Batboy finds it tough to pick up his life
Former Sox employee says he was a fall guy in '00 steroid incident
First of a two-part series on the impact steroids can have -- directly or indirectly -- on those whose paths they cross.
Last October, while the Red Sox were celebrating their first championship in 86 years, a former batboy of theirs was alone, slicing his flesh with a knife. "It's disgusting to me, it's nasty." said Carlos Cowart, 25, who worked for the Sox from 1996-2000. "No one knows I do it. I don't know why I do it. But after I do it, I feel relieved."
Cowart is haunted by demons that he says stem from an incident June 30, 2000, when police discovered steroids and syringes in the glove compartment of the Mercedes-Benz that had been loaned to him by Manny Alexander, then a utility infielder with the Sox.
Cowart was driving
Cowart was arrested after a computer check revealed that the Dorchester High School student was driving without a license and was wanted on a previous charge of driving without a license and failing to stop for police. The steroids were discovered in a routine search of the impounded car.
State Police initially sought criminal complaints against Alexander, who was with the Red Sox in Chicago at the time of Cowart's arrest, but a Dorchester clerk-magistrate ruled there was not probable cause for misdemeanor charges of steroid possession because of insufficient evidence. Alexander's lawyer argued that at least five people had access to the car.
But the incident unleashed a series of events that continue to plague Cowart.
At first, the batboy said, the Red Sox and Major League Baseball detectives told him not to worry about it, that he would not be to blame. But when newspapers first wrote about the incident late in July, it was reported that Cowart had a "three-page" arrest report, including marijuana and cocaine possession. Unreported was the fact that he had no convictions and no record.
"It was a Saturday morning," said Cowart. "I was about to go to work and my friend calls me and tells me this is in the paper. That instant everything came down. Reporters knocking on my door. Reporters seeing old friends I hadn't seen in five years. It all came down on me. Every time I turned on the radio and got a newspaper, my name was being run through the dirt."
Some of Alexander's very famous friends rushed to his defense. Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa told Chicago reporters, "The person he gave the car to . . . has a negative record."
Cowart refused to talk to the media. But he listened to sports talk radio and heard the cruel comments. He didn't have a number on the back of his Red Sox uniform, but he felt as if he had a bounty on his head.
"My name is Carlos Cowart," he said. "They were calling me `Coward' just because I didn't want to talk. Everywhere I went, my name was getting dogged. That put a lot on my mind.
"When everything came out, everything was about me and my petty criminal record that has no felonies. Yes, it has some type of drug arrests, but no felonies. As far as weed . . . everybody smokes weed. The cocaine was not mine."
Cowart was reassigned to maintenance by the Red Sox.
"My world came crumbling down on me," he said. "When I found out it was in the papers, I never went [back] to work."
Pain and anger Cowart emphatically denies that the steroids were his, let alone that he was a supplier.
"Never, never, never," he said.
He says he knows he needs help, but he never has been able to talk to anyone about the self-mutilation. Asked where he cuts himself, there is a long silence, and then he softly says, "Red socks."
Unlike Curt Schilling's bloody red sock, which is the stuff of legend and wound up in the Hall of Fame, this is a tale of a different type of pain.
Experts say self-mutilation is more common than many think.
"Some theories suggest that patients injure themselves to induce a physical pain that is more tangible and manageable than the psychological or psychic pain that they are experiencing," said Dr. Colin Harrington, a neuropsychiatrist and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University School of Medicine. "The obvious symbolic nature of him cutting himself where he does resulting in bloodied socks may be clinically relevant."
Cowart's foot is scarred around the toes.
"It kills me," he said. "Doing it little by little. It's disgusting to tell this. I'm taking chunks out of myself."
He misses the Red Sox, with whom he spent the best days of his life.
"They won't let me back in the clubhouse," he said, citing Red Sox security concerns. "That was like my second home."
His former boss, Red Sox clubhouse manager Joe Cochran, remembers Cowart in a positive light. "He's a good kid, good worker," said Cochran, who added that the Red Sox never had a problem with Cowart.
