Wikipedia has a fairly terse entry in its review of the 2001 baseball season for this date in 2001:
September 11 – Due to terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, all future MLB games are postponed until further notice.
Everything stopped. Commerce. Airline travel. Sports. The world changed that day, and everything with it. It is for this reason that I personally cannot fathom the thinking of the consortium of major newspapers in this state (Alabama) in devoting most of their front pages to … the 100th anniversary of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s birth today. Sure – in this state, that’s newsworthy. But it’s sports page newsworthy. [Please excuse me for that rant - let's get back on topic.]
Today is about something else entirely. And even sports stopped when it happened.
On September 12th, 2001, (Wikipedia again) baseball slowly started to adjust to the tragedy. All minor league playoff series’ still in progress were canceled, with the results based on the current state at is stood from September 10th. Tied series’ would declare co-champions for their leagues. Two days later, Bud Selig announced that games would resume on Monday, September 17th. Games lost would be tacked onto the end of the season – and the schedule was pushed out a week.
In major league baseball, the two New York teams were, of course, the most profoundly impacted by the tragedy. The Mets were already in Pittsburgh – having completed a series against the (then) Florida Marlins on the 9th and having an off-day on that Monday. But they were on a roll: winners of 10 of their last twelve games. The Mets had been 14 games under .500 on August 17th; though they lost on September 9th, they were 71-73 at that point. Meanwhile, the Yankees were on a hot streak of their own: winning 9 of 10 and having just swept the Boston Red Sox out of Yankee Stadium. The White Sox were to be their next victims at home. But at an 86-57 record, they were just going about their business on the way to winning the American League pennant.
Play resumed on that next Monday. The Mets were the first New York team to play – taking on the Pirates in Pittsburgh. This was a series originally scheduled for New York, but circumstances – and common sense – suggested that New York was not nearly ready for this. Thus the location was moved to Pennsylvania. Conveniently, a second Pirates series still remained on the schedule, so this was likewise moved to New York for October 1st through 3rd. Seemingly bouyed by all New Yorkers, the Mets swept the Pirates by scores of 4-1, 7-5, and 9-2 – which pulled them over the .500 mark (74-73) for the first time that year since starting 2-1.
The Yankees waited until the 18th – playing the White Sox, but in Chicago – the series originally scheduled for that city on that date. Likewise, they continued their winning ways: beating Chicago twice by 11-3 and 6-3 counts before falling 5-7 in the series finale.
Back to New York
The first of the New York ball clubs to return home for a baseball games was the Mets, on Friday, September 21st – 10 days after the attack. It was here that the Atlanta Braves were to become part of this narrative; a bit player in this efforts that sports made to both return the city – even the country – back to a sense of normalcy. This was part of our collective effort to stand up and declare that Americans will not be bullied, terrorized, or defeated. That we will work hard to come back and prosper. And as we do, we will take time to enjoy the fruits of those labors and enjoy the entertainment that comes with our competitive sports.
The Braves were in a dog-fight for the NL East that year – eventually beating out the Phillies by 2 games, and the Mets by 6, as they played .500 ball down the stretch. But this night wasn’t really about divisions, or pennants or all that. It was about bringing America’s game back home in front of 41,000+ at Shea Stadium. It was also about giving back, too: the players, coaches, and manager Bobby Valentine were said to have donated the day’s pay to 9/11 victims and families. The players all exchanged handshakes and greetings during pre-game ceremonies. Even they were united. But for this day in Queens – there was a game. A momentary distraction and escape from the realities that still smoldered in Manhattan.
Jason Marquis pitched six strong innings, giving up 7 hits – but no walks – and just 1 run. Bruce Chen (yes, really) similarly went seven innings – six hits and one unearned run… the result of a Mike Piazza error. The umpires were familiar… if not spectacular: Wally Bell behind home plate, Marty Foster, Mark Hirschbeck, and Ron Kulpa were the crew. I don’t think many people remember any of that, either.
Steve Karsay was the ‘victim’. Ironic since he grew up and played ball just a few minutes away at Christ the King R.H.S., even winning a city championship in 1988. The Braves had picked him up from the Indians earlier, and he’d had a fine season: 2.35 ERA, 25 walks and 5 homers allowed over 88 innings/74 games.
That brought up Mike Piazza. Of course: it had to be Piazza. He was already 2 for 3 on the night – people do remember that… certainly Braves’ fans hated it every time he approached the plate. We’re heard the story: immigrant roots. Only drafted as a favor to his Dad. Should be a Hall of Famer. His story is a microcosm of America. But over the years, it became inevitable: he was going to do something annoying to the Braves. Tonight was to be the cap to that legacy.
Karsay threw a strike. The next pitch was supposed to be off the plate outside, but it tailed in a good half-foot toward the outside edge of the plate. Piazza extended and reached it.
The stadium absolutely erupted.
You can see a retrospective of the game with this video account. I won’t go as far to say that it was okay for Braves’ fans to be Mets’ fans that night - hey, sports is still all about the competition – but it was okay to give them that one… because we’re Americans, and we cheer a great contest.
That night, Liza Minelli sang ‘New York, New York‘ during the stretch time. Now we routinely sing ‘God Bless America‘. Both had their places – but all due to the events that we remember today. Frankly, I would not be at all opposed if sports stopped again every September 11th. Specifically because we need to be reminded that our American resolve has given us the ability to do everything we do on the other 364 days of our calendar.
Today. September 11th. Few dates on the calendar have such meaning. Let it always be so.