FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics were scheduled to leave to open the regular season with a two-game series in Japan, but Major League Baseball decided late yesterday to cancel the trip because of the impending war in Iraq.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had been in contact much of the past two days with the State Department and government security agencies to discuss the appropriateness of a highly visible - and perhaps vulnerable - international event at a time when the United States is on a heightened homeland security alert.
"Given the uncertainty that now exists throughout the world, we believe the safest course of action for the players involved and the many staff personnel who must work the games is to reschedule the opening series." Selig said.
The announcement was made in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which was the co-sponsor of the event. Union director Donald Fehr echoed the disappointment expressed by Selig that the world situation made the cancellation necessary.
"With world tensions so high, this is the prudent course of action." Fehr said. "We do regret, though, having to take it. As the commissioner has observed, everyone in baseball looks forward to playing in Japan and appreciates the most gracious hospitality always extended to us. We will be back, and soon."
The A's and Mariners were scheduled to open the regular season with games on March 26 and 27 at the Tokyo Dome, with the remaining teams playing their season openers either March 31 or April 1. The two A's home games have been resched uled for April 3 and June 30.
The cancellation of the Japan series is just one example of the impact that a U.S. attack on Iraq could have on baseball and other major sports.
Baseball and the other major sports instituted new security procedures after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to limit what fans can carry through the turnstiles and to better monitor commercial deliveries to stadiums and arenas.
Major League Baseball sent a memo to its 30 teams last Wednesday asking them to rededicate themselves to the strict enforcement of those procedures because of the possibility of increased terrorist activity in the United States after the onset of war.
Selig postponed a week of the 2001 regular-season schedule after Sept. 11, both as a security precaution and out of respect for the thousands of victims of the terrorist attacks, but war in Iraq probably won't cause a major disruption in the baseball season.
Plenty of historical precedent exists for forging ahead with the season. The games went on during World War II at the insistence of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who felt that baseball was important to national morale.
There also was no interruption during the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which also heated up at the same time major-league teams were in spring training.
Of course, no one imagined during those conflicts that there might be any danger to the fans or participants at major sporting events. The Sept. 11 attacks, though they were directed at the centers of finance and government, illustrated the vulnerability of crowded sports venues to a potentially devastating attack.