Last year, Cowart's frustration spilled into anger. When a Boston Housing police officer told him he couldn't stand at a known trouble spot on Annunciation Road in Roxbury, Cowart slashed the patrol car's tire, according to police reports. He pled guilty to malicious destruction of property and was ordered to take an anger management class.
Cowart is a kid from the streets of Mission Hill, where you can get trapped in the tenement shadows and never reach the warm glow of Fenway Park a mile away. Cowart says he was placed in a foster home when he was 5. He says his father was never around.
"You know the story," he said.
But he rose from a juvenile detention facility and turned himself around.
"He was a peer leader working with others in the community," said John Jackson, a Mission Hill community worker. "He's a great kid from a tough family situation. He's very humble, very active in trying to be a positive influence in the community."
Living a dream In 1996, the Red Sox, then under the ownership of CEO John Harrington and the Yawkey Trust, hoped to reward local minority leaders. They hired Cowart from the Tobin Community Center in Mission Hill. Cowart was not a baseball fan.
"I had no idea I'd be a batboy," Cowart said. "I thought I'd be in the stands selling peanuts, and the next thing I know I'm in the clubhouse meeting Mo Vaughn."
As batboy and clubhouse assistant, Cowart had the best job in the world for a 16-year-old kid. He was high-fiving Red Sox players after their home runs, doing errands, and hanging out with future Hall of Famers such as Pedro Martinez and the stars who descended on Fenway for the 1999 All-Star Game. "Pedro and I had a lot of fun," he said.
Cowart said he has no memorabilia from those days, only memories.
"I loved my job," said Cowart. "I loved certain baseball players. Tim Wakefield, Pedro Martinez, Trot Nixon. These were real cool guys."
And they loved him back, cutting him in for a $10,000 playoff share when the Sox won the 1999 Division Series. Veteran knuckleballer Wakefield does not talk to the media the day before he pitches. But he made an exception earlier this season when the subject was Cowart.
"I just felt it was unfair going through the situation he went through," Wakefield said. "He borrowed a car when we were on the road and he gets pulled over and he's got steroids in the glove compartment. It's not his fault.
"This kid, when he worked for us, never said a word. He worked hard, he cared about his job. We could joke and kid around with him. He was a nice kid. I just think it was unfortunate that he got caught in the middle of something that was not any of his doing. That was out of his control.
"Tell him I said hi."
"Carlos is a good kid," said Nixon. "He was always upbeat. He worked real hard around the clubhouse. You make a lot of friendships on the way in professional baseball, and Carlos was one of the friendships that I had." Nixon confirmed that he offered to help Cowart with a personal recommendation after the incident.
"I know what happened and I hated it," he said. "I didn't look at it as his fault or anything like that. I don't hold a grudge against him, either."
Did he think Cowart was a steroid user?
"No," he said, pausing.
"I'm not going to get into that stuff. Please don't ask me about that stuff."
Incident recounted To date, Cowart has been silent on the subject of the 2000 arrest, but he recently agreed to talk about what happened that day.
He said he was just 19 when he saw Alexander lend his Mercedes-Benz to another clubhouse helper. He thought that was cool.
"Four years, I never asked a player for anything," Cowart said. "I decided to take a chance. I had no license, true. But I had my driver's permit."
Alexander gave him the keys.
"The night I received the vehicle, I checked the glove compartment to make sure the registration was in there," Cowart said. "I saw the steroids. I didn't know they were steroids. A syringe needle and a vial. This ain't the first time I've seen something like this. To me, the syringe and the bottle was an ordinary player's nutrition. That's what I figured."
Cowart said his friend, Charles Lagoa, 19, was behind the wheel when Cowart went into his apartment at 965 Blue Hill Avenue to drop off his baby daughter and her car seat/carriage. When he came out, he said, an unmarked cruiser was there.
State Police were patrolling the area as part of the governor's anti-theft unit. The Mercedes had Maryland plates and Cowart didn't have an ID.
