I’d be more enthusiastic about Major League Baseball’s steroid investigation:

A) if it weren’t being led by a part-owner of the Red Sox (who also happens to be the chairman of a company that owns the company that’s paying MLB over $2 billion to broadcast baseball),

B) if I thought the players would actually talk,

C) if I believed owners, general managers and managers were going to face the same scrutiny the players will and be held accountable,

D) if I believed there was actually anything commissioner Bud Selig could do to punish anyone who took steroids or facilitated anyone who took steroids,

E) if I were naive enough to think that the players, their trainers and drug labs around the world aren’t already five steps ahead of MLB’s current drug-testing program,

F) if this was 1998.

Other than that, I think this steroid probe is a dandy idea.

Why now? Why not in the early-1990s when those Oakland teams were having posedowns at home plate? Why not during or after the McGwire-Sosa home run chase? Why not three years ago, when 5 to 7 percent of the players tested positive during MLB’s testing survey?

Does anyone really think Selig didn’t fully grasp the extent of baseball’s steroid problem until he lit his fireplace, put on his robe and slippers and curled up over the weekend with his copy of “Game of Shadows?” Did he put the book down next to his cup of cocoa and suddenly think to himself, “Boy, we’d better get to the bottom of this?”

What was Bud waiting for?

We all know the answer to that. Salaries were skyrocketing. New ballparks were being built and had to be paid for.Fans were paying to get into those ballparks and to watch baseballs fly out of them. It wasn’t in baseball’s financial interest to find out why players were adding 40 pounds of muscle in the off-season and hitting home runs at record rates.

It is now, though, because baseball’s corporate sponsors are making noise about not wanting to be associated with Barry Bonds’ pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home record. It is now because “Game of Shadows” is making headlines and Selig is worried that Congress sees another opportunity to grab some camera time, like it did when Jose Canseco’s book made headlines.

So what’s the best case scenario for this thing? Let’s say for the sake of argument that George Mitchell, who has his own reputation to preserve, doesn’t go into this thing with any conflicting interests. Let’s say he tells his investigators to leave no stone unturned, to follow every lead, even if it might lead them to the commissioner’s office. Let’s say they get full cooperation from everyone – clubhouse attendants, players, coaches, managers, GMs, owners, Bud Selig, everyone. Let’s say they name names, give detailed, first-hand accounts of who was taking what kind of steroid and when and who was looking the other way when they were taking them.

How will they be able to sort those who are giving credible testimony from those who just have an ax to grind with Player X or Owner Y? How will they determine what is fact and what is hearsay? How, without actual testing or sworn confessions, will they be able to release these names to the public without risking many costly lawsuits? What if the investigation collects overwhelming evidence to implicate dozens of players, but not two of its leading suspects, Bonds or Sammy Sosa?

And suppose Selig decides to invoke the “best interest of baseball” clause and metes out punishment to those Mitchell believes used steroids. Does he suspend Bonds, but not Jason Giambi because he has three people willing to rat on Bonds and nobody willing to tell on Giambi? Does he wipe Bonds’ MVP awards from the record books and not Ken Caminiti’s? Are the players who tested positive and were punished last year immune now?

When all is said and done, this inquiry will be riddled with more holes than an M. Knight Shyamalan movie plot. Which will be fine by Bud, because he’s not really hunting for facts here. He’s just buying time and placating some folks until Bonds and, by association, “Game of Shadows” goes away.

Selig would have us believe he’s on a crusade to save the game’s integrity, when, in fact, his mission is to save face and baseball’s cash flow.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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