By MURRAY CHASS
Published: March 29, 2006
THERE'S no indication if he found it a page turner, but Bud Selig spent last weekend reading "Game of Shadows," the new book that details Barry Bonds's suspected use of performance-enhancing substances. There's no indication, either, if Selig became ill when he finished reading it.
The whole mess is enough to make a mere fan sick, let alone Selig, the commissioner of baseball. Selig has to deal with Bonds and all of the steroid reports and suspicions, and while he would not stand up and publicly cheer if Bonds were to disappear down a manhole tomorrow, he would breathe a large sigh of relief.
Selig is on the verge of announcing a steroid investigation, perhaps in the next 24 to 48 hours, though not just of Bonds, because singling out one player would be problematic considering the issue has become a morass for Major League Baseball. The investigation will probably be more widespread, though what it will entail is not clear.
Baseball will not do the investigation itself. No one would accept an in-house investigation. The name George Mitchell was floating around baseball circles yesterday.
One executive said Selig was considering asking Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader from Maine, to head the investigation, if he had not already asked him. But the executive, granted anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Selig's plans, said he did not know if Mitchell, a Democrat, would accept what seems like an impossible mission.
Selig did not return a call yesterday seeking comment on the matter.
A representative from Mitchell's law office in Washington said Mitchell was traveling. Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president, said he had no comment when he was asked about Mitchell.
"It is still under consideration," DuPuy said of a possible investigation. "But the direction will be resolved within the next 48 hours."
Selig faces a difficult decision on Bonds, however he proceeds, and he will proceed in some manner because the published tales of Bonds and performance-enhancing substances cannot be ignored.
Among the questions facing Selig are these:
¶Can he single out Bonds for investigation to the exclusion of other players who have been reported to have used steroids?
¶What kind of disciplinary action, if any, could he take if an examination finds validity in the published reports and public suspicions?
¶How does he handle the moment when Bonds hits career home run No. 756, breaking the record of Selig's good friend, Henry Aaron?
That is where the manhole would come in handy, obviating the need for any kind of home run ceremony.
It's unclear what Selig could or would do if an investigation confirmed published reports of Bonds's use of steroids. Because baseball had not specifically outlawed steroids in the years Bonds was suspected of using them, could Selig take belated action against him? Could he act under the best-interests-of-baseball clause and order some of Bonds's achievements stricken from the records?
If an investigation is not completed by the time Bonds hits No. 756, should his total be recorded in the records books in disappearing ink?
Although most of the recent fuss has been about Bonds, an investigator would have plenty of other players and incidents to investigate, and not just Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.
How about players whose names have not been linked to possible steroid use?
Bonds has the spotlight and should be scrutinized closely, but he was not alone in doing whatever he did.
Just as important, should the person investigating be Mitchell? Probably not. Diplomat yes, investigator no.
Selig prefers Mitchell because he knows him well, and Selig is most comfortable with people he knows. Mitchell was a member of Selig's blue-ribbon panel on baseball economics in the late 1990's, and he is a director of the Red Sox.
Selig probably also sees Mitchell as someone who would look good to the members of Congress who are pushing him to clean up the steroid mess.
Mitchell, though, is not viewed as an investigator of the John Dowd type. Dowd set the standard for hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners sports investigations in his examination of Pete Rose.
Dowd's job, in fact, was probably easier than a wide-ranging steroid investigation would be. Dowd had one player, Rose, and one issue, gambling on baseball, to pursue, and he ably and effectively bore in on his subject.
Mitchell, who stepped down as Senate majority leader in 1994, helped broker a Northern Ireland peace agreement in 1998 on behalf of President Clinton. Bringing two warring sides together is one thing; digging into Bonds's past and confronting him in a no-nonsense inquiry is another.
An alternative choice mentioned yesterday was Louis Freeh, former director of the F.B.I. Freeh has a lot of credibility, knows the territory and could easily communicate with federal officials, starting with the United States attorney's office in San Francisco, where it all began.