President Bush said yesterday that baseball players and owners must take seriously the Mitchell Report on steroid use, but he cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the players named.
"My hope is that this report is a part of putting the steroid era of baseball behind us," Bush said, surrounded by Cabinet members in the Rose Garden.
Bush, who once owned the Texas Rangers, said the Mitchell Report means that "we can jump to this conclusion, that steroids have sullied the game."
"The players and the owners must take the Mitchell Report seriously," Bush said. "I'm confident they will."
In a report issued Thursday, former Sen. George Mitchell linked 86 players to the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
Some of the players identified in the 409-page report had brief stints in the major leagues. Others include seven Most Valuable Players, two Cy Young Award winners and 31 All-Stars.
Lawyers in baseball commissioner Bud Selig's office will have to determine whether any of the active players deserve punishment.
"I think it's best that all of us not jump to any conclusions on individual players named," Bush said.
As a baseball fan, Bush seemed to be pained by the extent of the problem. He spoke about the issue in answer to a question from a reporter.
"I understand the impact that professional athletes can have on our nation's youth," the president said. "I just urge those in the public spotlight, particularly athletes, to understand that when they violate their bodies, they're sending a terrible signal to America's youth."
Bush, who was the managing partner of the Rangers before leaving that job to run for Texas governor in 1994, called for a voluntary crackdown on steroids in his 2004 State of the Union address.
This August, Bush called to congratulate Barry Bonds when he broke the career home run record. The president didn't weigh in on the steroid controversy surrounding the San Francisco Giants slugger.
"There is a lot of speculation about Barry Bonds, and my only advice for people is to just let history be the judge," Bush said during a television interview. "Let's find out the facts, and then everybody's opinion, one way or the other, will be verified or not verified."
If it is proved that much of Bonds' strength resulted from drug use, Bush said, there will be a lot of disappointed people.
"As you know, I'm a baseball fan - I love the sport, I love the game," he said. "I've been troubled by the steroid allegations."
On Thursday, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush does not recall being aware of any steroid use during his time as a baseball executive.
Pressed about whether Bush regrets being in the dark about that, she said, "The president said he thought long and hard about it. He just does not recall hearing or seeing it."