistleblower, Porter Fischer. A former patient of the clinic, Fischer had a marketing job there for barely a month and said he was upset with the owner, Anthony Bosch, over a $4,000 loan.
Fischer had read an article by Elfrink in the Miami New Times about a previous scandal involving Bosch and another baseball player, Manny Ramirez.
Elfrink and Fischer reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from the clinic. According to Elfrink's reporting, the newspaper needed to decipher the records because many of the players' treatments were entered using code names, such as Al Capone, Samurai, and Felix the Cat.
"Porter (Fischer) is not really much of a sports fan. He knew who A-Rod was and a couple of the others," said Elfrink.
"New Times did a great job and they contributed a lot because they recognized some of the player names and they figured some of it out themselves," said Fischer's former lawyer Raymond Rafool.
Elfrink, 30, knew that Bosch and his father, Pedro, a Miami doctor, had come under scrutiny from Major League Baseball (MLB) in 2009 for their links to Ramirez, then a Los Angeles Dodgers player who was suspended for 50 games for using a banned substance. Bosch and his father were never charged in that case.
MLB had sought to obtain the Miami New Times documents, but the paper declined to hand them over on ethical grounds.
The Miami New Times has received awards for its investigative stories, including a 2008 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. A series on a steroid-addicted group of Miami body builders in the late 1990s was recently made into a movie, "Pain & Gain", starring actors Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson.
See Miami New Times article here (Reporting by David Adams)