By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006
NEW YORK, March 30 -- A little more than 72 hours before the first pitch of the season is thrown, signaling the start of Barry Bonds's anticipated march on baseball's most hallowed records, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig announced the launching of an open-ended, independent inquiry, to be led by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, into alleged steroid use in the game -- an extraordinary investigative step that the game had not invoked since the Pete Rose gambling scandal 17 years ago.
"Nothing is more important to me than the integrity of the game," Selig said at the start of his opening remarks.
Mitchell, 72, immediately began the task of meeting with a team of nine investigators who will conduct "the most thorough and fair investigation that is humanly possible," Mitchell said. Mitchell, a Maine Democrat with experience as a federal judge and U.S. attorney, will have full autonomy during the investigation, and the resulting report will be made public, Selig said.
Details of the probe's scope were vague, but Selig said it would begin with the period from 2002 to '06, when baseball first began testing players for steroids, and would focus on players who reportedly were implicated during the federal grand jury investigation into a Bay Area steroid-distribution ring. However, Selig said Mitchell may "follow the evidence wherever it may lead."
"I told Senator Mitchell, 'Go where you want, do what you want, talk to whomever you want,' " Selig said during an informal question-and-answer session with several baseball reporters following the news conference. "What I want to get out of this is as much knowledge as is humanly possible under the circumstances."
Although both Selig and Mitchell took care to avoid mentioning Bonds by name during the 22-minute news conference Thursday afternoon at MLB's Park Avenue headquarters, Selig did acknowledge that the timing of the inquiry was partly in response to a recent book, "Game of Shadows," by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, in which Bonds's alleged use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs is outlined extensively.
The book "was much more specific [than previous media reports alleging steroid use], I'd have to say," Selig said. "The specificity of these charges said to me that it's time to have an investigation."
While Bonds's name was the most obvious omission, Thursday's announcement, in fact, was in many ways more significant for what was not said, than for what was.
Selig refused to speculate on potential consequences of the investigation, including the possibility of suspensions -- which almost certainly would be met with stiff resistance from the union -- or how he might compel cooperation from players who are not interested in speaking to Mitchell's investigators.
MLB President Robert DuPuy said the "best interests of the game" power wielded by the commissioner's office includes "the ability to compel all . . . personnel -- players, executives, owners, et cetera -- to participate. That's part of the commissioner's broad powers as the CEO of the game."
However, Selig is unlikely to invoke the "best interests of the game" power to suspend players implicated in the investigation -- particularly those found to have used steroids before 2003, when baseball's first testing program went into effect -- according to a person with knowledge of Selig's thinking, because baseball's lawyers have determined such a move might not withstand a challenge from the players' union.
Neither Bonds, the San Francisco Giants' superstar, nor New York Yankees sluggers Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield -- the three current players named during the Bay Area grand jury investigation, and cited in "Game of Shadows" as being former steroid users -- have tested positive under baseball's steroid-testing program. All three are expected to be in uniform when their teams open their seasons.
"I assume, physical constraints not withstanding, Bonds will play the whole year," DuPuy said.
In San Francisco, where he was preparing for an exhibition game, Bonds, whose 708 homers rank third on the all-time list, smiled and joked darkly when approached by reporters seeking his reaction to Thursday's news.
"I'm going to jump off the Empire State Building," he said. "Flat on my face." He then declined to comment several times.
The Giants issued a statement supporting the decision to investigate and the selection of Mitchell to head the inquiry.
Selig dismissed concerns about potential conflicts of interest regarding Mitchell -- who is a part-owner and director of the Boston Red Sox, as well as chairman of Walt Disney Co., the parent company of baseball's broadcast partner ESPN -- citing Mitchell's "impeccable reputation for integrity."
Mitchell's lead investigators will be Thomas F. Carlucci and Jeffrey G. Collins, partners in the San Francisco and Detroit offices, respectively, of Foley & Lardner LLP; and Charles P. Scheeler, a partner at DLA Piper.
Staff writer Steve Fainaru contributed to this report from San Francisco.