SAN FRANCISCO — Sure, you play the World Series. In its place. In its time. But you play it, you return to normal — the same way people here are slowly returning to work, to life as they knew it before the ground began to tremble Tuesday afternoon.

It is part of the recovery. This earthquake that killed hundreds and left thousands homeless was something none of us will ever forget, not journalists, not baseball players. We came for a sporting event; we wound up living through disaster.

But people who today scream for the World Series to be canceled and forgotten — as if that is the proper thing to do — are, I believe, confusing glitter with human spirit.

One of the first traditions of mourning, in almost any religion or culture, is that it is a finite thing. It does not go on forever. Yes, it is true, as commissioner Fay Vincent said, “Our modest little game” is insignificant compared the devastation that took place here. And no games of any kind should be played as long as there are bodies missing, or if a single police officer or ambulance would be diverted from a rescue operation.

But Vincent’s suggestion to eventually continue play — whenever the cities say that crucial operations are complete, be it next Tuesday, next Friday, or whenever — is a good idea. A fair idea. Baseball, after all, did not cause this tragedy. In a small way, it, too, was a victim.

Now. I understand those who seek to cancel the event. They say: “How can there be games when something this tragic has occurred?” I had the same reaction in 1972, when terrorist gunmen stormed the Olympic village in Munich, killing 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

But that was different. That was human horror, the firing of bullets, a brazen display of man’s cruelty to man. To continue an event that celebrated
“brotherhood” in the shadow of Israeli blood seemed, to me, the height of insensitivity.

What took place here Tuesday was not comparable. This was a natural disaster, nobody’s fault, nobody’s breakdown in security. And everyone was affected. Bob Welch, scheduled to pitch that night for Oakland, lost his home in the Marina area. His 10-week-old son was with a baby-sitter nearby, and Welch and his wife suffered the unthinkable worry for hours on the jammed highway before finding the child was safe.

They dig out. They go on. Perhaps the tone troubles

And so must we all. Ask yourself this: Would you mind the resumption of baseball next Tuesday if it were the regular season? If it were just another game for the players, the same as another day at the office for bankers or advertising executives?

I’ll bet the answer is no.

Which means what probably bothers you about the World Series, if anything, is the tone. The glitter of it all, which seems callous compared to bodies pulled from the wreckage of highway I-880.

Fine. Good point. But the burden then falls on those who present the game
— not the game itself. The game itself is merely baseball. Nine against nine. Pitch, hit and field. All the razzmatazz is media and fan created.

The athletes deserve to finish their season, and the victims of the earthquake deserve not to be forgotten. Both can be accomplished if we keep this thing in proper perspective. Turn down the glitz. Forget any victory parades. Begin each game with a moment for the victims. Show footage of Red Cross volunteers as well as footage of Will Clark’s home runs. Skip your $10 bet and send the money instead to the disaster relief funds.

And when you see that crowd gathered in Candlestick Park next week as it was Tuesday — when the TV announcer said, “There’s an earth . . .” — remember just how frail life can be, and how lucky we all are for a diversion like a baseball championship. How at any time, through the howl of nature, it can be taken away.

Learning. That, too, is part of recovery. Hardly a perfect world

In a perfect world, we would all drop everything and be digging out San Francisco and Oakland, 24 hours a day. But in a perfect world, there would be no office work done once Mt. Saint Helens erupted, and businessmen would cancel meetings and fly south to the Carolinas, to help victims of Hurricane Hugo.

This is not a perfect world. Often the best we can hope for is perspective. In its own small way, the World Series is still important. “Maybe a week from now, we can provide a little escapism for the people here,” Giants catcher Terry Kennedy said. By the time they resume play, the gruesome chore of counting the dead should be over. The long climb back will have begun.

It is human nature to take part. To be honest, having spent the last 48 hours writing about the devastation of this beautiful city, the last thing I want to do today is cover a baseball game. But I also know this: today is not tomorrow.

And tomorrow is what everyone lives for now. Tomorrow, when life is better. The most inspiring part of this tragedy has been the indomitable spirit of the survivors, who jumped into rubble and fed strangers and bandaged wounds. They call that human spirit, the best part of us. And the World Series, put in proper perspective, can be a small symbol of its tenacity. Let us hope we do it the right way.

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