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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Tomorrow will be a significant and, many believe, a troubling day for Major League Baseball. At an afternoon news conference in New York, former Senate majority leader George Mitchell will release his long-awaited report on performance-enhancing drugs in the game.

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. And not surprisingly, there's tremendous interest in what else the report might say.

NPR's Tom Goldman has that story.

TOM GOLDMAN: Got an intractable problem? Congress, presidents and a baseball commissioner have called on the same guy.

Mr. HAROLD PACHIOS (Lawyer): I don't know anybody in the contemporary American life who has been assigned more tough public jobs than George Mitchell.

GOLDMAN: Harold Pachios is Mitchell's former law partner and friend of 45 years. Pachios has watched his friend succeed in those tough jobs as Democratic majority leader of a contentious Senate in late 1980s and early '90s.

Mr. PACHIOS: Bob Dole, the Republican leader, said, I never had a crossword with George Mitchell because he was so fair.

GOLDMAN: In 1998, Mitchell helped bring Catholics and Protestants together with the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. And 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.

Mr. GEORGE MITCHELL (Former Democratic Senator, Maine): I have been assured by the commissioner that I will have complete independence and discretion as to the manner in which this investigation will be conducted.

GOLDMAN: But from the beginning of this assignment, Mitchell encountered problems of his own doing.

Professor TOM DONALDSON (Ethics Specialist, University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School): When a supposedly independent investigator is a part of what's being investigated, it's conflict of interest 101.

GOLDMAN: An ethics specialist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Professor Tom Donaldson notes George Mitchell is very much an insider when it comes to Major League Baseball.

Mitchell is director of the Boston Red Sox. It's a paid position, although he 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 pay $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.

Mr. PACHIOS: 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, you know, it speaks for itself, and the rest will take care of itself.

GOLDMAN: There is hope the Mitchell Report goes beyond - way beyond - what's known about baseball suspected steroid era. What we know is in bits and pieces. Media reports of doping began to emerge in the late 1980s, but it was more than a decade later that baseball started testing and punishing.

Here's Commissioner Bud Selig in 2004.

Mr. BUD SELIG (Commissioner, Major League Baseball): You know, I've been saying for months, many months, that I instituted a very, very tough program in the minor leagues on steroids in 2001. We need to have that same program at the Major League level.

GOLDMAN: While owners and the players' union sparred over what that program should be, doping allegations caught up with the game's biggest stars. Slugger Mark McGwire's reputation disintegrated when he stonewalled Congress in 2005

Mr. MARK McGWIRE (Former Baseball Player): Well, sir, I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to talk about the positive and not the negative about this issue.

GOLDMAN: It's expected Mitchell's report will do just the opposite - it will talk about the past. And baseball is holding its collective breath, wondering where the 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 the cheating, lying and tarnished reputations.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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