09/10/2002 2:04 pm ET
MLB Productions remembers 9/11
Documentary will be aired on ESPN Classic
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
All people dealt with Sept. 11 in their own way, much like they'll make individual decisions on how to mark the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
For many people, the game of baseball played at least a small part in brining the nation together, providing a distraction and returning a sense of normalcy in the wake of 9-11.
In remembrance of the one-year annivesary of Sept. 11, MLB Productions will present 9/11: Baseball Remembers, a one-hour documentary that chronicles the events of the 11th and the weeks following through the eyes of the baseball world. The show will air on ESPN Classic on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 9 p.m. ET, and will be rebroadcast several times overnight.
The show is broken into six segments:
Act 1: Sept. 10, 2001 -- A recap of the storylines developing as the regular season headed for the homestretch.
The A's were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak as they closed in on the AL Wild Card, the Mariners won their 104th game en route to their remarkable season total, and Barry Bonds was closing in on Mark McGwire's single-season home run record.
Act 2: The Players Respond -- Baseball cancelled all games through Sept. 16. Players focused on their families and contributed to the relief efforts. Baseball, for a time, was forgotten, as players and fans understood there was something bigger than the game.
"It brought us all down to the same level," said MLB Productions' Steve Wallen, the lead producer for the documentary. "It's nice to see that baseball is human. It's not made up of multi-million dollar players, it's made up of people."
Wallen pointed to a story Bernie Williams retells on the show, when he visited The Armory, which had become a shelter for those affected by the attacks. Williams met a woman still in shock and as he put it, he realized there was little he could do.
"All he could do is give her a hug," Wallen said. "Here he was Bernie Williams. He can't do anything with his bat, or his glove, all he could do was offer something on a human level."
Act 3: Baseball Returns -- Emotions ran high when games resumed on Sept. 17, as on-field ceremonies across the country brought people together. Compassion for New York City was found everywhere, even in Fenway Park, where Sox fans sang a stirring rendition of "New York, New York."
"Being an American, and a lifetime baseball fan, I got an appreciation of the role baseball can play," MLB Productions Senior Managing Producer Dave Check said. "I don't think it was over the top at all. Being in that communal atmosphere was so powerful and so important."
Act 4: New York Welcomes Home the Pastime -- Baseball returned to New York when the Mets hosted the Braves on Sept. 21. The Mets and Yankees played a large part in helping New York City heal, providing at least a few hours of escape for its citizens and heroes.
"Some of the more stirring images were to see the policemen and firemen at the ballpark, to see the smiles on their faces," Check said. "They were probably among the first smiles they had cracked in two weeks."
Act 5: Baseball Responds to Tragedy -- A historical perspective is given on how Major League Baseball has responded to other tragedies in U.S. history. The parallels to Pearl Harbor, said Check, are very strong.
"Right after Pearl Harbor, that's when they started playing the National Anthem prior to every game," Check said. "The outbreak of war spurred that on. [After the 11th], we had 'God Bless America,' which became a tradition at the seventh-inning stretch."
After the outbreak of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt wrote a letter, the "green light" letter, to the commissioner of baseball urging him to keep the game going because the nation needed it to keep some normalcy.
"I think that lesson resonates today," Check said."
Act 6: The Grand Finale -- One of the greatest World Series of all time couldn't have come at a better time, as it seemed the entire nation got wrapped up in the Yankees-Diamondbacks battle which went the full seven games.
Act 7: New Traditions, New Perspectives -- The documentary concludes with a look at how the nation has redifined the meaning of the word hero post 9-11.
MLB Productions let the players' words shape the documentary, choosing not to do much of their own writing. Instead, they used many of the interviews they've collected over the past year.
"We let the players do most of the talking," Check said. "John Smoltz was extremely eloquent, Mike Sweeney was as well. He told some wonderful stories about how when he heard 'God Bless America' or heard 'USA' chants, he either had chills or he was crying."
While players were more than willing to participate and give their thoughts for the show, one player went out of his way to make sure he was involved.
"One player that approached us was Curt Schilling," Wallen said. "We had him read some of his open letter that he wrote, that was really to America. He approached us and wanted to be a part of the project."
It was not an easy project to produce, but one that the people involved will likely be able to look back on with a degree of satisfaction and pride.
"It was a difficult process," Check said. "I must've seen these pieces 20-30 times, and half the time I was losing it. It didn't matter how many times I saw it. They really hit you at the core of your being.
"I think we'll be able to say we told an important story. It's something we'll be proud of for a long, long time, that we told this story, that we had the opportunity to tell this story."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.