Venezuelan League pulls plug

By Rafael Rojas Cemonesi
January 16, 2003

CARACAS, Venezuela–The Venezuelan League decided to cancel the remainder of the 2002-2003 season and postseason, after more than a month of suspended games due to the national strike aimed at forcing either the resignation of President Hugo Chavez or a call for early elections.

The strike, which started Dec. 2, has paralyzed important sectors such as the oil industry, considered the lifeblood of the South American nation's economy. The local winter baseball league is devotedly followed by many of its inhabitants.

The league will also not send a team to the Caribbean Series in Puerto Rico, since there was no postseason tournament played. It also said there were too many economic and logistical concerns to put together a team.

In a press release, the league said the decision to cancel the season was made because the security of all the parties involved, including fans, is not guaranteed under current conditions.

“Team and league officials have made a considerable effort to make the season possible, in extremely adverse circumstances,” the press release said. “That's why we've tried to save it. But respect (for) Venezuelan fans, our players and our commercial sponsors and friends forces us to act responsibly.”

On Dec. 28, the league decided the regular season was finished, and two possible dates were considered to begin the postseason: Jan. 10 for a six-team playoff, or Jan. 15 for a five-team round-robin. But the unrest persisted, making a postseason impossible.

Many Venezuelan major league players have already fled to the United States, and some others had stayed there because of the developing conflict. Local Caracas newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported that 20 big leaguers do not have valid American visas, but didn't give further details. The U.S. Embassy was scheduled to stop providing visas to Venezuelan citizens Jan. 20, because all unessential personnel have been sent back to North America.

n In other winter league news, Mayaguez beat Bayamon in a best-of-seven semifinal series 4-1, and Caguas downed Ponce to win its third straight after dropping the first two of that series in the Puerto Rican League.

There was a three-way battle in the Dominican League playoffs as Estrellas and Escogido were tied at 6-5, trailing 7-5 Aguilas by one game with seven to go in the 18-game round robin. The Gigantes (3-8) received a big blow with the injury of Mets farmhand Jose Reyes, who pulled a quadriceps muscle, and the departure of Ty Wigginton, the team's two best offensive players.

In Mexico, Obregon, Mexicali, Los Mochis and Mazatlan had advanced to the semifinal round.