For years, we've heard rumor upon rumor about which baseball players are using what. There's such a steady stream of accusations - and not nearly enough facts - that we barely raise an eyebrow anymore.
All that's about to change. At least, let's hope so.
Former Sen. George Mitchell is expected to unleash the results of his investigation into performance-enhancing drug use before the end of the year. After years of Major League Baseball trying to hide its dirty little secret, we'll finally have an idea of just how bad the problem is.
Names are expected to be revealed, big and small. There will be hard and fast numbers of who bought what. It's a good bet it's not going to be pretty, and it's no surprise that players and executives alike are a tad nervous these days.
But baseball owes the public answers, and the Mitchell investigation is the best we've got.
Though it hasn't done damage at the box office, there's no question the steroid era has been a PR disaster. Every player is now shadowed by a cloud of suspicion. Mark McGwire has gone from hero to Hall of Fame outcast. The only way to get past this is if everyone comes clean, and Mitchell's findings, while not perfect, are a good place to start.
Of course, it's flawed. Mitchell doesn't have subpoena powers, and players generally have ignored him. Only two active players are known to have cooperated, and Jason Giambi had to be threatened before he talked.
Teams and the players' union haven't exactly fallen all over themselves to be helpful. There was a tiff over medical records and who could see what, and the union has whined about what Mitchell did or didn't say about showing accused players the evidence of their wrongdoings.
And although Mitchell swears he's objective, the fact that he remains a director of the Boston Red Sox gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Baseball can wring its hands all it wants about the looming trouble, but this is its own doing.
Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, McGwire and dozens of others got muscles to rival Popeye's during the 1990s, and nobody said a word. Just about every other sport on the planet was struggling with doping issues, but, no, baseball was clean.
It did ban steroids in 2002, but it was little more than window dressing. It wasn't until Canseco 'fessed up to being more chemically enhanced than a Thanksgiving turkey that baseball took serious action. Didn't have a choice, really, what with angry members of Congress holding hearings and threatening to take the whole mess out of baseball's hands.
Even then, it took ``Game of Shadows'' to make commissioner Bud Selig realize his beloved sport was little better than that cesspool of track and field. After the book, which details alleged drug use by Bonds and other athletes, came out, Selig asked Mitchell in March 2006 to find out just how deep the problem goes.
Yet after all that, baseball's drug policy is still an amateur effort. It certainly doesn't meet the gold standard set by the International Olympic Committee.
Sure, players are automatically suspended for 50 games the first time they're busted for steroids. But that's less than a third of the season, and it's recess compared with the two-year bans that are standard in Olympic sports.
Drugs of choice aren't named, either. All baseball officials said when Tampa Bay reliever Juan Salas was suspended for 50 games last season was that he'd used a ``performance-enhancing substance.'' Was that horse tranquilizers or nandrolone? We'll never know.
Baseball still isn't testing for human growth hormone. Yet rarely a week goes by without somebody being outed for getting shipments of the stuff. Don't credit baseball for unmasking the cheats. No, that task has fallen to federal investigators and reporters.
Congressional leaders aren't much happier today than they were during those hearings almost three years ago, and you can be assured they'll be quite interested to read Mitchell's report. House leaders already are threatening to get involved again.
``I would like to have seen MLB move more aggressively on steroids on its own, but I look forward to reviewing the Mitchell report when it is completed. Depending on what is in the report, it may be helpful for Congress to again hold hearings on steroids in professional sports,'' U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, who introduced the Drug Free Sports Act in April 2005, said in a statement Friday.
Be assured, Mitchell's investigation will seem as onerous as a background check if Congress steps in.
One way or another, sooner rather than later, the truth is coming out. It always does.
Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at

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