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Baseball's Steroid Investigation Needs Independence


And while Barry Bonds chases home run history, Major League Baseball is examining steroid use by players. Commentator Frank Deford says the investigation is about much more than Bonds and his home runs.

Mr. FRANK DEFORD (Sportswriter): Most fans have finally accepted the fact that no matter what Senator George Mitchell's investigation into baseball's sordid steroid past, history can't be revised. There will be no records eliminated, no asterisks, no parallel universe created. In particular, Barry Bonds' season home run record of 73 will remain as large as his new head.

But make no mistake. Senator Mitchell's investigation is important. No, the truth can't set baseball free from what tarnished the national pastime, but it is necessary to know the truth in all its ugliness so that the game can then move forward, scrubbed clean.

There is, simply, much to be said for shining sunlight into the dark shadows. But Senator Mitchell requires the complete independence he's been promised by Commissioner Bud Selig if his final report is to be accepted without doubt and cynicism.

When Senator Mitchell was first named, there was some criticism because he is marginally involved in baseball as a director of the Boston Red Sox. All right. To my mind, the Senator's reputation for probity, and his record for achieving success in difficult situations more than outweigh this minute conflict. But on reflection, two elements of the investigation do appear to call for correction.

First, when Commissioner Selig charged Senator Mitchell, he said the investigation should be limited to events since September, 2002, when testing for performance-enhancing drugs was finally permitted. The Commissioner allowed that the investigation could expand beyond that. Well, it must, and Senator Mitchell should make that clear right now.

Secondly, two of Senator Mitchell's top three deputies should be replaced. They are Thomas Carlucci and Jeffrey Collins. Neither man has so much as a smudge on his reputation. But I'm sorry, they have the wrong address: the law firm of Foley and Lardner. This may not be quite the official house firm for baseball, but it's simply too close to the commissioner's office. Foley and Lardner has been employed in the past by baseball.

Lawyers familiar with these sorts of probes tell me that it is just insane to endanger this whole massive project by allowing critics even a whiff of suspicion that the investigation is not being conducted totally independent of the commissioner's office.

It is crucial to keep this in mind. This is not just an inquiry into baseball hitters. It is not just about Bonds and McGwuire and Palmeiro and Sosa and Giambi and friends. It is about how all of baseball acted. The teams and the union and the commissioner's office all have close contacts with law enforcement. Surely, some baseball officials must have been tipped off about the use of illegal drugs in the sport.

A large part of the Mitchell report will not be about home runs. It will be about who knew what, and when, and why something wasn't done about it long before September 2002.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford. His latest book, The Old Ball Game, is out in paperback. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Deford died on Sunday, May 28, at his home in Florida. Remembrances of Frank's life and work can be found in All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and on NPR.org.