George Mitchell named names and then asked everyone to be friends. Like Mark McGwire, he wanted to focus on the future to protect your kids from steroid use.

Kind of hard to do after everyone Mitchell implicated. And not nearly as much fun as making bloated scapegoats out of the players who took our money and fooled us for so long.

There’s a sense that somebody should pay for the mockery juiced players made of the game for the last 20 years. The whole thing cries out for more justice than a few 15-day suspensions to begin next season.

Unfortunately, it looks like that’s going to be about it. The steroid era that began with such a bang will end with a whimper, and only Major League Baseball and the players’ union will be happy with the closure they both desperately sought.

That became clear Wednesday when the ranking Republican on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said next month’s hearings into steroid use in baseball won’t be anything like the infamous 2005 hearings where McGwire forgot the past, Sammy Sosa forgot he knew how to speak English, and Rafael Palmeiro forgot it wasn’t nice to lie to Congress.

The sight of McGwire stammering while refusing to discuss the past was worth the price of admission. But those hearings weren’t just great theater, they also put pressure on baseball and its players to clean up their act. The general outrage that followed kept the issue alive.

Don’t expect nearly as much Jan. 15, because it’s likely none of the more than 80 players named in Mitchell’s report will be called to testify. That’s unfortunate, because that makes the hearings almost as meaningless as Roger Clemens’ denials.

“It’s hard to reach the players this time of year,” Virginia congressman Tom Davis said. “I’ve talked to (Donald) Fehr, and at this point they’re scattered all over the globe.”

Mitchell had the same problem reaching players, of course, largely because they hid behind their union, agents and lawyers and refused to talk. But Congress has subpoena power, meaning it can force players to come and testify under threat of penalty.

More important, it can force them to tell the truth under threat of perjury.

Just ask Barry Bonds about that.

It might be the last chance anyone has to really sort out the truth, but Davis said he doubted Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Eric Gagne or Paul Lo Duca would receive invitations to come to Washington.

“Anything’s possible, but at this point it’s not likely,” Davis said. “We’d like to put this thing behind us.”

The lineup instead probably will consist of Mitchell, commissioner Bud Selig and Fehr, head of the players’ union. The discussion will center not on who took what, but what can be done to get the union and baseball together to adopt the report’s recommendations.

That’s admirable in a way because the overlooked recommendations are important. They include increased testing, more unannounced testing, closer monitoring of who and what is in the clubhouse, and the hiring of an executive with authority to mount investigations into steroid and drug use around the league.

But wouldn’t it be nice to see Pettitte under oath and see if his story about trying HGH just two days remains the same? How about finding out whether Brian Roberts sticks to his claim that he used steroids only once, even though his numbers might indicate otherwise.

Wouldn’t you like to hear from Gagne or Lo Duca, or find out whether Clemens is as outraged in person as he is when he issues statements through his agent and attorney?

Heck, invite Bonds, too, and let’s really have some fun. Just remind him that he is under oath, just like he was when he appeared before a grand jury back in 2003. That’s not likely to happen, though, because he’s already under indictment.

Give us moments to remember, such as McGwire losing his memory or Palmeiro pointing his finger. Make the players squirm, and force them to tell the truth.

Sure, closure is a great thing. And baseball and its union would like nothing better than to declare the steroid era over before spring training even opens.

But fans need closure, too. We’re the ones, after all, who had to put up with all the lying and cheating.

One more hearing that really matters shouldn’t be asking for too much.

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