Major League Baseball will investigate alleged steroid use by Barry Bonds and other players, and plans to hire former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell to lead the effort.
A baseball official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that final plans were to be announced Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because commissioner Bud Selig has not yet made his intentions public.
Selig's decision to launch the probe, first reported Wednesday by ESPN, comes in the wake of "Game of Shadows," a book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters detailing alleged extensive steroid use by Bonds and other baseball stars. The commissioner has said for several weeks that he was evaluating how to respond to the book.
Some in Congress have called for an independent investigation. Mitchell, a Maine Democrat and a director of the Boston Red Sox, has been a director of the Florida Marlins and served on an economic study committee that Selig appointed in 1999.
Mitchell's possible involvement was first mentioned Wednesday in The New York Times. The name of a lawyer who will run the mechanics of the probe also was to be announced.
No matter what the findings of an investigation, it would be difficult for baseball to penalize anyone for steroids used prior to Sept. 30, 2002, when a joint drug agreement between management and the players' association took effect. Baseball began drug testing in 2003 and started testing with penalties the following year.
"I will only comment on things about Barry's on-field performance or contractual status," said his agent, Jeff Borris.
It is unclear whether current or former players would cooperate with an investigation or could be forced to do so by baseball. Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association, declined comment.
Under pressure from Congress, baseball toughened penalties last year and again this season, when an initial positive test will result in a 50-game suspension. Twelve players, including Rafael Palmeiro, were suspended for 10 days each following positive tests last year.
"Game of Shadows" details alleged used of performance-enhancing drugs by Bonds for at least five seasons beginning after the 1998 season.
"In some respects, it's the most damaging and difficult mess for baseball since the White Sox scandal in 1919," former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent told CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.
Vincent, who presided over baseball from 1989-1992, believes the steroid controversy has more dire consequences for the game.
"Recent indications are up to 50 percent of the players in the 90s were using steroids," Vincent said. "It puts a real cloud over that period in baseball."
He added, "I think baseball has to tell people what was going on. And I think Congress will investigate if baseball doesn't."
"I think baseball is in a far more difficult position trying to figure out what to do," said Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-author of "Game of Shadows." "I frankly think they are hoping the situation resolves itself either with an injury with Bonds or with the federal government intervening.
Vincentand suggested it be headed by Mitchell or John Dowd, who led baseball's 1989 probe into gambling by career hits leader Pete Rose, who agreed to a lifetime ban.
"I think the investigation is the right step," Vincent said. "I don't think the issue is punishment, I think it's: 'Shouldn't the players be called to task for cheating, even if there is no punishment?' I think baseball has to recapture the moral high ground."
An after-hours call left for Mitchell at his New York office was not immediately returned Wednesday. The New York Daily News first reported March 16 that Selig would launch an investigation, but Selig said no decision had been made at the time.