Despite their positive words, these longtime drug opponents cautioned that the motivations for use never go away and that the technology for cheating often outpaces that of the watchdogs.

Others were harsher.

"George Mitchell is wrong not to urge annulling past baseball drug offenders' records and results," said ex-White House drug spokesman Bob Weiner, who assisted in the creation of WADA. "All Olympic sports have a stronger anti-drug program than what Mitchell proposes for documented offenders, past and present. Baseball's drug policy is a sham and will remain weak under Mitchell's proposals."

Selig announced the Mitchell investigation in March 2006, shortly after the release of Game of Shadows, an exhaustive look at Barry Bonds' alleged use of performance-enhancers.

The commissioner said the level of detail in the book made him believe baseball needed a thorough, independent investigation of its drug problems. He cast the inquiry as a reckoning with the game's past for the sake of a cleaner future.

The effort also seemed to address Congress' requests for baseball to take the issue more seriously, though Selig said such pressure was not a direct motivation.

In those respects, the investigation was an elaborate public relations effort. Given the game's robust economic state (a record $6 billion in revenue this season), some questioned the need for such soul-cleansing.

Fans already carried steroid suspicions and had not turned away from baseball, so why fuel those suspicions?

"They wouldn't have had to do it if they were politically smart," said Yesalis. "I was sitting in the congressional hearing behind Selig and Don Fehr and all they would have had to say was, 'We're going to do the same thing as the NFL.'"

But Selig was wise to call for the report, said Gene Grabowski, a Washington-based crisis counselor. The game's long-term health depends on the integrity of its history and statistics, he argued, and the report will help protect that legacy.

"A corporation that looks only at the current quarter's results is in danger of losing the franchise," Grabowski said.

He added that investigations such as Mitchell's are tried-and-true tools for industries in crisis.

"Creating a fact-finding mission run by a distinguished third party is always a good way to go in these situations," he said. "It buys you time and it can restore credibility. Now, they have to show that they take the results seriously and act on them."

childs.walker@baltsun.com