Zalusky: It was a slow comeback for baseball after 9/11

  • A family pauses at the front entrance to Wrigley Field Sept. 11, 2001.

    A family pauses at the front entrance to Wrigley Field Sept. 11, 2001. Associated Press

  • The Cubs' Sammy Sosa carries the American flag Sept. 27, 2001, as he rounds the bases after homering in a game against Houston at Wrigley Field. It was the Cubs' first home game since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

    The Cubs' Sammy Sosa carries the American flag Sept. 27, 2001, as he rounds the bases after homering in a game against Houston at Wrigley Field. It was the Cubs' first home game since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11. Associated Press

 
Updated 9/18/2021 7:09 PM

In the photo, a family stands across from the Wrigley Field marquee.

A woman holds a child's hand, and the child looks up questioningly.

 

In the photo, carried in sports pages across the nation on Sept. 12, 2001, the marquee reads, "Tonight's Game Cancelled."

Baseball would play an important role in the nation's recovery from the devastating psychological impact of 9/11. But first the nation's pastime itself needed time to pause for healing. In the meantime, there would be no immediate solace or escape from the raw reality ensuing from the attack on our homeland.

Hours after the attacks, Commissioner Bud Selig called off the day's schedule, "in the interest of security and out of a sense of deep mourning for the national tragedy that has occurred today."

Security was, indeed, a major concern for all teams.

Danny Graves, pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, in town to play the Cubs that day, told columnist Hal McCoy, "I was so relieved to hear they called off all major league games. What a perfect spot to get 40,000 more people. The world is so screwed up. It's all very scary."

Sandy Alomar Jr., whose White Sox were in New York on 9/11 to play the Yankees, said "We shouldn't play out of respect for the families and the people who are still working trying to find bodies. I want to play to show people that we are not afraid. But what we do is secondary."

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Baseball had to adjust immediately to a post-9/11 world, including its impact on travel.

With planes unavailable, the Sox and other teams on the road traveled back by chartered bus.

Cubs manager Don Baylor said, "Having 45 minutes after a game to get to O'Hare and jump on a plane, that's not going to happen."

For fans, the post 9/11 world of baseball would mean security checks at the gate and restrictions on what they could bring to the park, with a ban on large bags, backpacks and coolers.

On Sept. 13, the Cubs resumed workouts at the Friendly Confines.

Bruce Miles, who covered the Cubs at the time for the Daily Herald, remembered, "The eerie quiet was the biggest thing that hit me about the workout day, I wondered if the players would be able to summon the joy it would take to play games again."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In his story about the workout, Miles wrote about that silence, relieved by the flapping of flags atop the stadium. Flying above the center field scoreboard at half staff was Old Glory.

But soon, the familiar sounds of players working out filled the park, with Cubs catcher Joe Girardi remarking it was important "to hear your teammates laughing and joking, because there hasn't been a lot of that in our country in the last few days."

At Comiskey Park, on the National Day of Remembrance Sept. 14, the White Sox gathered in left field, knelt down, took off their caps and bowed their heads.

Outfielder Chris Singleton led the team in prayer, before the team worked out. Shortstop Jose Valentin lightened the mood by doing mock play-by-play at the batting cage.

On Sept. 18, actual baseball returned to Chicago, with the Sox facing the Yankees.

Firefighters and police officers stood along the infield to receive applause from both teams.

During a pregame ceremony, officers presented New York manager Joe Torre and White Sox manager Jerry Manuel with candles.

But it didn't take long for the two teams to put aside ceremony and return to intense competition.

After umpire Mike Winters ruled a Ray Durham line drive down the first-base line foul, Winters ejected Sox coach Gary Pettis for arguing the call. When Durham struck out and returned to the dugout, he smashed his bat and threw his helmet, earning an early exit.

With the Cubs returning to Wrigley to face Houston Sept. 27, co-captain Girardi was tapped to address the crowd before the game. Cubs media relations director Sharon Pannozzo asked Miles to help him write the speech.

Miles, who then provided remarks, remembered, "Joe delivered it beautifully. I was a nervous wreck listening to it, hoping it hit the right notes."

Girardi said, "We have witnessed a renewed spirit of what it means to be an American." In a voice brimming with emotion, he continued, "We have also learned the true meaning of the word hero. The real heroes are those men and women represented here tonight by our police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers from the American Red Cross, who risked, and in some cases, gave their lives so others might live."

Co-captain Sammy Sosa stood and listened to Girardi's speech. But it wasn't long before Sosa himself spoke with his bat.

In the first inning, Sosa drove a Shane Reynolds pitch into the bleachers. As Sosa touched the first base bag, first base coach Billy Williams handed him an American flag, which he held as he rounded the bases to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd.

Williams told Miles in 2019, "I had the flag down in my sock. When Sammy hit the home run, I was looking at the ball out in right field, and Sammy was getting close. The wind was blowing in and Sammy was getting close. I was looking at the ball again. I had to reach down quick and give it to him. By that time, the people had (followed) the ball. They didn't see me give Sammy the flag. It was really neat."

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