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Baseball Might Resume Friday

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

As he continues to search for a delicate balance, weighing the national grief and anger against the possibility that a resumption of play by major league baseball could benefit the collective psyche and help salvage the integrity of the season approaching the final two weeks of the schedule, Commissioner Bud Selig on Wednesday postponed all games through tonight.

Selig said that a decision on weekend games, including Friday night’s start of a three-game series between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park, would be made today. Although some believe he isn’t eager for baseball to be out there alone, playing on the weekend if the NFL cancels Sunday’s games and more colleges decide not to play football Saturday, knowledgeable baseball sources said Selig has been encouraged by government officials to resume play Friday rather than Monday-and officials involved in talks between management and the players union expect that to happen.

“There’s going to be enormous logistical and security problems, and not everyone may be entirely focused, but if I had to bet, it would be that play will resume Friday out of the general belief that it will be good for the country,” said Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the players union.

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No one, of course, is immune to the tragedy. Orza lost one of his closest friends in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. His voice cracked over the telephone from New York, but he said, “The players will do what they have to do. That’s why they’re professional players. I don’t think they’ll enjoy it, but then a lot depends on their personal situation. Everyone has been touched by this in some way.”

For Selig, the current situation transcends anything he has been exposed to during 30-plus years in the game.

If chastised for canceling the 1994 World Series while supporting what a federal court ultimately ruled was the illegal implementation of work rules by his owners, Selig now must measure the potential benefits of providing the country with the distracting drama of Barry Bonds’ bid for a home run record and the lingering pennant races against the possibility he could be called insensitive by a nation not yet ready for games.

It’s a fragile choice for a consensus builder who does not act quickly or arbitrarily, but baseball sources said he received positive feedback from officials in Washington on Wednesday, urging him to resume play Friday in the belief that it will help prove that life goes on and provide an alternative to the haunting images on the TV screen.

Reached at his Milwaukee office, Selig would not say whether he had talked directly to the White House and/or President Bush, the former Texas Ranger owner.

“I never reveal who I did or didn’t talk to,” he said, “but any decision I make will be made only after consultation with a lot of people, and that will continue late tonight. I made several calls to Washington today, and I have to be sensitive to their wishes and what I feel is the right thing to do.

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“I think many people would hope we’d start Friday. But I haven’t made that judgment

yet. I’m not close to making it.”

There could be complications to a Friday opening, of course. Major league teams travel on charter flights, but that’s no advantage if planes aren’t available and airports aren’t open.

The Dodgers, who never went to San Diego for the three-game series that was postponed after the events in New York and at the Pentagon, are thinking about going to San Francisco by bus or train even if LAX is operational, as baseball officials expect, and Selig orders resumption of play Friday, as expected.

The Seattle Mariners, on the verge of clinching the American League West and who might have done it in the two postponed games with the Angels, were still looking for a way to get home late Wednesday. They are scheduled to open a three-game series against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on Friday night.

The runaway Mariners had a shot at the record for wins in a season, but that has become more distant with each postponement, a fading priority in the aftermath of Tuesday’s attacks.

“I told myself that even if we played the game Tuesday night I wasn’t going to manage,” Manager Lou Piniella said. “What happened is unfathomable to me. Why would I want to manage? Why would people want to go to the game?”

Dodger Manager Jim Tracy echoed that sentiment, saying “everything is secondary” compared to the “totally devastating” tragedy of Tuesday. The Dodgers are still alive in the division and wild-card races, but their chances become more difficult if the three games with San Diego are not made up-or many more games are canceled.

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Although Orza said that no determination has been reached on making up games at the end of the season and delaying start of the playoffs (the division series are scheduled to start only two days after the season ends Sept. 30), other officials insisted that they definitely will be made up then, providing the schedule resumes Friday and each team has only two or three games to reschedule.

Almost every team has another series against the team it was playing this week, but scheduling more than one doubleheader in those rematches would put a severe strain on pitching staffs preparing for the playoffs and/or battling for a pennant.

The potential loss of games, of course, is not as costly in the American League-where the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Mariners have division titles virtually wrapped up and the Oakland A’s are about to clinch the wild card-but every race in the NL is undecided. The Philadelphia Phillies, within hailing distance of the Atlanta Braves in the East, had a three-game, midweek series with the Braves postponed. And in addition to the West showdown between the Dodgers and Giants, the Houston Astros, leading the Central, have a three-game weekend series with the St. Louis Cardinals, who are still a division and wild-card contender.

Now it appears those weekend games will be played. They may have much more to think about in Washington, but they have given Selig reason to believe again that baseball can provide a distraction for a nation in need of one.

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