When the 11th of September dawned, 10 years ago, the New York Yankees enjoyed a massive lead over the second-place Boston Red Sox while the New York Mets were out of the running in the other league. The Seattle Mariners were on their way to 116 wins, and the only compelling pennant races were in the National League, where the Braves were trying to hold off the Phillies, the Diamondbacks the Giants and Dodgers.
The 11th was a Tuesday, so a full slate of games were on the docket for that evening, highlighted by the opener of a three-game series in Atlanta between the Braves and Philadelphia.
Something else came up.
At 8:46 Eastern Time that morning, terrorists crashed a Boeing 767 into the World Trade Center's North Tower. At 9:03, terrorists crashed another 767 into the South Tower. At 9:37, terrorists crashed a 757 into the Pentagon. And at 10:03, a 757 under the nominal control of terrorists crashed into a field in Pennsylvania; that aircraft had been headed for destruction in Washington, D.C. before passengers interceded.
Contrary to popular opinion, everything didn't change that morning.
A lot did change.
Commissioner Bud Selig quickly canceled that evening's games. Later in the week, he canceled all games through the end of the week, with the season to resume the following Monday and the season pushed back one full week. There was a great deal of talk about "perspective" and the relative irrelevance of baseball and professional sports, generally. Perhaps just as important, nobody really wanted to fly even after the American skies were reopened.
Within the game, the largest impact was obviously felt by the Yankees and Mets. The Yankees had been in New York during the attacks on the World Trade Center. Some players headed to their families; Roger Clemens, for example, drove to Texas. Others remained in the city, and worked out on the 15th; afterward a delegation, led by manager Joe Torre and including stars Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, visited various sites to comfort emergency workers, victims, and relatives of victims. As Joe Torre recalled in The Yankee Years:
The most emotional part was the Armory. You go to the staging area and you see the workers and you shake their hands. And there were people waiting on results, DNA results, to see where their loved ones were. That was the toughest one, because we walked in -- I didn't even want to go in. But then I remember that Randy Levine sent somebody in, or he might have gone in, just to see what the mood was. And the people who were in there wanted us to go in there.
I think I realized at that point in time there was a purpose for us being there. We didn't know all these people, who were certainly devastated and huddled around in different groups. You'd look around and see that they had counselors or priests or rabbis in different family settings. We sort of just walked in there and looked around. And then somebody looked up and sort of waved us in, a family member. The brought out pictures of the family members they were waiting on, pictures of them wearing Yankee hats. Big Yankee fans, which was pretty moving.
Torre's co-author, Tom Verducci, writes about a moment during that visit:
The Yankees were a part of their community at a time of great need. Williams, for instance, walked up to one grieving woman.
"I don't know what to say," Williams said, "but you look like you need a hug." And the center fielder of the Yankees reached out and embraced her.
When play resumed on the 18th, both New York teams eschewed their usual caps in favor of those honoring the New York Police and Fire Departments (great examples here and here). There were of course security concerns and new procedures were implemented around the majors.
The Yankees would cruise to the American League East title, and faced the Wild Card-winning Oakland Athletics in a Division Series. Despite the high emotions -- before Game 2, U.S. President George W. Bush appeared on the Yankee Stadium video board, announcing that U.S. military forces had attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan -- the Yankees actually lost the first two games in New York. But they rebounded to win two straight in Oakland before returning home to finish off the A's in Game 5.
Next, the Yankees crushed the 116-game-winning Seattle Mariners in a five-game American League Championship Series. And so off they went to the World Series, their fourth in four years, this time against the Diamondbacks.
Arizona smashed the Yankees in Games 1 and 2. With the Series shifting to Yankee Stadium for Game 3, President Bush, wearing a New York Fire Department jacket, strode to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch and threw a perfect strike.
The Yankees, of course, would win all three games in New York. But their magic didn't travel back to Phoenix, as the Diamondbacks won Game 7 with a ninth-inning rally against Mariano Rivera.
Today the effects of 9/11 are still ever-present, with American armed forces still deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and long security lines at the airports
For the most part, though, 9/11 has not had a lasting impact on Major League Baseball. Unlike previous conflicts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not claimed the lives or careers of professional baseball players. Of course, one might argue there's been an indirect impact, as the wars have presumably led to the ballooning deficit, which has in turn contributed to our Great Depression, which presumably has hurt baseball attendance. Which isn't to suggest that Major League Baseball hasn't been highly profitable through much of the last decade.
There is heightened security still, particularly at Yankee Stadium. And just as "The Star-Spangled Banner" went from being played at ballparks only on special occasions to being played regularly during World War II, "God Bless America" is now played during the seventh-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium Dodger Stadium Safeco Field Turner Field
Finally, one might also argue that 9/11 gave us these.
For better or worse.