Thursday was the latest black day in the history of baseball, which has endured strikes, walkouts, a tainted World Series, the exile of its all-time hits leader, the indictment of its all-time home run leader, and now the implication that a high percentage of ballplayers of recent vintage have taken performance-enhancing drugs.

It has been a dark winter for the Twins, who, with a new, publicly financed ballpark under construction, have allowed one popular player to leave in free agency and are trying to trade the best pitcher in the game because they are unwilling to meet his financial demands.

This would seem to be a nuclear winter for baseball, locally and nationally. We should know by now, though, that by spring training these threatening clouds will be replaced by wispy cirrus in high blue skies, and the game will thrive again.

To paraphrase our former governor, baseball ain't got time to bleed. It's too busy making money.

Stick a stake through its heart, fire silver bullets into its torso, tie cloves of garlic and crucifixes around your neck, but if you're like most baseball fans, you can't kill your love of the game.

Since 2002, baseball has endured a walkout, tremendous financial imbalance among its teams, the threat to eliminate two franchises (including the Twins), the steroid scandal that resulted in the Mitchell Report being released on Thursday, and the continuing embarrassing sagas of Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and now Roger Clemens.

And since 2002, Major League Baseball has grown its gross revenues from $1.2 billion to more than $6 billion a year. Last season, baseball set another all-time attendance record, totaling 79.5 million tickets sold, meaning that the average attendance at a big-league game last year was 32,785. That was an increase of 4.5 percent over 2006, and it occurred while Bonds was becoming the game's foremost pariah.

Ratings, revenues and attendance continue to rise rapidly, and the Mitchell Report won't change that. In fact, the report might help.

Blast Commissioner Bud Selig for his circuitous speaking style and his oversight of the steroids era, but the Mitchell Report could turn out to be a brilliant public relations stroke. Despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them.

The Mitchell Report names names but doesn't attempt to assign legal guilt, so long, ugly court cases are not likely to result. The report paints an appropriate picture of baseball during the steroids era but is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on the 2008 season. The report implicitly blames the unpopular players union for withholding information and access to players, giving fans the convenient scapegoat they might be seeking.

The report allows everyone in baseball to act properly chagrined and use the phrase "Let's move forward.'' Most important, the report was issued in December, so by the time pitchers, catchers and syringe users arrive at spring training, performance-enhancing drugs will be little more than another topic of illicit baseball lore, like corked bats, sharpened spikes, spitballs and greenies.

The Mitchell Report allows fans to believe what they want to believe, and the timing of the report allows us all to wring our hands for a couple of months before heading to spring training for the charming start of another record-breaking season.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •