WASHINGTON - 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 individuals named.

"My hope is that this report is a part of putting the steroid era of baseball behind us," he 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 85 players to the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

The 409-page report identified an array of players, from those who have had brief stints to prospective members of the Hall of Fame - including seven MVPs, 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, a process that will spill into next year.

"I think it's best that all of us not jump to any conclusions on individual players named," Bush said.

As an intense fan of baseball, Bush seemed 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," he 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 Texas Rangers before leaving that job to run for Texas governor in 1994, had called for a voluntary crackdown on steroids in his 2004 State of the Union address.

In August, Bush called to congratulate Barry Bonds when he broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. The President didn't weigh in on the steroids controversy surrounding the slugger's smashing of the vaunted record.

"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's later proven that a lot of Bonds' strength came 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. Pushed about whether Bush regrets being in the dark about that, Perino said: "The president said he thought long and hard about it. He just does not recall hearing or seeing it. And I don't think it's time for regret. I think it's time to do what the president has done, which has been to take time in his State of the Union to shine a light on the issue. Now we have the result of a report that is getting a lot of attention and deservedly so."