COMMENTARY : Why Must the Show Go On?


Games do not have to go on. Sometimes, life -- and, especially, death -- intrudes, and the games, no matter how far-reaching their scope, no matter how glorious their tradition, can trivialize a tragedy.

When baseball commissioner Fay Vincent made the tough call Wednesday to resume the World Series on Tuesday, he made an apparently thoughtful call in which he took care to assert that baseball was a small player in the game of life. And yet, he made the wrong call.

These games should not go on, not now and not in a week. In Oakland, they are still pulling bodies from under concrete. Funerals will soon begin. A California way of life, one that is based, in large part, on ignoring the threat of the Big One, is quietly being reassessed. It is difficult to see how a World Series, particularly this World Series, an intramural community celebration, fits gracefully into that scheme.

Would it not be better to place a giant asterisk next to the Series, suggesting that the cancellation, a momentous decision, stand as a proper memorial to those who lost their lives in the earthquake?

It is not an easy decision. I would not have wanted to be the commissioner who had to make it. The man who is in charge of the well-being of a sport does not easily come to the conclusion that its ultimate moment should be canceled. He has to consider the sports fans of America. And he has to consider, too, and most importantly, the Bay Area fans whose teams were joined in this World Series.

How do you gauge the community frame of mind? The easy, and probably correct, answer is that those in the area who have even taken time to consider the resumption of the World Series are split. Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson said he had insisted that there be no games at least until all the bodies were found.

In waiting a week, Vincent allows time for people to handle their immediate grief and for those in charge of stadium safety to make certain there is no danger in returning. Though there was some structural damage to Candlestick Park, it is not thought to be significant or substantial.

Moving the games, as some have suggested, would be the worst possible message. Not only do you leave an area in ruins, you take from it what had been a source of joy and give it to someone else. If the parks are more damaged than expected, then cancellation is an easy option.

What makes this tougher is that there are people, undoubtedly many people, who could use the bread and circus just now. You can overstate, and some probably already have, the healing affect that the World Series might have when resumed, but you can make an argument that a diversion would be welcome. Life has to resume its normal patterns sometime.

And maybe we condescend if we determine to make this decision for someone else. Perhaps it is up to each person in the affected area to determine his or her own interest.

But it is difficult for me to visualize how this resumption could bring joy to anyone. It seems incongruous to bring passion to the ballpark -- can you really care who beats whom? -- in light of what happened. If the passion is missing, what is left?

When President Kennedy was assassinated, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle made what is generally viewed in the modern era as a disastrous decision to allow the games to be played as scheduled, only two days after the fact. As a nation mourned, there was no place for football. Vincent said the other day he agreed with the decision at the time but wasn't sure if he still did. Is he sure this moment is different in any important way?

An area mourns. How do you then, in the midst of that mourning, resume a celebration. There will be time for celebrating again, but this seems much too soon. The World Series would serve as a reminder for what has already been, and what has been, we must remember, a tragedy of enormous dimension. Do we play games to a background of funeral dirges? The earth shook, and nothing can be quite the same after that.

When the Series was two games old, it came, unexpectedly and tragically, to an abrupt halt. An earthquake that claims many lives is not an intermission. It should be an end-point.

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