The last time that baseball came to an untimely stop was the morning of September 11, 2001. The entire country came to a screeching halt on the heels of the deadly 9/11 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of thousands, and changed the lives of millions in a matter of mere hours.
The 2001 Chicago White Sox had an unfortunately close-up view of those events, as they watched them unfold from their Manhattan hotel room, just five miles from the World Trade Center.
As Doug Padilla wrote in his September 2011 story on ESPN, the day that the country stopped moving would be one that those 2001 White Sox wouldn’t forget.
10 years later — while speaking to Padilla for his ESPN story — White Sox slugger Paul Konerko, just 25-years-old at the the time of the events, didn’t need to watch tape to remember the emotions he felt that day.
“The fact that we were there that day, it was something you’re really not proud of, but it was something that will always stick with you,” Konerko said.
The same could be said for southpaw, Mark Buehrle.
“[I remember] just being freaked out and scared the whole time,” Buehrle said. “Waking up in the morning, I remember Kip Wells called my room at 8 or 9 in the morning. I kind of yelled at him for calling me that early. I woke up and realized what was going on after turning the TV on.”
Now, nearly 19 years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Baseball is again shutdown, as is most of the country. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic can’t be compared to the events of September 11, 2001, but the impact that it’s had has produced some of the same effects.
Fear, confusion, panic, social unrest, and even death, are all things that can be said for both of these events, and the effects that they’ve had on our country.
When baseball did return, the White Sox were back home in Chicago. It took a strange two-bus ride out of New York that began on the morning of September 12, but the White Sox made it home to Chicago.
So did the New York Yankees, the team that resides in the heart of the 9/11 attacks, setting up a theatrical welcome back to baseball — and normalcy — between the two clubs on the night of September 18, 2001 in front of a Comiskey Park crowd.
With uniformed members of the Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department along the cut of the grass separating the infield and outfield, “God Bless America”, “We love NY!”, banners and American Flags draping the fans in attendance as the backdrop for a tear-jerking pre-game ceremony, White Sox public address announcer Gene Honda’s famous voice called everyone to attention for the singing of the national anthem.
Chicago Pastor, Phyllis Arnold, delivered a beautiful rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, followed by a minute of silence, and finally an equally beautiful rendition of ‘God Bless America’, and just like that, baseball — and normalcy — were back.
White Sox skipper Jerry Manuel sent his ace, Mark Buehrle to the mound to face Joe Torre’s vaunted Yankees lineup on that night. Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, and the Yankees got the best of the White Sox, plating 11 runs on 16 hits en-route to an easy 11-3 victory.
On that particular night, it didn’t matter that the Yankees came into town and walloped the White Sox.
On that night, they weren’t ‘The Evil Empire‘; they we us, all of us. A nation reeling from a tragedy, and looking to find some shred of normalcy in our lives, and looking for baseball to help us find some part of it.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 have their fundamental differences like the duration, and the cause of them, but they’ll share many similarities when all is said and done.
While we’re a nation disconnected physically right now, we’re doing what we can to stay connected to each other until we can meet again. When that time comes, we’ll use baseball to reconnect, like we did nearly 20 years ago.
I think LaRoyce Hawkins and the White Sox sum it up nicely, here:
We don’t know when baseball will return. But, what we do know, is that baseball will return. Normalcy in our lives will return. And when it does — much like it did in September of 2001 — it will once again do what it does best: unify our country.