George Mitchell was named Thursday to help clean up baseball’s house, but he won’t be leaving the Mouse House.
The Disney chairman of the board will remain in the position until his scheduled retirement at the end of this year, a Disney rep said.
“This will have no impact on his role as chairman,” said spokeswoman Zenia Mucha.
Mitchell was named to head an investigation into alleged steroid use by players associated with Balco, the Northern California lab with which San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds has been linked.
The process could go on for months as baseball attempts to shed the black eye of steroids. Mitchell, who has previously produced reports on such thorny topics as the Middle East and the IRA, is considered an elixir for an ailing image.
But his selection could create the perception of a conflict of interest.
Disney owns 80% of ESPN and has full management control, and ESPN is heavily invested in what one might call the Barry Bonds industry.
ESPN nets will broadcast a number of Giants games this year as Bonds pursues Hank Aaron’s home run record — including two in the first two weeks of the season — as well as countless news reports and the docu series “Bonds on Bonds,” which is set to bow next week as the regular season gets under way.
Disney has entered a period of relative boardroom stability under Robert Iger. It would have been unlikely for Mitchell to maintain both roles if that had happened a year ago, when boardroom intrigue hovered over the Michael Eisner-led company.
Still, Mitchell is one of the last ties to the Eisner era, and dissident shareholders may use this selection as anther opportunity to push for Mitchell’s resignation, which they have urged in the past.
Experts said there was an appearance of conflict, but that Mitchell would overcome it.
“The first thing you say when you hear (about Mitchell) is, ‘Wait a minute, ESPN and Disney have a vested interest in how this plays out. How can Mitchell be at arm’s length?,’ ” said David Carter, founder of L.A. consultancy Sports Business Group. “But what you see time and time again in business is that the great people could find a way to partition.”
Asked about the perception, Disney’s Mucha said Mitchell is “greatly respected around the world and a man of great integrity. He will conduct the investigation in that manner.”
It’s also possible Mitchell will not be involved in the nuts-and-bolts of the investigation.
Baseball, for its part, was concerned Thursday about the perception of a different conflict of interest in the bio it released.
“A lifetime baseball fan, Sen. Mitchell currently is on the board of directors of the Boston Red Sox,” it read. “He is also chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Co.”