- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig yesterday said former U.S. Senator George Mitchell will conduct a far-reaching investigation into the use of steroids in the game, acknowledging that he was spurred to action by a recent book centering around San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds.

“Nothing is more important to me than the integrity of the game of baseball,” Selig said. “When it comes to the integrity of this game, an impartial, thorough review is called for and baseball must confront its problems head on.”

While neither Selig nor Mitchell referenced Bonds by name yesterday, they acknowledged the investigation was sparked by the book, “Game of Shadows,” written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who detailed the purported use of steroids by Bonds over a five-year period beginning in 1998.

The book claims that Bonds used steroids when he hit 73 home runs to break the single-season record for homers in 2001, and had strong connections to the San Francisco-based Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, whose founder, Victor Conte, was released from jail yesterday after serving a four-month sentence for distribution of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

“The allegations arising out of the BALCO investigation or otherwise that major league players have used steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs have caused fans and observers to question the integrity of play at the highest level of our national game,” Mitchell said. “These allegations require close scrutiny.”

Mitchell served on Selig’s “blue ribbon” panel on baseball’s economics in 1999, and is currently the chairman of the DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary law firm. He will be assisted by Jeffrey Collins and Thomas Carlucci, of the law firm Foley and Lardner.

Much of the book’s details previously had been published in articles in the Chronicle and other newspapers over the last year, which included revelations that Bonds confessed to a grand jury that he took banned substances provided to him by his trainer, Greg Anderson, a BALCO associate.

Selig said the book offered new details that could not be ignored.

“I think this was much more specific,” Selig said. “The specificity of these charges said it was time to have an investigation.”

Selig made clear, however, that the probe would extend beyond one player. He has directed Mitchell to investigate the period after 2002, when steroid use was explicitly against the rules of baseball, but said the probe could be broadened if necessary.

“[Mitchell] has my permission to expand the investigation and follow the evidence wherever it might lead,” Selig said. “I can’t today sit here and tell you where this thing is going to take us.”

Last year, baseball strengthened its anti-steroid policy, calling for a 50-game suspension for a first positive test, 100-game suspension for a second and lifetime suspension for a third. The new policy also imposed the first-ever punishments for the use of amphetamines.

The new punishments came after Congress held hearings on steroid issue, soliciting testimony from current and former players including Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Canseco also authored a book alleging rampant steroid abuse by himself and other players throughout the 1990s.

No player has tested positive under the new policy, but several players, including former All-Star Rafael Palmeiro, served 15 game suspensions last year under the previous policy.

Some critics said Mitchell was not the ideal choice to lead the investigation because he has connections with major league baseball. Mitchell serves as a director for the Boston Red Sox. He is also a director for the Walt Disney Corp., which owns the league’s top broadcast partner, ESPN. Mitchell yesterday said he would not resign from Disney, the Red Sox or his law firm.

“I’m not enamored with Mitchell,” said John Dowd, a Washington attorney who conducted a high-profile investigation of Pete Rose’s involvement in gambling in 1989. “I know he has ties to the game, which is not good. You gotta be independent.”

Selig said he has made no decision on the potential punishments for players who are found to have used steroids as a result of the new probe.

“Senator Mitchell needs to do his investigation,” Selig said. “When this investigation is over, that will be the time to make those judgements.”

Bonds declined to comment about yesterday’s announcment.

“I said no, no, no. I’m going to jump off the Empire State Building — flat on my face,” he told the Associated Press, laughing.

Other player reaction to the investigation was mixed.

“I guess if they don’t do it somebody else will,” Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said. “It would look bad on baseball if you kind of wait around and not do anything. You’d rather be proactive than passive, I guess.”

But some players questioned the league’s motivations.

“What are they trying to accomplish?” Nationals shortstop Royce Clayton. “That would be the first question [as to] whether it’s good or not.”

Scott Brown contributed to this article.

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