A ‘petulant,’ PED-wanting A-Rod, like you’ve never seen him before
In the fall of 2013, when Alex Rodriguez was embroiled in a legendary battle with Major League Baseball concerning his role in the Biogenesis scandal, A-Rod set up a South Florida get-together with acclaimed documentarian Billy Corben, who is responsible for such classics as “The U” and “Broke.” Corben was told to meet the beleaguered slugger at Hillstone in Coral Gables.
“If there’s a power-lunch place in Miami, it’s Hillstone,” Corben said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s a scene beyond a scene. The whole thing is like an open floor plan. Everybody can see everything happening.
“We were led down the center path, all eyes on us, and we sat down with Alex and his team. I think my icebreaking joke was, I said, ‘So who’s going to call Page Six, us or you?’”
Well, someone did — no one will own up to it, fittingly — as Page Six ran a story about A-Rod having “several meetings” with Corben “about making a documentary about his battle to stay on the field.”
“Alex just lied to us like he was doing to everyone else at that time,” Corben said. “The shtick was he was exploring the possibility of tell-all documentary.”
By early February of 2014, A-Rod had given up on that ghost, accepting his season-long suspension for his wrongdoings and dropping his lawsuits against Major League Baseball and the Players Association. And while Rodriguez’s people and Corben communicated sporadically about a documentary focusing on the fallen legend’s comeback, Corben realized soon enough that there was still a story to be told about the dumpster fire that was Biogenesis.
One in which A-Rod, center of most universes that he occupies, was more of a pawn in a dispute that didn’t involve him, than anything else.
And that brings us to “Screwball,” the Corben-directed doc that will run Saturday night at 9:30 at the SVA Theater in Manhattan. Corben and producer Alfred Spellman are expected to attend.
“Screwball” explains, hilariously, how we found out about A-Rod’s final known dalliance with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. It is a tale of “Florida (bleep)-ery,” to use Corben’s language, that is as much about tanning salons and generally thuggish behavior as it is about professional athletes breaking their games’ laws. It also covers just how sleazily MLB’s representatives behaved in their pursuit of A-Rod and his fellow Biogenesis clients like Ryan Braun, Francisco Cervelli and Nelson Cruz.
And this story is told through … child actors? Yes, child actors, mouthing the words told by the adult participants Tony Bosch (the founder of Biogenesis, whose agreement to cooperate with MLB tanked A-Rod), Porter Fischer (the investor whose feud with Bosch led to him leaking the Biogenesis documents) and others.
“It’s something we always wanted to do,” said Corben, who cited the 1997 video for the Notorious B.I.G. song “Sky’s the Limit” — which uses the same device — as the inspiration. “Everybody acted like a child in this story. Alex, who we met in the midst of this scandal, he was a petulant, stubborn child. Tony Bosch, who was very candid with us about his drug use, was emotionally stunted, which happens to a lot of addicts. Porter Fischer lashed out like a child would when he was ignored and scorned by Tony Bosch.”
The highlight for baseball fans will be the young actor Blake McCall, who perfectly captures A-Rod in both looks — “He had the eyes right,” Corben said — and facial expressions. It is truly uncanny, as you can see in the clip. If the reformed A-Rod has achieved the distance he says he has from this ridiculous episode, then he just might laugh about this. And he might like the perspective offered by Corben as well.
“We realized after speaking to Tony and Porter that this wasn’t Alex’s story. Alex was collateral damage,” Corben said. “He was a supporting character. The only reason he became a bigger part is because he’s the only guy who appealed the suspension. He kind of prolonged the story and the scandal. He only plays as big a part as he does because of his decision-making.”
Corben admitted that he did not reach out to A-Rod, who declined comment for this story, to ask him if wanted to participate in this film after their previous talks went nowhere. He should have, even though A-Rod surely would have passed. Ultimately, A-Rod-ologists should consider this documentary a worthwhile contribution to the canon of his roller-coaster existence.
— Let’s catch up on Pop Quiz questions:
1) From Doug Kelly, director of communications for the Football Bowl Association: Name the former ballpark that can be seen in the 1976 film “The Enforcer.”
2) From Anthony Dimeglio of Marlton, NJ: New York superfan Donald “Fuzzy” Cohen, who died suddenly earlier this year, appeared (in the background) in the series finale of a popular TV show in 2004. Name the show.
— The Mets will hold their annual coat drive on Nov. 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Mets Team Store at Citi Field.
— I saw an interesting documentary last week, “The Cricket Kings of Queens,” produced by Deadspin, about a high school team of immigrants (in Queens, naturally) who excel at cricket. Find it at a film festival near you.
Your Pop Quiz answers:
1) Candlestick Park
2) “Sex and the City”
If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected]
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