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Mitchell to head steroid investigation

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.

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Mitchell will not be the lead investigator, but he will head the investigation effort.

ESPN first reported that Mitchell would be the head of the investigation after Wednesday's New York Times reported that Selig was on the verge of announcing an investigation into steroid use by Bonds and other players as detailed in the book "Game of Shadows" and that Mitchell's name was being floating around baseball circles as the outside person to head such an investigation.

ESPN has learned that Bonds and any other current player who may be part of this investigation will be allowed to play while the investigation is ongoing.

However, a source told The New York Daily News that Bonds will not cooperate with baseball's investigation.

Selig has been under pressure for weeks to form an investigation. Two books being released this spring accuse Bonds of using steroids, human growth hormone and insulin for at least five seasons beginning in 1998 -- "Game of Shadows," written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, and "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero" by Jeff Pearlman. Baseball did not test for performance-enhancing substances until after the 2002 season, and Bonds has denied ever knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.

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 is the chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ESPN.

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 was also 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.

Former commissioner Fay Vincent called this month for an investigation and 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 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.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.