MLB cancels Japan opener as war looms

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

PHOENIX -- Major league baseball canceled the season-opening series in Japan between Seattle and Oakland because of the threat of war in Iraq.

"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," commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday. "It would be unfair and terribly unsettling for them to be half a world away -- away from their families at this critical juncture."

The teams had planned to leave today for games March 25 to 26 at the Tokyo Dome. But plans were put on hold Tuesday morning as Selig and major league officials talked to government and security agencies.

"While I don't doubt the exemplary security efforts that the city of Tokyo and the government of Japan were prepared to provide for our players and personnel, I had to weigh those security precautions against a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous set of variables that go along with a nation on the brink of war," Selig said.

Baseball opened its 2000 season in Tokyo, with the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs playing two games.

Seattle's visit was highly anticipated because of two Japanese stars on the Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki. It would have been the first time Seattle owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who lives in Japan, saw his team play.

"I was looking forward to going," Oakland outfielder Terrence Long said. "I think everybody was. A lot of people don't get this opportunity. I doubt I'll get a chance to go back."

The games were rescheduled for April 3 and June 30 in Oakland.

"With world tensions so high, this is the prudent course of action," union head Donald Fehr said.

Baseball had already been planning to have the New York Yankees open the 2004 season in Japan, probably against Tampa Bay, Toronto or Baltimore.

"I find it extremely unfortunate, but it's because of war and there is little we can do," Japanese baseball commissioner Hiromori Kawashi said. "Japanese baseball fans who were looking forward to the event must find it extremely disappointing."

Other sports also discussed contingency plans, but the NCAA said Tuesday that it would not change its schedule for the men's and women's basketball tournaments, which start this week.

There also has been talk that NCAA games and other sports events might be moved from network television to cable if war breaks out in Iraq.

Even though several baseball officials already were in Japan, setting up for the series, many players had been jittery about going.

"We've got guys going to war for our country," Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez said before the decision. "I want to be here. Call me patriotic or whatever, this is where I want to be."

Seattle outfielder John Mabry was ready for any decision.

"I would have loved to have seen Japan, but I wasn't looking forward to the 15-hour plane ride," he said.

On Monday, President Bush said Saddam Hussein must leave Iraq or face a U.S.-led invasion. In an evening speech to the nation, Bush gave Hussein 48 hours.

Unlike the 2000 Japan trip, where many players took their families to see the sights, the traveling parties for the A's and Mariners had shaped up to be much smaller.

AL MVP Miguel Tejada and Athletics outfielder Jermaine Dye were among those who planned to leave their families at home.

"It's a tough decision," Tejada said. "We're a team. We all have to stick together."

New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said earlier he'd be OK with going to play this year's opener in Tokyo.

"It wouldn't bother me. These other people know more than I do," he said. "We want to go on with our lives and once we're seen to alter -- other than being more aware and diligent in what we do -- we lose the war if we're going to all of a sudden lock ourselves in our houses."

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