NEW YORK – Baseball began its investigation Thursday into alleged steroid use by Barry Bonds and others, and the head of the inquiry immediately came under attack because of his close ties to the sport.
The probe initially will be limited to events since September 2002, when the sport banned performance-enhancing drugs, but Mitchell has the authority to expand it.
"The goal here is to determine facts, not engage in supposition, speculation, rumor or innuendo," Selig said.
Whatever the findings, it will be hard to penalize anyone for conduct before the steroids ban. Baseball began drug testing in 2003 and started testing with penalties the following year.
At San Francisco's home ballpark, Bonds wouldn't discuss the matter.
"I said no, no, no," he said, shaking his head. "I'm going to jump off the Empire State Building — flat on my face," he added, laughing.
Mitchell, meanwhile, said he will not resign his position with the Red Sox. He also is chairman of The Walt Disney Co., the parent of ESPN, a national broadcast partner of baseball.
"I don't think there's any conflict," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I'm going to be independent, have complete independent authority and will act."
ESPN is airing a weekly behind-the-scenes look at Bonds — with the Giants star's cooperation — starting next week.
Along with working for the Red Sox, Mitchell is a former director of the Florida Marlins and served on an economic study committee Selig appointed in 1999. He said he previously announced he would leave the Disney board by the end of the year.
"I've assured the Red Sox owners that should any matter arise, anybody affiliated with the Red Sox will be treated exactly as will anyone else," he said.
John Dowd, the Washington lawyer who headed baseball's investigation of Pete Rose's gambling in 1989, did not like the choice.
"Mitchell doesn't have a great track record with me. It doesn't look like he's independent," Dowd said.
Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican and baseball Hall of Famer, also criticized Mitchell.
"While George Mitchell is certainly a man of great integrity, I believe that baseball would have been wiser to pick someone who is not as close to the game and may be able to take a more objective look into the facts," Bunning said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who helped lead a congressional hearing last year on steroids in baseball, praised the probe.
"This is precisely what I had asked MLB to do last year," he said. "Finding out the truth about the depth and breadth of this problem is the only way to close the book on this sad chapter of the game's history."
Selig's decision came soon after "Game of Shadows," a book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters detailing alleged extensive steroid use by Bonds and other baseball stars.
"I believe the timing on this proper given the charges, given the specificity of the charges for the first time," Selig said.
Mitchell will be assisted by Jeffrey Collins and Thomas Carlucci of Foley & Lardner — the law firm of Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer — and Charles Scheeler, a former federal prosecutor currently at Mitchell's law firm, DLS Piper. Collins is a former U.S. Attorney and Carlucci a former assistant U.S. attorney.
"Should Sen. Mitchell uncover material suggesting that the scope of this investigation needs to be broader, he has my permission to expand the investigation and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead," Selig said.
DuPuy said baseball considered Mitchell's potential conflicts of interest.
"Given Sen. Mitchell's integrity, given his background, he was absolutely considered to be the perfect choice for this job," he said.
DuPuy said baseball had the power to force players to cooperate.
"My hope is that others will see it as we do, that it's in the best interests of baseball and the individuals to be forthcoming, but I can't predict," Mitchell said.
New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, who like Bonds testified before a federal grand jury in 2003, said he'd have "no problems" an inquiry. Giambi reportedly admitted to the grand jury that he had used steroids.
"I did the things I needed to do, took care of it and played last year and have just gone forward. I'm not really worried about it," he said.
Teammate Gary Sheffield also testified and said of his cooperation: "If I have to, I will. I'm going to do whatever the law expects me to do, but other than that it's a waste of my time."
In a 1980 case involving pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, arbitrator Ray Goetz curtailed the commissioner's power to order cooperation.
"Arbitrators have been reluctant to allow compelled, potentially self-incriminating testimony," Selig said. "The investigatory authority of Major League Baseball, therefore, is particularly limited when the allegations relate to conduct that can create or has created a risk of criminal prosecution for the player."
Selig would not address possible discipline that could result from the investigation,
"When this investigation is over ... that will be the time for me to make those kind of judgments," he said.
Bonds enters the season with 708 homers, trailing only Ruth (714) and Aaron (755) on the career list.
"I assume physical constraints notwithstanding, Bonds will play the whole year," DuPuy said.
Selig would not discuss whether baseball would commemorate Bonds' pursuit of the home-run record.
"We'll work those out in the coming weeks," he said.
Earlier Thursday, Victor Conte — founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative — was released from a California prison. He spent four months there after pleading guilty to orchestrating an illegal steroids distribution scheme that allegedly involved many high-profile athletes.
Asked whether he gave Bonds steroids, Conte said: "No, I did not."
"I plan to provide evidence in the near future to prove that much of what is written in the book is untrue," Conte told the AP. He declined to list specific inaccuracies or what evidence he would provide, but said, "It's about the character assassination of Barry Bonds and myself."