Cancelling Mariners-A's opener was necessary

Safety wasn't the issue. With war looming, Bud Selig's decision to cancel the season-opening series in Japan was just plain appropriate.

Originally Published: March 19, 2003
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

PEORIA, Ari. -- I love baseball. I love international sports. I love travel. I love visiting Japan. And I have been looking forward to seeing the Mariners play in Japan ever since they signed Ichiro. I wanted them to play that season-opening series with Oakland in Tokyo next week.

Despite all that, I know baseball made the right decision when it cancelled the series Tuesday due to concerns with the looming war in Iraq.

Commissioner Bud Selig's written statement announcing the cancellation focused on safety issues, but it has very little to do with safety. The two teams would have been safe in Japan. As Ichiro said, Japan is probably safer than the United States right now. It has much more to do about peace of mind and the appropriateness of sending baseball teams across the Pacific at the same time our country may be bombing another nation.

"I think if there's a geopolitical situation I would prefer to be here," Oakland general manager Billy Beane told reporters. "I was looking forward to the trip to Japan, no question, and I'm disappointed about not having that cultural exchange, but things have changed so dramatically in the past 48 hours that there's a shift in my own feelings about the trip."

This all unraveled very quickly. As recently as Sunday, reporters were receiving briefings on what they should wear on the team charter. Monday afternoon, plans remained in place to go ahead with the trip.

And then President Bush spoke Monday night and a great series that had been in the works for months suddenly seemed like not a good idea. Mariners team chairman Howard Lincoln said that when he saw Bush speak, he knew the series would be cancelled.

Seattle second baseman Bret Boone said the players were concerned about the trip but "no one was adamant either way" Tuesday morning when players arrived at the park, but others were more worried. Seattle center fielder Mike Cameron decided that if the trip wasn't cancelled, he would keep his family at home. And he wasn't alone.

"It's just too crazy what's going on right now. I would have been worried about them the whole time," Cameron said. "I had a hard enough time to get my wife to come to Arizona, forget about Japan."

It's one thing to feel relatively safe in Japan. It's another thing to feel comfortable knowing that if something horrible happened in the United States, you're still on the other side of the Pacific.

"I think it was the proper decision," Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said. "It would be very difficult for the players to be in Japan when we're possibly going to be at war and they have one eye on the game and one eye on what their families are going through back home. It's a similar situation to 9/11."

Very similar. Just as it seemed wrong to play baseball that first week after the attacks, it felt inappropriate to send the teams to Japan under the threat of war.

The cancellation was a huge disappointment to the Mariners, who have much more invested in Japan than Oakland does. The Mariners are owned by Hiroshi Yamauchi, the president of Nintendo, who has never seen his team play in person. The Mariners have three Japanese players, all of their games are broadcast in Japan and many Japanese tourists travel to Seattle to watch the Mariners each year. The club has a strong and important relationship with Japan and the organization was very much looking forward to this series.

"I think a lot of us are disappointed but I think we have to look at this with perspective," Lincoln said. "We all know what's going on in the world. The commissioner's decision was the right decision."

Baseball hopes to reschedule a series in Japan as soon as next year (the Mariners should get priority over the Yankees, who are rumored to be the likeliest team). At least, we can only hope they can reschedule the games for 2004.

"It could get crazy. No one knows what's going to happen in the future," Cameron said. "And jeez, we need to play a whole season under this situation."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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