LOS ANGELES - In turning to former Senate leader George Mitchell to unravel its steroid scandal, Major League Baseball enlisted a global troubleshooter with an insider’s knowledge of the game.
Plainspoken, even bland, with skills honed in courtrooms, boardrooms, Washington and on the international stage, Mitchell brings a rare range of experience and a reputation for something at risk in baseball — fair play.
Colleagues in the Senate, where the Maine Democrat served as majority leader, called Mitchell “the judge,” a reference to his days in the federal judiciary as well as his reserved, owlish manner.
President Clinton once offered the former U.S. attorney a spot on the Supreme Court. His stewardship of the Northern Ireland peace talks made him a celebrity on another continent. He was the architect of a Middle East peace plan that won international support in 2001, and he led an investigation into alleged bribes in Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Olympics. Mitchell also went corporate, helping to calm disarray at The Walt Disney Co.
Baseball’s investigation will test those sterling credentials.
The 72-year-old Mitchell, appointed Thursday by commissioner Bud Selig, is part of the baseball establishment — a director with the Boston Red Sox who has dreamed of becoming commissioner. Already there are questions about his partiality from critics who say the league needs to clean house, not redecorate.
“Of course he has some ties to baseball, but we know what they are. Everybody will be watching to make sure he plays things absolutely straight,” former commissioner Fay Vincent said.
“There is enormous pressure on Mitchell and Selig,” Vincent added. “There is an enormous downside for baseball if it doesn’t go well.”
Mitchell’s task: Find out everything he can about the use of performance-enhancing drugs since the sport banned them in September 2002.
Mitchell’s reputation is anchored to his days in the Senate, where he combined a scholarly demeanor with aggressive, savvy political skills. In 1986, as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, he led the party to stunning gains and majority control during the Reagan administration.
Perhaps his highlight performance was during the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987, when he squared off with Lt. Col. Oliver North. “Recognize that it is possible for an American to disagree with you on aid to the Contras and still love God and still love this country just as much as you do,” Mitchell told North in one famous exchange.
An Army veteran, Mitchell comes from working-class roots in Maine. His father was a janitor; his mother, a Lebanese immigrant, worked in mills. After serving as a federal prosecutor and U.S. District Court judge in Maine he was appointed to the Senate in 1980 when his former boss, Sen. Edmund Muskie, accepted a job as President Carter’s Secretary of State. Mitchell capped a meteoric ascendancy through the Senate leadership by becoming majority leader in November 1988.
After leaving Capitol Hill in 1995, Mitchell became the special envoy who oversaw negotiations that produced the 1998 Good Friday accord in Northern Ireland.
He and his wife, Heather, a sports promoter, have two children and residences in Maine and New York.
“It would be hard for them to duplicate his combination of baseball knowledge and interests, and his experience with criminal investigations and prosecutions,” said Harold Pachios, a Maine lawyer who has known Mitchell for nearly half a century.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Joining the Disney board soon after leaving the Senate, Mitchell was named presiding director in 2002 when the board was being criticized for being too cozy with then-chairman and CEO Michael Eisner.
Although Mitchell was close friends with Eisner, his appointment was seen as a step toward making the board more independent. In 2004, after a shareholder revolt, Eisner was stripped of his chairmanship and the board handed Mitchell the job.
Once the target of company dissidents who questioned his loyalties, Mitchell presided over Eisner’s departure and the search for his successor — Robert Iger. Mitchell has said he will retire this year.
“The guy has investigated and prosecuted dozens and dozens of crimes,” Pachios said. “I never met a bigger straight arrow.”
HBT: Controversial umpire Angel Hernandez blew another call that nearly cost the White Sox a win on Friday, earning the ire of manager Robin Ventura.
Add another near miss in this 2013 baseball season - this time it was Detroit's Anibal Sanchez falling just short of a no-hitter.
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