20 years ago, the baseball season paused to mourn

On the somber anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it’s an appropriate time to reflect.

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Reds v Cubs

The Chicago Cubs listen to the national anthem before the MLB game against the Cincinnati Reds on September 18, 2001 at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was the first game played in Cincinnati following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Reds won 6-5.

Mark Lyons/Getty Images

Each week in this space, I ask you nine questions about the Cubs and the White Sox. This week, I have only one question: Do you remember baseball 20 years ago today, on Sept. 11, 2001?

Sept. 11, 2001, was an ordinary Tuesday in mid-September. The Cubs had clobbered the Reds 8-2 the night before, and the Sox had topped the Indians 7-1. The Cubs were in third place, six games back, and the Sox were in third place, eight games back. As I said, it was a pretty ordinary Tuesday in mid-September. Until it wasn’t.

In 2001, Don Baylor was managing the Cubs and Jerry Manuel the Sox. Andy McPhail was the Cubs’ general manager, and Kenny Williams was the Sox’ GM. Sammy Sosa hit 64 home runs that season for the Cubs, the third time he topped the 60-homer mark. Matt Stairs and Rondell White each had 17 homers. Jon Lieber went 20-6, and Kerry Wood went 12-6.

Paul Konerko homered 32 times and Magglio Ordonez went deep 31 times for the Sox. And let’s not forget the 16 homers hit by Jose Canseco. Mark Buehrle went 16-8, and Keith Foulke had 42 saves.

On Sept. 11, the Sox were in New York to face the Yankees. Their charter had arrived at Newark International Airport at 2 a.m. Just about all of baseball’s visiting teams had arrived in the cities where they had been scheduled to play Tuesday.

The Yankees were in first place, 13 games ahead of the Red Sox. The night before, the Yankees had been rained out against the Red Sox. Roger Clemens was supposed to face his former team. He was 19-1 in his second season with the Yankees, and his start was moved to Tuesday against the Sox.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Juan Cruz was preparing to face the Reds’ Jose Acevedo that night at 7:05 at Wrigley Field.

On the morning of Sept. 11, Sox players were being awakened in their hotel rooms by frantic calls from family and friends checking on their well-being. Shortly before 10:30 a.m., after checking in on his players, Yankees GM Brian Cashman, called Williams. They already knew that their game had been canceled and the series, as well. Williams told Cashman he had accounted for all his players and was trying to find a way to get them out of Manhattan. The Sox wanted to go home and couldn’t secure transportation.

Just before 11 a.m., commissioner Bud Selig canceled all the games, ‘‘in the interest of security and out of a sense of deep mourning for the national tragedy that has occurred today.’’ Other than during labor disputes, game cancellations were a rare event. In 1989, the earthquake in San Francisco put a 10-day hold on the World Series. All the games of June 6, 1944 — D-Day — were canceled. Before that, baseball stopped play on the day of President Warren G. Harding’s funeral on Aug. 10, 1923. Harding had died in office on Aug. 2. And that’s it. Baseball always seemed to be there, no matter what.

As the day progressed, the sign in front of Wrigley Field simply stated: ‘‘TONIGHT’S GAME CANCELLED.’’ In front of new Comiskey Park, the flags were at half-staff.

‘‘I don’t know how long [teams should wait], but there has to be a period of mourning, and we definitely have to be a part of it,’’ Manuel said.

Yankee Stadium was deserted on Sept. 12. It had been evacuated because of a bomb scare, a Yankees official said. It really didn’t need to be open. Said Derek Jeter, who lived in Manhattan: ‘‘They’re still trying to find people. I really don’t think it’s the right time to play baseball.’’

But when would the right time be?

On Sept. 13, civilian air traffic was allowed to resume with stricter airport security checks that banned, for example, the box cutters that were used by the hijackers. With that in mind, Selig announced that teams would resume the schedule on Monday, Sept. 17. Teams would make up missed games the week after the season had been scheduled to end, and the postseason would be pushed back a week. Selig said in a statement: ‘‘While I recognize that the suffering from Tuesday’s horrific tragedy continues, I believe that in the spirit of national recovery and return to normalcy, Major League Baseball, as a social institution, can best be helpful by resuming play at the most appropriate time. I believe that time is Monday.’’

The Cubs and Sox were off Monday the 17th but resumed playing on Tuesday, Sept. 18. The Cubs lost in a walk-off to the Reds in Cincinnati. Jay Mariotti in the Sun-Times wrote: ‘‘Before the tragedy, the Cubs leaned on the rail of their dugout and watched the action intensely. In their return to a somber, humbled sport, they mostly sat on the bench in the dugout, unable to revive their previous passions.’’

‘‘We’re not in a rush to get back,’’ said Cubs pitcher Jason Bere, speaking for a clubhouse that sat paralyzed those days and nights, like all of us. ‘‘Obviously, there are more important things in the world than sports. But I think the country is trying to rally and look to other things to take their minds off things. If they’re able to watch a baseball game, maybe it can help. We have a responsibility to give our best.’’

On Sept. 18, it was Buehrle on the mound facing the Yankees at Comiskey. The Yankees wore the hats of the New York fire, police and emergency services departments. New security measures were in effect for fans, who no longer would be allowed to bring in large bags, coolers or containers.

The next day, this is how Chris De Luca opened his Sun-Times article about the Sox’ 11-3 loss to the Yankees as baseball returned to Chicago: ‘‘Mark Buehrle’s eyes filled with tears during the national anthem. Jerry Manuel struggled with a feeling of helplessness. Joe Torre got choked up during an intense pregame ceremony. And Chris Singleton felt a renewed spirit about baseball.’’

Each week, I pose my trivia questions in this space for the shared joy of thinking about baseball. In the New York Times on Sept. 17, Buster Olney quoted Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius as saying: ‘‘Right now, it’s hard to think about having the same joy about hitting a home run. It’s pretty trivial.’’

On Sept. 21, the first sporting event in New York since the terrorist attacks took place at Shea Stadium as the Mets hosted the Braves. The Mets won the game 3-2, thanks to a game-winning homer by Mike Piazza. Carol Gies, whose husband, FDNY Lt. Ronnie E. Gies, was killed in the attacks, attended that first post-9/11 Mets game with her three sons.

In an oral-history recording that is part of the collection at the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, Gies said: ‘‘When that ball went over the wall, I saw my children smile for the very first time since they lost their dad.’’

I’ll be back next week with more trivia. Stay safe.

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