09/09/2002 1:23 pm ET
Emotions flowed as games returned
By Jim Street / MLB.com
One year ago, a nation that had been rocked to its Statue of Liberty foundation needed an emotional lift after an unfathomable terrorist attack killed thousands and brought life, as we knew it, to a standstill.
For one of the few times in its 100-plus year history, Major League Baseball was stopped in its tracks during a regular season.
The World Trade Center's twin towers that stood so tall over Manhattan for so long had been reduced to rubble when two hijacked commercial airplanes slammed into them on a bright, sunny fall-like morning in New York City. Another hijacked plane crashed into The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed near Pittsburgh.
Major League teams that had been playing on the road took buses home because every airport was closed. For several days after the tragedy, Commissioner Bud Selig consulted other professional sports commissioners and even President George Bush to determine when baseball would again be played.
"While I recognize that the suffering from the horrific tragedy continues," Selig said on Sept. 13, two days after the tragedy, "I believe in the spirit of national recovery and a return to normalcy. Major League Baseball, as a social institution, can best be helpful by resuming play at the most appropriate time."
That time was Monday, Sept. 17. The regular season was extended one week so the games missed could be played to assure a 162-game season.
As he looked back on the events of that week, Selig said he is even more certain now that restarting the season when he did was the correct thing go do.
"I agonized over whether it was the right thing to do, and I just decided that it was," he told MLB.com. "It was too early before then, but that was the right day. I never second-guessed myself on it. Once it happened, then I knew we had done the right thing."
The late Jack Buck, the Hall of Fame voice of the Cardinals, made Selig even more certain that restarting the national pastime when he did was the right thing to do.
"I was watching one of the games on TV. I remember that Jack read a poem that struck me. Tears started to well up in my eyes and I realized then that it was the right thing to do, to come back. He later sent it to me in writing. It was just about how right it was to be her and how great this country is. That was the moment for me."
Playing MLB games again was helpful in getting life back to normal -- if there was such a thing.
"I'd like to think, in our own little way, that we really did help," Selig said. "Looking back on it now, in a way, we played an special role -- appropriately secondary in the context of what was happening -- but absolutely special."
Uncertainty and excitement were present in virtually every Major League ballpark that played a part in Major League Baseball's return, six days after the world changed forever.
"In a lot of ways, it was kind of good to get back to doing things that you were used to doing," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, looking back. "But it still was different. It was very emotional. Guys weren't into the game as much as they usually were."
There was an eerie sensation at PNC Park that night when the Pirates played the New York Mets. The series actually was supposed to be played in New York, but it was moved to Pittsburgh because Shea Stadium was being used as a staging area for the cleanup from the tragedy.
"It was almost like a 'Twilight Zone' feeling," recalled MLB.com reporter Ed Eagle. "You were at a big league game but the players didn't seem to care if they won or lost and neither did the few people in the crowd, many of whom cheered for the Mets -- which I had never thought would happen in Pittsburgh."
Because of the Mets were from New York, people in Pittsburgh worried that PNC Park would be a terrorist target that night or that series.
But Major League Baseball already had taken steps to assure fan and player safety at all of its ballparks.
From sea to shining sea, each MLB facility was checked and rechecked for possible dangers. Each team increased ballpark security to the point where every bag was checked.
Kevin Hallinan, the Senior Vice President for Security and Facility Management, headed the safety operation. Coolers, backpacks and large backs weren't allowed inside the ballparks and any small bag was checked. Police security in and around ballparks was increased.
Fans didn't object to the inconvenience.
The Mets finally returned to New York a week later to host their NL East-rival Atlanta Braves. A large crowd welcomed the team home, and was in a festive mood as Liza Minelli sang "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Mets players wore NYPD, FDNY and NYPA hats that night and decided to wear them the remainder of the season.
The Yankees also were hit hard by the tragedy and sent the same supporting message as their cross-town colleagues, sporting the NYPD and FDNY baseball caps.
"It helps for us to have something else to think about," said manager Joe Torre during a Sept. 16 workout at Comiskey Park. "The hardest thing was getting to the airport (to fly to Chicago) and not seeing the World Trade Center."
Star shortstop Derek Jeter, among the Yankee players who visited a hospital an armory in New York to be with families awaiting word of missing persons, said, "If anything, playing again will give people an option to watch something else on TV. This (tragedy) is closer to home because it's New York."
In Seattle, where the Mariners were on the verge of wrapping up the AL West championship and eventually would set a league record for the most victories (116), club president Chuck Armstrong was somewhat uneasy about Re-Opening Night against the Angels.
"The Space Needle was on the list of possible terrorist targets and that caused a lot of anxiety," he said. "But the Seattle police did a wonderful job of making sure SAFECO Field was a safe place to be."
At SAFECO and every other MLB ballpark, the National Anthem had more meaning after the 9/11 tragedy.
"It symbolizes what this country is all about," second baseman Bret Boone said. "It's a shame that it takes something like a terrorist attack to realize what it means to be an American or live in America. It may sound corny, but everyone in here (clubhouse) is proud to be an American, or proud to be in America."
As MLB moved into the post-tragedy season, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was replaced by "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
"I'd grown up always loving Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America," Selig said. "It's a very meaningful, patriotic and important song."
Red, white and blue became dominant colors throughout MLB ballparks. Large, medium and small American flags were everywhere.
Emotions were high on the day baseball resumed on Chicago's South Side. The White Sox, who were in New York on 9/11, hosted the Yankees at Comiskey Park.
Players were introduced and even the Yankee players were applauded.
"It was an unbelievable display of sportsmanship," Jeter said. "It's not too often you hear people who are not in New York cheer for the Yankees."
The White Sox honored Chicago's policemen and firefighters in pregame ceremonies that were remarkably poignant.
"It was very emotional," said Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams. "You look at the uniforms (of the police and fire fighters) and it's hard not to be emotional."
The remainder of the regular season was played with emotion, but without incident.
In one of the darkest periods in our nation's history, Major League Baseball helped cope with a tragedy -- just by being there.
Jim Street covers the Mariners for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of MLB or its clubs.