Legal challenge, more inquiries could unfold

Former Sen. George J. Mitchell called it the closing of a chapter.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said that with the past now better explained, the game is ready for a more honest future.

Many praised the honesty and recommendations in Mitchell's report on steroids, released yesterday.

But scientists, politicians and others said it's not at all clear that Mitchell's effort will put a period on baseball's experience with performance-enhancing drugs.

Even if the report represents a turning point, the road ahead is fraught with difficulties.

The players union could oppose Selig's attempts to implement Mitchell's recommendations. If the commissioner attempts to impose penalties on the dozens of active players mentioned in the report, he might face legal challenges.

Several congressmen have called for new hearings on the game's drug problem and Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns called for Selig's resignation.

The steroid allegations against pitcher Roger Clemens are strong enough that his once undisputed case for the Hall of Fame could fall apart, an issue that will be endlessly debated for the next five years. Several other potential Hall of Famers could be haunted by allegations in the report.

And longtime anti-doping authorities say players have moved to using undetectable substances such as human growth hormone and less publicized ones such as insulin and various designer steroids.

"The report we are seeing today in no way represents a bookend to this era," said Arizona Sen. John McCain. "With ties to drug use found in all 30 major league baseball teams, it is abundantly clear that this problem is universal. It is time for the players union to step forward to help save the reputation of the game. There has to be cooperation from the players union rather than what I view is the obfuscation and delay on this issue."

Union chief Donald Fehr was cautious in his remarks yesterday, saying he hadn't sufficiently reviewed the report. Selig, by contrast, promised to act and called Mitchell's report a "road map."

Those who've studied the steroid issue for decades said the investigation was a useful step.

"I do think the effort was worthwhile," said Don Catlin, who ran UCLA's drug testing lab until recently and is working with baseball to find a reliable test for human growth hormone. "It's very hard for a sport to do that kind of self-policing, and I think they picked a credible person in Senator Mitchell. I guess the real question now is can it lead to anything good."

For many drug experts, the names of players were a salacious distraction from the meat of the report. International anti-doping officials hoped it would contain not just history but specific suggestions for cleaning up baseball.

"Looking at history is important if you don't want to repeat it, but you don't want to spend too long navel gazing at the past," said David Howman, director general for the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Howman hoped the report would push baseball toward adopting the more rigorous testing used by Olympic sports. He was pleased that Mitchell recommended a transparent, independent program.

Catlin was happy to see that Mitchell called for beefed up education, because he believes testing will never be enough.

Charles Yesalis, a Penn State epidemiologist and longtime steroid watchdog, was also impressed.

"I thought the naming of names was anticlimactic, because what name could really shock anybody at this point?" he said. "But I thought his recommendations for transparency and independent testing were some of the same things I've been saying for years."

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."