Mitchell to head steroids probe

Former senator gets `complete autonomy' to track use in MLB in wake of book on Bonds

March 31, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

Major League Baseball has brought in a heavy hitter to lead an investigation into illegal steroids that will start with those involved in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative scandal and could branch out to other major leaguers.

In a teleconference yesterday, commissioner Bud Selig announced he has appointed former Sen. George Mitchell to chair an independent committee that will study steroid usage in baseball beginning with 2002, when the sport's collective bargaining agreement banned illegal performance-enhancing substances.

Because the BALCO scandal will serve as the starting point, major leaguers such as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield will be under Mitchell's microscope.

But Selig said he has given Mitchell and his team of investigators "complete autonomy." If that means delving into the sport's history to expose further steroid use, Selig said, then that's fine, too.

"Indeed, should Sen. Mitchell uncover material suggesting that the scope of the investigation needs to be broader, he has my permission to expand the investigation and to follow the evidence to where it may lead," Selig said.

The investigation is to start immediately, but Selig offered no timetable for its end. He also wouldn't comment as to what kind of punishment would be in order if current players are found to have used illegal substances.

"Sen. Mitchell needs to do his investigation," Selig said. "When this investigation is over - I am sure it will be very thorough, and I am sure it will be very complete - that will be the time for me to make those kind of judgments."

The commissioner acknowledged that his decision to push for the investigation was spurred by the new book by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Game of Shadows provides specific details of Bonds' alleged steroid use - going beyond what had previously been reported by the Chronicle and other newspapers.

"I think the specificity of these charges said to me it is time to have an investigation," Selig said. " ... Look, reasonable people can agree or disagree when there can be an investigation. To me, this is the appropriate time, and everyone around me agrees."

Selig denied the timing had to do with any other factors, including congressional pressure to take action or Bonds' pursuit of the all-time home run record, held by Hank Aaron.

Bonds, who has 708 career homers, is just seven away from passing legend Babe Ruth for second all-time and 48 from eclipsing Aaron's mark of 755.

When asked what, if any, ceremonies would be held if Bonds breaks the hallowed marks this year, Selig said: "We will work all that out in the coming weeks."

He added that Bonds' pursuit of the records would not be taken into consideration and that "from this day forward [Mitchell] is in full and complete control."

Rep. Henry Waxman of California said in a statement yesterday: "I am pleased that Major League Baseball is moving forward with an independent investigation. This is precisely what I had asked MLB to do last year."

Although a lofty responsibility, such a high-profile case is not foreign to Mitchell, who spent 16 years in the Senate and is now the chairman of a Washington law firm.

Mitchell, 72, chaired the 1996 peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. He also chaired the investigation into the improper bidding process for the Olympic Games and served as a chairman of an international fact-finding committee on violence in the Middle East.

In addition, he is the chairman of the board for the Walt Disney Co. (parent company of ESPN) and on the board of directors of the Boston Red Sox - a position he said he would not resign from and one that would not conflict with his charge to investigate steroids and baseball.

If Boston Red Sox players are found to be steroids users, Mitchell said, "they will be treated just like everyone else."

"We will strive to complete an investigation that is thorough, objective and fair," Mitchell said. "Our mission will be to gather facts, not conjecture. We will provide those whose reputations have been, or might be, called into question by these allegations a fair opportunity to be heard."

Mitchell said he would interview anyone he thought would be helpful - from players to owners to those involved in public steroid scandals. He also asked anyone with relevant information concerning steroids and major league players "to come forward with that information so that it might be considered in the context of all the evidence."

Selig said yesterday's announcement further strengthens baseball's battle against performance-enhancing drugs. And he chastised anyone who suggests he has been slow to act on the issue - stressing that a strong policy has been enacted during his tenure and that baseball is attempting to "stay ahead of the curve" when it comes to the introduction of new, illegal substances.

"The idea that we turned a blind eye is just not supported by facts," Selig said. "Those who cover the sport regularly understand that."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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