Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell on Thursday will release his long-awaited report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.
Mitchell has led an investigation since March of last year. Several news sources say the report links 60 to 80 former and current players to banned drugs. Speculation is rampant about what else is in Mitchell's document, and whether the former senator will live up to his reputation as a fair-minded problem solver.
Mitchell earned that reputation through a variety of difficult assignments from Congress and presidents.
"I don't know anybody in contemporary American life who has been assigned more tough public jobs than George Mitchell," says Harold Pachios, Mitchell's former law partner and friend of 45 years.
Pachios has watched his friend succeed in those tough jobs — including his tenure as Democratic majority leader of a contentious Senate in the late 1980s and early '90s; and as a peace mediator who helped bring Catholics and Protestants together with the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
Last year, Mitchell agreed to wade into baseball's drug troubles in an effort to bring clarity to a murky world of cheating, lying and tarnished reputations. But from the beginning, the assignment presented Mitchell with problems — many of his own making.
Tom Donaldson, an ethics specialist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, says Mitchell was too much of a Major League Baseball insider to be a truly independent investigator.
"When a supposedly independent investigator is a part of what's being investigated, it's Conflict of Interest 101," Donaldson says.
For starters, Mitchell is director of the Boston Red Sox. It's a paid position — though Mitchell wasn't compensated by the team during the investigation. Up until a year ago, Mitchell was chairman of the Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN — which paid $2.4 billion to televise major league games through 2013.
The potential conflicts? Critics point to Mitchell's close ties to the Red Sox and concern that he might not be willing to expose baseball management's responsibility in allowing the drug problem to spread. Mitchell has responded by saying he'll be fair and will examine everything. His friend Harold Pachios has no doubt.
"His view of life has always been, 'If you do a good job, if you really do your homework, if you're thorough and intelligent about how you handle these tasks, it speaks for itself, and the rest will take care of itself,'" Pachios says.
Already, reports suggest that Mitchell's document goes way beyond what's commonly known about baseball's suspected steroid era. Media reports of doping began in the late 1980s, but baseball didn't start testing and punishing athletes for more than a decade after.
While owners and the players' union sparred over what that testing program should be, doping allegations caught up with the game's biggest stars. For example, slugger Mark McGwire's reputation disintegrated when he stonewalled Congress on the issue in 2005, saying, "I'm not here to talk about the past."
Mitchell's report, on the other hand, is expected to talk a lot about the past. And baseball is holding its collective breath, wondering where the former senator will point the finger of blame — and whether the report will provide a blueprint for a future in which baseball can move away from lying, cheating and tarnished reputations.