09/07/11 10:00 AM ET
Giuliani recalls baseball's impact after 9/11
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Rudy Giuliani remembers the night well, having been called back to Ground Zero for the fourth or fifth time that day, trying to hammer out yet another headache with the ongoing recovery effort.
Suddenly, New York City's Mayor heard a cheer. Inside the piles of mangled wreckage, firefighters and construction workers were huddled around a transistor radio, cheering as Roger Clemens notched his 20th victory of the season for the Yankees.
"They were all clapping. They were clapping for baseball," Giuliani said. "These were all sports fans. It really got their minds off of, 'Are we going to be attacked again? Are we going to come out of this?' It gave them a sense that life goes on."
Major League Baseball's role in helping the nation recover from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, was amplified in New York City, where Giuliani would earn the title, "America's Mayor," for his leadership in the days following the terrorist attacks.
Baseball paused, with the schedule on hold indefinitely, and both the Yankees and Mets offered their support, hoping to help the city in any way possible.
The Mets volunteered Shea Stadium's parking lot as a staging area for relief supplies, and while the ballplayers did not realize it at the time, their visits to firehouses and family centers proved crucial.
"They raised millions and millions of dollars, which of course was enormously helpful, and the Mets and Yankees donated a great deal to the Twin Towers Fund, the police department and the fire department," Giuliani said. "But the best thing they did was give their time and spend time with the families.
"It just lifted their spirits and made them feel that the person they lost was so important that Derek Jeter or Mike Piazza or Paul O'Neill would spend time with them."
Giuliani noted one appearance by O'Neill in particular, as the Yankees outfielder was asked to take a half-hour to meet with families of victims. A half-day later, O'Neill was still there.
"He came down in the morning and stayed about 10 or 12 hours and took pictures with everyone; talked to them, hugged them," Giuliani said. "My wife [Judith] thinks it's probably one of the most beautiful things she's ever seen. He had a real way with these people and I don't think he realized until he was there how much he was doing for these people."
Ten days after the attacks, Giuliani was on hand at Shea Stadium for the first professional sporting event held in New York City, applauding from behind home plate as the Mets took the field against the Atlanta Braves.
Mets manager Bobby Valentine led his team on the field wearing the caps of the NYPD, FDNY, EMS and Port Authority Police Department, all of whom suffered losses in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Giuliani wore a split FDNY and NYPD cap that night, one he still breaks out for postseason games, and said that his reception at the old Queens ballpark was much different than what the outspoken Yankees fan had come to expect.
"I had to leave in the third or fourth inning because of all the things that were going on, and the press was waiting for me," Giuliani said. "They asked, 'What did it feel like to be applauded at Shea Stadium?'
"I used to go to Shea Stadium with my Yankees hat on, and I would be told, 'Get out of here, you bum -- go back to the Bronx.' I said, 'Well, they're cheering for me now, but I'll know the city is back to normal when they start booing me again.'"
The Mets' playoff hopes ran out of steam, but the Yankees went strong into the postseason, meeting the D-backs in the first November World Series.
Giuliani was escorting President George W. Bush to Yankee Stadium for his ceremonial first pitch on the evening of Oct. 30, Game 3, when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter famously warned the Commander in Chief, "Don't bounce it. They'll boo you."
The sound of Jeter's spikes were fading down the concrete corridors under the old ballpark, and Bush turned to Giuliani for advice, asking, "Do you think I have to throw from the mound?'"
Giuliani suggested that Bush could throw from in front of the mound, perhaps lobbing a high toss to home plate to accommodate the bulletproof vest Bush was ordered to wear under his FDNY fleece by the Secret Service.
"And the President said, 'No, I've got to throw from the mound, but I'm not sure if I can throw with this thing on,'" Giuliani said. "So we had the Secret Service push the vest in. He threw about 10 pitches, then he went on the mound and threw a perfect strike. You could feel the whole crowd lift up, seeing the President out there throwing a strike."
Giuliani told reporters then that Bush's appearance showed that America was "unafraid" and "undeterred" by terrorism, although a decade later, he acknowledges that he had his own fears about the night.
"We were really nervous about that game, I have to tell you," Giuliani said. "I wasn't calm until the game was over, because we were really afraid something would happen."
That World Series was one of the most memorable, with the Yankees posting stunning comebacks in Games 4 and 5 at Yankee Stadium and Jeter picking up his "Mr. November" nickname.
Despite all that had been added to his workload, Giuliani's Yankees gear was never far from reach. When a group of victims' families wanted to travel to Arizona to cheer on the Yankees, Giuliani was with them, pulling double duty.
"In the eighth inning of the sixth game, while we were getting crushed by Arizona, I got a call that there was anthrax found at City Hall," Giuliani said. "I flew back on a red-eye to New York, held a press conference, made sure the office was in good shape and people were calm about the anthrax and understood we could clean it up and shouldn't panic over it. Then I took a plane back about 2 o'clock in the afternoon to watch the seventh game."
Giuliani said that he felt, more than ever, America had been pulling for the 'New York' stitched across the Yankees' chests. Luis Gonzalez's ninth-inning single off Mariano Rivera ended the Fall Classic, and though the World Series didn't follow the mayor's ideal script, Giuliani says the legacy of the 2001 World Series "is a wonderful one."
"It's how much baseball means to people and what it can do for a community, what it can do for a country," Giuliani said. "I remember when we lost, I went into the Yankees clubhouse and some of the players were down. You know what most of the players said to me?
"'We feel terrible about losing, but it's only a game.' They were kind of reminded about how big what happened on Sept. 11 was, how terrible it was. It put it all into perspective. Baseball came along at just the right moment and re-established itself as the American pastime."