White Sox remember September 11

White Sox remember September 11

CHICAGO -- Significant moments in life pass by on a daily basis, seemingly without a blink of an eye or a second thought. Days turn into months, months turn into years and years turn into decades, with thousands of happy snapshots pressed in the mind as a lifelong scrapbook of memories.

But for current members of the White Sox organization who were in New York on September 11, 2001, the image of the most horrific tragedy in recent American history is something they never will be able to shake or forget.

For most of the individuals asked recently to recount that Tuesday morning, just hours before the South Siders were set to begin a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, these fateful events began with a few simple phone calls from out-of-state loved ones after the team arrived at their hotel hours earlier from Cleveland.

Chris Singleton, who currently serves as part of the White Sox radio broadcast team but was the team's center fielder in 2001, had grabbed something to eat with utility infielder Tony Graffanino at a local deli near the Grand Hyatt, the Midtown Manhattan hotel where the team was staying, when they got in around 2 a.m. The two players sat and talked, watching the news, and then headed back to get a little sleep.

"I remember it so clear, like it was yesterday," Singleton said. "I get a call from Kip Wells early that morning. I was ready to break his neck, thinking 'Why is this rookie calling me so early in the morning?'

"He's telling me to turn on the TV. When I turn it on, to my surprise and amazement, there was everything that was going on."

This depiction wasn't too far removed from the story told by Ed Cassin, the White Sox manager of team travel. He hadn't fallen asleep the night before until 5 a.m. and not only was stunned to get a call from his wife but to receive the call on the phone in the hotel room.

"It shocked me, because my phone doesn't ring much there," Cassin said. "I woke up out of a daze and turned the TV on. I said, 'Are you crazy? I went to sleep three hours ago!' I turned the TV on and saw what was happening. From that moment on, I said, 'I better go. We are fine here. But we didn't know what else is going to happen.'

"At some point, we didn't know if it was the end of the world," Cassin added. "It was horrible."

The actual events that occurred on September 11 have been covered in countless hours of news reports, numerous books and even recent feature-length movies as the five-year remembrance of this senseless disaster approaches. Airplanes were hijacked by terrorists and flown into the two main towers of the World Trade Center. The first tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., with the second tower collapsing at 10:28 a.m.

Some reports have close to 2,800 people killed in total during that morning, taking into account the people in the towers and the passengers on the airplanes.

White Sox bullpen coach Art Kusnyer didn't see either of the planes' impact with the buildings, but heard about them from his wife when she called his cell phone that morning. Kusnyer turned on the television, saw the first plane that had made contact and quickly realized this was no accident in the sky.

"I thought, 'That's no Piper Cub. That's a lot of damage,'" Kusnyer said.

Kusnyer quickly got dressed and walked about three or four blocks from the hotel, before stopping with thousands of people on the street to look at the unthinkable atrocity that once was the World Trade Center. At that point, the image became even more graphic for the longtime White Sox coach.

"You could see the two towers, and all of a sudden, I saw the first one come down," Kusnyer said. "You could only see part of it because it disappeared and because we were about a mile away. So, I hauled tail back to the hotel.

"There were people lined up at phone booths, even though they had cells. They were yelling at each other. There were people screaming at the Arab people and stuff. They were saying, 'Are you happy now?'"

Although Kusnyer moved back to the Grand Hyatt to escape the chaos on the street and see what the team's plan was going to be, his original thoughts upon seeing the building give way centered on the innocent bystanders who had become victims. He also delivered pointed commentary regarding the cowards who perpetrated the crime.

"Man, I thought, 'That's awful. This is World War III,'" Kusnyer said. "For somebody to do that to all those innocent people out there, it's brutal. It was just brutal. I couldn't stop thinking about all those people going in there, then you hear that the other [tower] went down.

"I can't fathom how people would do that in the name of God. That baffles me. That's the way you are going to go to heaven? I don't understand that. That's just sheer brutality and no regard for human life or anyone's feelings or anything. Extremists like that, that's what they believe and they think they are the holiest of holy and their leaders send people out to blow people up."

The rest of what these individuals call the longest day they can remember becomes a bit of a blur. But there are very specific moments they can recall, with the most intricate of details.

General manager Ken Williams also was on the trip to New York and immediately told Cassin to make plans for the White Sox to return to Chicago. Regardless of the final decision handed down by Major League Baseball, which swiftly ruled all games would be cancelled, the White Sox were not staying in New York.

Cassin arranged for two buses to take all the players and their families from New York to Cleveland. After spending much of the day on the phone with the Port Authority, MLB Security and the New York Police and Fire Departments, Cassin had to receive special permission for the buses to come on to Manhattan.

The buses eventually took the travel party all the way back to Chicago, swapping out one of the two buses and one of the drivers in Cleveland, after leaving early Wednesday morning. They left after surviving a few frightening moments of their own after the Towers collapsed.

Members of the White Sox traveling party, especially the ones who had family on the trip, were worried the hotel -- connected to Grand Central Terminal -- would be a terrorist target. Those worries became flat-out panic when a man fled a taxi after being dropped off in front of the hotel, and talk quickly spread how he left some sort of mysterious package behind.

"Security came in and said we had to get out because there was a bomb threat, at the hotel or Grand Central station," Singleton said. "So, all the people were rushing down the escalator and scooting away from the hotel to get down the block.

"So, you are walking and it's like chaos, people walking in the streets. Unmarked police cars flying up and down the streets. You see business men with soot all over their pant legs and shoes. This is right after it happened. It was amazing.

"When I was initially going downstairs in the elevator, the looks on the people's faces, they were like zombies," Singleton added. "There was no life and expression. They were so overcome with what had happened."

For a man of deep faith such as Singleton, the question after September 11 wasn't how a supreme being could let something so horrific take place. The deeper issue for Singleton came when the buses returned to Chicago, he made his way home and greeted his wife and daughter at the door.

There was a sense of survivor's guilt immediately washing over his body and soul.

"You are saying to yourself, 'Wow, I was so close to destruction as far as proximity, and there are so many dads that will never walk through those doors again and greet their wife and children,'" Singleton explained. "You know, how is it that I'm still alive and I get to enjoy so much?

"On one hand, it was great to see your family. But there also was a sense of guilt of being so close to this and there are so many people just like me whose families are now destroyed."

Baseball did resume in 2001, presenting a great escape for the city of New York and countless others around the country. The White Sox visited Yankee Stadium from Oct. 1-3, when the playoffs were supposed to have begun. Instead, the White Sox made up the games erased by the terrorist attacks.

The feeling upon return was described as "eerie" by Kusnyer, pointing out the SWAT officers in the bullpen. There were bomb-sniffing dogs brought through the clubhouse whenever one of the two busloads of players and coaches arrived.

"In the bullpen, they had guys locked and ready," Kusnyer said.

Five years later, the travel has changed for sports teams such as the White Sox, as they all go through tight security screening. And the security might not be as intense as it was one month after the attacks, but it's still tight.

On Monday, the White Sox will be in Anaheim, preparing to start an all-important six-game, West Coast road trip. But at some point during the day, a number of those memories pressed in the minds of Kusnyer, Cassin and Singleton from five years ago in New York will return.

Weeks turn into years, years into decades. But some moments are never to be forgotten.

"Rarely do you see a huge city like that all on the same page at once," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who was also part of the team in 2001. "Millions and millions of people all thinking about the same thing all at one time.

"Just very bizarre, very scary. It's not something you want to go through again."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.