MLB.com Columnist

Lindsay Berra

Torre: Baseball after 9/11 had added purpose

Former Yankees manager speaks at World Trade Center site

Torre: Baseball after 9/11 had added purpose

NEW YORK -- Joe Torre remembers that morning as vividly as every other American. He was manager of the Yankees, and his club had been rained out the day before.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Torre was scheduled to attend a charity luncheon, then open a three-game series with the White Sox. Roger Clemens was slated to pitch, poised to log his 20th victory of the season. The TV wasn't on as Torre was getting ready, so he was startled when the driver who was picking him up called and said he guessed the event was cancelled. He told Torre to turn on the TV.

Torre was worried his daughter, then just 5, was watching TV with his wife, Ali, downstairs. He was worried about his son, who commuted each day through the Holland Tunnel. And about his sister-in-law, who flew for American Airlines. They were all OK, but Torre knew his country was not. Baseball, like the rest of the country, came to a halt.

"I was riveted by the TV like everyone else, and it was absolutely frightening," Torre said.

On Wednesday evening, Torre, now Major League Baseball's chief baseball officer, spoke to a rapt audience at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on the site of the the World Trade Center about the impact of getting back on the field and the role baseball played in America's recovery.

"Baseball after 9/11 played such an important role," museum president Joe Daniels said. "As a New Yorker, in the days and weeks and months following 9/11, you'd see Joe Torre and the rest of the team at Yankee Stadium or playing in another stadium and you just felt proud. Baseball united us beyond team rivalries and reminded us that we are all Americans together."

Baseball, of course, was not an immediate priority following the attacks. Then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig immediately cancelled the day's games, and baseball would remain dark for a week. Torre recalled Andy Pettitte and Clemens driving home to Texas from New York, because there were no flights and they wanted to be with their families.

The Yanks-White Sox series was postponed, along with the Orioles' series after that. Following an optional workout at Yankee Stadium for the players who had stayed in town the next Saturday, the team loaded into vans to visit emergency workers staging at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and meet with family members waiting for news about their loved ones at the 69th Regiment Armory.

"That's when the emotion really hit you," Torre said. "We're just a baseball team, and these people are experiencing the game of life. One family waved us over, and Bernie Williams went up to the woman and said, 'I don't know what to say, but you look like you need a hug.' And he hugged her. Other families came over, and they were all showing us pictures of their loved ones in Yankee hats and shirts, and at that point, I realized there was something for us to do, to try to extract the best we could from a horrible, horrific event."

The Yankees resumed play on Sept.18 with an 11-3 win over the White Sox in Chicago, where the stands were littered with "We Love New York" signs. Torre and his players had a very real sense that the "NY" on their caps represented the entire city, not just the Yanks.

"Our game, it gave us a place to hide," Torre said. "We sort of cheated a bit. We got to play baseball and escape reality for a while. We did what we felt we needed to do. I didn't realize how it impacted the fans until later. The fans are the ones who gave us the energy. People were engaged, so they had a chance to hide a little bit, too."

In the 2001 postseason, there was no place to hide. New York beat Oakland in the American League Division Series -- the same one in which Derek Jeter made his iconic flip play, then Seattle in the AL Championship Series. The Yankees then faced the D-backs in the World Series, where pitchers Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson proved too much to handle, as the Yanks lost in seven games.

Despite the defeat, Torre considers 2001 the best World Series he has ever been involved with.

"When it happened really contributed that," Torre said. "9/11 gave a purpose to every game that was more than baseball."

Baseball holds a prominent position at the 110,000-square-foot Museum at the moment, with the jersey worn by Mets Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza on his game-winning home run in the first professional sports event in New York following the 9/11 attacks on display. It resides next to the American flag New York firefighters raised over the ruins of the World Trade Center just hours after the attack.

"I still get goosebumps when I think about Mike Piazza's home run," Torre said. "And I still tear up during 'God Bless America,' when the camera pans the stands and stops on a youngster, because I know they won't have the same freedoms I had."

But what they all have is baseball.

Lindsay Berra is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.