COMMENTARY : Commissioner Did the Right Thing Under Pressure


Hits, runs, errors and the winning team aren't that important. Not even worth a line of type. The World Series of 1989, regardless of the outcome, has palled into insignificance. Tears instead of cheers. Sympathy without exultation. Families and friends checking a black obituary list rather than a potential lineup.

It comes as a hard lesson of every man's and woman's meager mortality. The end result. Harsh yet true. The explosiveness of an earthquake. Never to be forgotten. This violent disturbance from deep within the intestines of the earth rocked and shocked the World Series, including an audience carried away with the passion of baseball and the beauty of one of the world's most captivating and exciting cities ... San Francisco.

The World Series, amid the brightness of expectation, stopped with quick finality. Suddenly, the focus is directed toward making plans for funeral processions rather than a gala visit to the ballpark. How can a spectator raise a voice to cheer with fervor or a player throw himself into what was intended as a little boy's pastime or a sportswriter lavish prose upon something so comparatively meaningless as throwing, catching or striking a baseball?

Fun and games and press box toy departments are only diversions. They are more a part of fantasy; hardly reality. It's understandable and worthy of applause that baseball intends to wisely continue the World Series. Maybe it's good to temporarily take the nation's troubled minds away from the harsh circumstances. It eases the trauma, but not the death count.

The sooner the country returns to a semblance of normalcy, doing things that again seem so natural, such as playing and watching a World Series, means it will be better for all of us. That even goes for San Francisco and Oakland, the cities getting up off the floor to restore themselves and go on to dream again.

Not even the global conflagrations of two world wars, with armies and navies locked in fierce and explosive combat, could threaten an interruption to the World Series. Not so much as a single postponement or cancellation. They went on as scheduled in 1918 and in 1942, 1943 and 1944 while men were dying on faraway battlefields in an endeavor to rid the universe of evil dictators and their inhumane objectives.

That was a time when the World Series was a tonic of frivolous entertainment that served to lighten, if only for a few hours, the grim story that was being written in the history books.

And so it is now in proceeding next week with the World Series. It's the proper thing to do. By continuing to play, it's not evidencing disrespect for those whose names are included among the casualties and fatalities of this horrifying natural disaster.

The World Series, though, is being put in perspective. As the rookie commissioner of baseball, Fay Vincent, said, "Playing baseball at a time like this is not among the high priorities." Not a dissenting voice is heard amid the scarred clutter of shattered buildings, broken highways and a part of America that is trying to put itself back together again.

It would be appropriate if the Major League Baseball Players Association and the commissioner made a tangible expression. And what better way than for those putting on the World Series (the players) and those producing it (the owners) to donate a generous portion of the financial receipts to what could be established as a Baseball Earthquake Relief Fund that would help those in need. Even the broadcast networks might want to participate.

Such an effort would show some meaningful measure of appreciation toward easing the pain and signaling a display of comfort to those families who lost loved ones and suffered serious injuries. It might indicate that, yes, a professional sport does care and is concerned with more than separating a ticket buyer from his money.

It would be baseball's way of proving, by a gesture of this nature, how much it values the love and support the public fosters upon it. This is the least the players and owners should be ready to do.

The move to suspend the World Series and resume Tuesday is an excellent decision. Commissioner Vincent has earned a commendation for how he reacted. It demonstrates compassion and understanding, proving baseball is in competent hands with the new man on the job.

There's precedent in baseball for trying to keep on after an earthquake. In 1906, when San Francisco was leveled and more than 500 citizens were killed, the team lost its ballpark in the Pacific Coast League. So it transferred to Oakland and played the season at the rival field. Meanwhile, its followers crossed on ferry boats to see them play.

That's not going to be necessary this time. Baseball, via this appropriate waiting-mourning period, is giving the teams and public a chance to gather their emotions, plus attempting to repair structural damages in both cities so the games can continue. It's not the old refrain of "another World Series game tonight." And all of America notes with respect, plus sorrow, the losses the tragedy incurred.

More vital, of course, than a volley of hits, runs and errors. The World Series is an American rite but, measured against life, death and pain, it's puffery, triviality and folly ... signifying nothing of authentic substance or meaning. Merely fun and games.

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