09/09/2002 12:23 pm ET
World Series had special meaning
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
It was October 27, 2001, just six weeks after the face of the United States had been changed by the terrorist attacks.
News reports were filled with updates on the U.S. military's plans in Afganistan.
Baseball, which had already played a part in the healing process for the nation, at least as a distraction, was being asked to provide one last unifying event.
Not only die-hard baseball fans, but perhaps all Americans, seemed to crave a great World Series to take their minds off what had happened on their own soil, and what was happening overseas.
Baseball came through with one of the most memorable Fall Classics, providing a brief respite from the bigger headlines of the day.
"They gave us a great October, and we needed a great October," former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said after the Series had concluded. "We got to think about something innocent and beautiful, baseball, as a metaphor for life. People in New York are trying to send a message: We're back. The Yankees personified that."
Having the New York Yankees in the World Series had become routine over the past six years, but last year, it was essential. A New York team in the Series, as Giuliani put it, sent a message to the rest of the world. And there were probably plenty of people who normally would never root for the Yankees who were hoping the pinstripers would come through for their embattled city.
"People were pulling for us," Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter said. "It was pretty impressive. Everywhere we went, people said they were hoping we'd win it for the city of New York. We represented more than the Yankees -- we represented the whole city."
Even people in Arizona, who obviously wanted their hometown team to end the Yankees' reign as champions, showed more compassion to the opponents than one would expect during a World Series.
"There were signs saying, here in Arizona, 'New York, we love you ... but, we want to win the World Series'," Arizona infielder Jay Bell remembered. "Having New York play in it made it special. The emphasis of what happened in New York probably ended up being a much more dramatic world series. The way it turned out with the Yankees in there, that was a very big deal for the nation."
After the Diamondbacks won Games 1 and 2 in Arizona, the Series went to New York for three games filled with emotion, drama and excitement. No one in either dugout knew exactly what to expect from their time there, but no one left unaffected by the electricity in the air from three one-run ballgames and a city channeling its energies into baseball for a few days.
"With what was going on, the World Series really meant more last year than any other World Series," said Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, who has now played in four Fall Classics. "I didn't know what to expect. We had a full crowd, and I didn't know if the stadium would be so packed, because people may have shied away from public places.
"It was very exciting, we had three great games here. We tried our best to alleviate a little of everyone's pain."
"I don't think there's any doubt that it was a huge benefit to some people," Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly said, "and if it helped one person to deal with the tragedy and give them some relief from what they'd been going through, then it was worth it."
The Yankees had dealt with playing in New York for the past six weeks. Most had gone down to the site of the World Trade Center to talk with workers, provide encouragement and see first-hand what had happened.
But the Diamondbacks were coming to New York for the first time. What they had witnessed on TV came startlingly to life as many of them visited downtown New York.
"We ended up playing in New York, and people saw Ground Zero on TV, but you don't understand until you see it in person," Arizona outfielder David Dellucci said. "We had the opportunity to go to Ground Zero. It looked bad on TV, but to look around it was total devastation.
"It was the first time I had really felt what everyone in New York had felt ... and anger started to dwell on all the guys standing where two magnificent buildings and an awful lot of lives were taken. And then the World Series. Once again we went from death and misery to let's get our minds off it and do the best for everyone and for the City of New York. It was a very difficult time for us."
For most players, getting to the World Series was a be-all, end-all career goal. Diamondbacks like Randy Johnson and Mark Grace played long, successful careers chasing that holy grail before getting it. Countless others never get there.
In the past, such things carried tremendous weight. Winning a title, understandably, was the only thing that mattered in most of these players' lives. But for those who competed in the seven-game classic in 2001, the importance of such things obviously shifted.
"One is a game and one is real life," Yankee reliever Randy Choate said. "Even though you want to win, comparing it to the news was nothing. I'd go home and watch TV all night, try to keep up with the events. It was a lot more important than anything we did here."
"It was tough, because priorities do change," Posada agreed. "You see stuff like that on the news, and we're playing a baseball game. We would worry about losing a game, then all of a sudden we realized that there were a lot more things going on besides baseball."
But the country was sincerely grateful to have baseball to turn to that October. How much of an impact it had is difficult to say. Giving the game too much credit would create forced drama. But anyone who was at Yankee Stadium, or even at Bank One Ballpark, during that Series, knows the impact those seven games had on a nation was not something fabricated by media looking for a good angle.
"It was a great feeling that we played those games. It was a sense of relief and we knew the country would appreciate what we did that day," Dellucci said. "we had a job to do as ballplayers but also had a job to do as Americans to get everybody's mind at ease and get a sense of normalcy.
"I think we helped the country out a lot and I take great pride in knowing that when I'm old and my career is over with we may have had something to do with this country healing."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. Mark Feinsand and Rich Draper of MLB.com contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.