"So long as there may be potential cheaters, we will always have to monitor our programs and constantly update them to catch those who think they can get away with breaking baseball's rules," Selig said. "In the name of integrity, that's exactly what I intend to do."
In his report, Sen. Mitchell outlined a long list of recommendations for the Commissioner to consider. Some of them can -- and according to Selig, will -- be implemented immediately. But others, most notably the recommendation for further improvement of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program, will require cooperation from the MLB Players Association.
The current agreement regarding performance-enhancing steroids became effective in 2003, and it does not expire until 2011.
Sen. Mitchell stressed Thursday that his report could provide little more than information and recommendations. The report named 89 current and former players, including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Miguel Tejada, but the decision on whether or not any of those findings will result in punishment rests squarely on Selig.
It's a decision he has not yet made.
"Sen. Mitchell acknowledges in his report that the ultimate decisions on discipline rest with the Commissioner and he is correct," Selig said. "Discipline of players and others identified in the report will be determined on a case-by-case basis. If warranted, those decisions will be made swiftly and I, of course, will give thorough consideration to Sen. Mitchell's views on the subject."
While Selig would not announce his specific intentions regarding punishments, he was open about his support regarding all of Mitchell's formal recommendations. Those include the formation of a Department of Investigations to immediately review any future allegations of use of illegal substances, the logging of packages sent to players at Major League ballparks, and the design and implementation of a more powerful education program to decrease drug use both within the Major Leagues and beyond.
And so Selig spent much of Thursday lauding Mitchell's work, and its potential to bring healthy change to the game.
"There is nothing in his recommendations," Selig said, "that I could even begin to disagree with."
But that doesn't mean those recommendations will be easy to follow, and the most contentious among them may also be the most difficult to achieve. Mitchell's call for further improvement to the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program would require an update to baseball's current labor agreement before the current contract expires.
The Players Association agreed to a similar revision in 2005, but there are no guarantees that the group would be open to further change.
"I'm going to be optimistic about it," Selig said. "We have tightened the program again and again, and the fact of the matter is as things come to light and as things evolve, I would hope we keep on moving."
A major shortcoming of the current program revolves around human growth hormone (HGH), a banned substance that current urine tests cannot detect. Both Mitchell and Selig acknowledged that while detectable steroid use has declined in recent years, many players have begun to use HGH. So Selig on Thursday announced his intentions to work to establish an accurate test for that substance, and to form an HGH summit for the baseball and medical worlds to shed light on a solution.
Until random and reliable tests for every banned substance can be both found and implemented, however, Selig's decisions on punishment will rely exclusively on the information at his disposal. The Mitchell Report is a source, but one that relies on evidence outside the realm of actual drug testing.
"I'm going to review his findings, and the factual support for those finds," Selig said. "And punishment will then be determined on a case-by-case basis. I will take action when I believe it's appropriate."
Perhaps Selig's greatest problem regarding potential punishments stems from the fact that most of the alleged violations in Mitchell's report occurred in a period ending two years ago. A large group of implicated players are no longer active, and are thus beyond Selig's jurisdiction. And many of those who are still playing were linked to the substances at a time when punishments for users were quite different.
That's precisely why Mitchell did not recommend penalties for active players.
"I urge the Commissioner to forego imposing discipline upon players for past violations of baseball's rules on performance-enhancing substances," Mitchell said, "including the players named in this report, except in those cases where he determines that the conduct is so serious that discipline is necessary to maintain the integrity of the game." Yet Selig did not immediately agree.
He already set a precedent last week, when he suspended Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons for 15 days for allegedly procuring performance-enhancing drugs earlier this decade. Yet those penalties were based on the far more lenient punishment scale used back in 2004. Under the current policy, any first offense brings with it a 50-game suspension.
Guillen and Gibbons were two of seven players -- Rick Ankiel, Gary Matthews Jr., Jerry Hairston Jr., Jay Gibbons, Paul Byrd, Troy Glaus and Scott Schoeneweis were the others -- named by an Albany, N.Y., district attorney in an investigation independent from the Mitchell Report. Baseball dismissed the cases on Ankiel, Matthews Jr., Glaus and Schoeneweis due to insufficient evidence that they violated the drug program in place at the time, while results of the Byrd and Hairston reviews are still pending.
The economic effects of any punishments are even less clear. Knowledge of Guillen's situation did not stop the Royals from signing him to a three-year, $36 million contract one month after the news first leaked. The union has since filed a grievance to overturn Guillen's suspension.
Selig's views on punishment, however, mark the only portion of Mitchell's report with which he openly disagreed. He commissioned the report 21 months ago as a search for the truth, and Mitchell provided precisely that.
"I was asked to investigate the use of performance-enhancing substances by Major League players and to report what I found as fairly, as accurately and as thoroughly as I could," Mitchell said. "I have done so."
Now, the fallout drops to Selig, who must take Mitchell's findings and do something about them. Precisely what he can achieve remains to be seen, but he now has a detailed path to follow, and a documented place to start. And that's exactly what he set out to find.
"His report is a call to action," Selig said. "And I will act."
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.