NEW YORK - There was the anger.

Jose Canseco is a fink for ratting out former teammates about using steroids in a book.

There was the denial. Ken Caminiti is way off base for saying that more than half the players in baseball used performance-enhancing substances.

Finally, yesterday, there was acceptance. At least that's what former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell is hoping for after releasing his long-waited treatise - ponderously titled "Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball" - in the Manhattan Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt New York.

Against a backdrop of large artificial snowflakes that clashed with the stinging, icy rain on a grim, gray day outside the large picture windows, Mitchell fingered 85 current and former players as being linked to steroid use, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Kevin Brown, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Lenny Dykstra, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield, Mo Vaughn, Paul Lo Duca, Eric Gagne, Rick Ankiel, Paul Byrd, Jose Guillen, Gary Matthews Jr., Matt Williams and, of course, Canseco.

None of the players mentioned came as a surprise. In fact, many of the names had surfaced in previous reports.

Nor was there any pretense that the list was complete. "The current [random drug-testing program put in place in 2002] has been effective in that detectable steroid use appears to have declined," he said. "However, that does not mean players have stopped using performance-enhancing substances. Many players have shifted to human-growth hormone, which is not detectable in any currently available urine test.

"I acknowledge and even emphasize the obvious: There is much about the illegal use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball that I did not learn. There were other suppliers and there have been other users."

Further, Mitchell did not possess subpoena power and could not compel players to testify or produce evidence. "The players association was largely uncooperative," he noted dryly.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, challenged that characterization. "In March 2006, before our newly negotiated program had even begun to operate, Commissioner [Bud] Selig named former Sen. George Mitchell to investigate steroid use in baseball," he said in a separate press conference early last night. "The decision was made unilaterally, without prior consultation with the MLBPA.

"We made plain to the commissioner that his unilateral decision left us no choice but to represent our members in this inquiry, as any union is by law obligated to do in response to a management initiated investigation with potential disciplinary consequences.

"We did represent our members and we make no apologies for doing so."

Fehr was also unhappy that names were made public. "Many players are named, their reputations adversely affected forever, even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been," he said sharply. "Anyone interested in fairly assessing the allegations against a player should consider the nature of the evidence presented, the reliability of its source and the absence of procedural safeguards individuals who may have been accused of wrongdoing should be afforded."

Much of what appears in the Mitchell report seems to have been gleaned from the testimony of Kirk Radomski (copies of checks and money orders made out to the former Mets clubhouse attendant are featured prominently in the 400-page tome) and former New York Yankees major league strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee and piggybacked off the federal investigation of so-called "rejuvenation" clinics in Florida and published material. It's possible that players who obtained their steroids from other sources went undetected.

After a 21-month investigation, Mitchell did not condemn any particular segment of the baseball community, choosing instead to paint a picture with broad brush strokes.

"Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades - commissioners, club officials, the players association and players - shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroids era," he declared. "There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on. As a result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread."

Later, he added: "It's not my intention to assign numerical figures to responsibilities."

While conceding that much of the media and public focus will be on the past and the players who now stand publicly accused of cheating, Mitchell tried to strike a forward-looking note.

"It is now time to look to the future, to get on with the important and difficult task that lies ahead," he said. "Everyone involved in major league baseball should join in a well-planned, well-executed and sustained effort to bring the era of steroids and human-growth hormone to an end and to prevent its recurrence in some other form in the future. That is the only way this cloud will be removed from the game."

To that end, Mitchell made a series of recommendations:

* Selig should create a Department of Investigations, led by a senior executive, with the power to move quickly to respond to any allegations of the use or possession of performance-enhancing substances.

* Improved educational programs about the dangers of substance abuse should be put into place.

* Major league baseball and the players association should cooperate on even more stringent testing procedures than are already in place. A state-of-the-art program should be updated regularly and administered by an independent authority with the power to conduct random, unannounced tests.

* The testing program should be transparent, so that the public can be confident that it is being administered fairly.

Almost as an aside, Mitchell urged Selig to grant amnesty to any players named in the report, with the exception of those whose actions have been so egregious that they threaten the integrity of baseball.

In answer to a question, he denied that the latter was a specific reference to Barry Bonds, who broke baseball's all-time home-run record in August but now faces federal charges of allegedly lying to a grand jury about his knowing use of steroids.

"I make this recommendation fully aware that there are valid arguments both for and against it," Mitchell said. "But I believe that those in favor are compelling.

"First, a principal goal of this investigation is to bring a close to this troubling chapter in baseball's history and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent future use."

He went on to point out that many of the alleged violations happened years ago, that more than half of the players mentioned are no longer active and that "letting go of the past and looking toward the future is a very hard but necessary step toward dealing with an ongoing problem."

Selig, in a press conference of his own after Mitchell's, seemed to embrace the recommendations as a whole, but pointedly reserved the right to review each case and act as he sees fit.

Complete acceptance, it seems, isn't as close as anybody might have hoped. *