ST. LOUIS — Commissioner Bud Selig on Monday defended his choice of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to head baseball's steroid investigation, saying Mitchell's ties to ESPN and the Boston Red Sox will not hinder him.

Speaking to reporters during the first major league game at the new Busch Stadium, Selig said Mitchell's ties to baseball will be an asset, not a liability, as will his background in investigative matters.

"He's been a federal prosecutor, he's been a federal judge," Selig said.

As for Mitchell's autonomy, Selig said he'll speak with him only on rare occasions until the investigation is complete, but will offer no input.

"He's on his own," Selig said. "It is really going to be a thorough investigation, unimpeded by anything or anybody."

Mitchell is a director for the Red Sox and chairman of the Walt Disney Co., which owns ESPN. The network broadcasts baseball and struck a deal to air a reality series starring Barry Bonds that began last week. A book about Bonds' alleged use of steroids helped prompt the investigation.

The commissioner brushed aside criticism that baseball acted too slowly on the steroid problem. It was just eight years ago that he was in St. Louis to watch Mark McGwire break Roger Maris' season home run record.

It was that season when the legal supplement androstenedione was found in McGwire's locker, that Selig said he first became aware of the possibility that something might be amiss. He called comments that he should have known about the steroids problem at that time "revisionist history."

"When I was here in '98 there was no conversation anywhere — nobody said a thing," Selig said.

With baseball's current labor deal scheduled to expire Dec. 19, Selig is hopeful a spring training lockout can be avoided, citing a more cordial relationship between players and owners than existed during past labor disputes. But he stopped short of saying he was confident a new deal could be worked out without a stoppage.

"I don't know if confident is the right word," Selig said. "The relationship of the parties has never been better."