"I told the officer I worked for the Boston Red Sox," he said. "I showed him the team photo with me in it." Cowart was arrested. Lagoa was released.
Before the car was towed, a routine search of the glove compartment turned up an envelope containing hypodermic needles and a small brown vial of Dimetabol, a Mexican-manufactured mix of vitamins and the anabolic steroid Nandrolone.
Possession of illegal steroids carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
But no complaint was filed against Cowart for possession of steroids. Police were concerned only with the outstanding warrant, which was subsequently dismissed.
"It was real minor," he said. "They locked me up. I got out in five minutes."
Cowart says Major League Baseball tried to keep it quiet.
"Major League detectives asked me if the steroids were mine," Cowart said. I said, `No.' They said, `Carlos, you have nothing to worry about, you're a good kid.' In other words, this is not going to come back on me. They said the story wouldn't get out and it wouldn't come down on me."
So he kept working.
"Manny Alexander, his lawyer, and if I'm correct, his agent, came to my house," he said. "They wanted me to testify. To tell them our story. They felt like there was no reason for [police] to search this vehicle. He never told me to say they were my drugs. Never."
But Alexander did instruct Cowart to say the drugs were not his, either.
"I remember on one occasion I was picking up cleats and Manny Alexander was sipping his coffee, like nothing happened, and he said, `Don't worry, C-Los, you'll be all right.'
"They were his drugs. I know they were his drugs. His issue was, what did you tell Major League Baseball detectives?"
Major League Baseball officials declined to comment for this story.
Former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette denied that the team kept the steroid story quiet.
"There's no secrets about the baseball team in Boston," he said with a laugh. "I don't feel the need to speak for the club. It was a police issue, not an organizational issue."
The Sox released Alexander, said Duquette, but not because of the steroids. "He was released on his ability," said Duquette.
Adamant denial The 2000 season was the only one Alexander spent with Boston in a nine-year career. He hit just .211 with 4 HRs and 19 RBIs for the Sox, then spent most of the next four years in the minors. He split last season between Triple A Oklahoma City and the Texas Rangers, and was a nonroster invitee with the Rangers in spring training in Arizona this season.
When approached by a reporter at Phoenix Municipal Stadium during the last days of spring training this year, Alexander, now 34, says he has a couple of minutes to talk. But at the mention of steroids, he starts walking briskly toward the clubhouse. Asked about Cowart, he says, "I don't know that guy." "Then whose steroids were in the car?"
"I'm not going to tell you that. If it was me, they would have taken me to the court. It wasn't mine."
He says seven times that the steroids weren't his. But a New York Times report in October 2000 said Alexander's name was on the envelope containing the steroids and the hypodermic needles in the glove compartment.
"Major League Baseball did my test," Alexander said. "They tested me in New York after that thing. I think you got the wrong guy to ask questions to. I know you're not accusing me, but you're not going to find out, either, because I don't know who it was for. I know it was in my car.
"Maybe it was Carlos's or somebody else's. I don't know. Ask Carlos. We're friends. He was my boy in Boston. Ask him."
Cowart says Alexander is "a snake." "Alexander left me out in the cold," said Cowart. "He never apologized. He owes me."
Cowart blames the Red Sox for his current mental state. He knows he needs medical attention, but he has yet to receive it.
"It's put a lot on my mind," he said. "It hurt me mentally. They put me in the shadow. They let me take the fall. They didn't want me near the players. To this day I go [there] and I can't get into Fenway. That hurts.
"I'm an emotional person and I know what this did to me. It put too much stress on me. To know this organization that I sweated for set me out like this . . . I cannot forget about this. I want a job with the Red Sox. I would love to talk to [Red Sox owner] John Henry."
"This is a terribly sad story from years ago," said Dr. Charles Steinberg, the Red Sox vice president of communications. "We will see what we can do to help."
Cowart said he is trying to put his life back together.
"I went back to school," he said. "I attended the Institute of Art and Communication in Brookline. I tried to work. I had three jobs in three months. Bouts of depression. I just shut down.
"How can you go from chilling with millionaires to washing dishes for old folks?"