Steroid use in baseball is the sport’s Energizer Bunny scandal. It just keeps on going. As I begin this column, at least three steroid-related stories are making the sports pages and the sports talk shows on television and radio.

The two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who have detailed the story about the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, also known as BALCO, and its alleged supplying of steroids to athletes, including Barry Bonds, are facing possible jailing for refusing to reveal their sources to a grand jury investigating the leaking of earlier grand-jury testimony. Ironically, it is possible that Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, who detailed their discoveries in a recent book, “Game of Shadows,” may spend more time behind bars than those who dispensed the illegal steroids.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is demanding assurances from Commissioner Bud Selig and the head of the baseball union, Donald Fehr, that the union will not jettison the recently agreed on baseball drug policy if the owners and players fail to agree on a new labor contract by August. The agreement on enhanced penalties for drug use includes an out if no agreement is reached by then, triggering a fallback to the lighter penalties of 2005.

Finally, Barry Bonds has surpassed Babe Ruth’s home run total of 714, placing him second only to Hank Aaron and his 755. At this point, of course, any Barry Bonds story is automatically a steroids story. For many, the San Francisco Giants outfielder, once a certain Hall of Fame inductee, is the living embodiment of the steroids scandal.

Yet what vital steroids story is not in the news today? George Mitchell and his investigation into steroid use in baseball, so let us review that a bit here. On March 30, Bud Selig, Major League Baseball commissioner, named Mitchell to head an investigation into the use of steroids by Barry Bonds and other players.

To be fair, it is far too early to expect any substantive findings yet. Mitchell has a lot of work to do. For example, the New York Times reported that the Mitchell Commission has contacted the lawyer for Kimberly Bell, Bonds’ former girlfriend. Bell has stated in interviews that she saw Bonds using steroids; she also has said, on another, perhaps even more serious legal matter, that Bonds gave her $80,000 from autograph shows, money that she claimed he did not report to the Internal Revenue Service. She may have much to tell the Mitchell Commission.

Unfortunately, Mitchell is not the right person to lead this probe. Yes, Mitchell was a popular and successful United States senator, and he deserves great praise for brokering the Good Friday peace agreement among warring factions in Northern Ireland in 1995. That agreement set Northern Ireland on a path that has finally led to a comprehensive renunciation of violence in that troubled land.

Mitchell is a man of considerable talent, and he is a good and honorable person. Like the large majority of Maine citizens, I voted for him and would be happy to do so again. He is rightly regarded with reverence in Maine and is widely respected at home and abroad.

And, yes, Mitchell will diligently pursue steroid use by players, but the players have been only part of the problem. The commissioner and owners must also share the blame for the spread of steroids in baseball. No one close to baseball could credibly argue that the owners and commissioner were completely unaware of what was happening. Assuming a minimal level of intelligence and insight on their part, they must have had at least strong suspicions that steroid use was widespread, yet they did not seriously pursue that often upsetting reality known as truth. To do so would have upset the financial apple cart loaded with another type of round object, the steroid-laden home run that so delighted fans and kept the turnstiles turning.

Mitchell is far too close to baseball ownership to have been placed in this position. He is, readers likely will remember, a director of the Boston Red Sox, a member of baseball’s ruling class. Mitchell has promised that he will also pursue anyone close to the Red Sox who might be involved in steroid use, but the unsettling question behind that promise is whether he is thinking only of Red Sox players. Yet what about Red Sox owners, as well as other owners?

Another potential conflict of interest involves Mitchell’s role as chairman of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company, a position to which he was reelected for a second term on March 10. The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ESPN, the television sports network. Murray Chass reported in the New York Times on March 31 that Mitchell’s stockholdings in Disney as of that date were worth $1,818,071. What effect would a cover-up scandal involving Major League Baseball have on its media relations, on the viewing public, and on the value of Mitchell’s 65,234 shares?

At the very least, the appearance of conflict of interest threatens to haunt George Mitchell as he investigates steroids in baseball. If the investigation remains completely at the player level, serious questions surely will arise about the willingness of the Mitchell Commission to look in all of baseball’s corners. A highly respected investigator with no ties to Major League Baseball should have been selected to lead the investigation. On such an important issue, the investigator must not only be impartial but also be readily seen as impartial. Before being elected to the United States Senate, Mitchell was a federal district judge. What would Judge Mitchell have said about a judge presiding over a case in which he had a substantial financial interest?

[tagline] Edward J. Rielly is a Westbrook resident, English professor at Saint Joseph’s College, and widely published author with two books on baseball and American culture.