After 9/11, as New Yorkers struggled to find a sense of normalcy, baseball emerged as a powerful healing force in bringing the city together. Former New York Yankees manager and Hall of Famer Joe Torre opened the fall 2016 program series last night at the 9/11 Memorial Museum with a facilitated discussion about how baseball helped a grieving New York City rebound after Sept. 11.
The former Major League Baseball player, commentator and manager is a lifelong New Yorker who grew up the youngest of five in Brooklyn as a New York Giants fan. Growing up, he was taught to hate the Yankees and New York Dodgers, two teams that ironically he would go on to manage.
Torre remembered the days following Sept. 11 when he was managing the New York Yankees and the team visited locations such as the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The center served as a staging location for first responders and volunteers working at the site, and a family assistance center where families waited for news of their missing loved ones.
He recalled feeling hesitation as to whether it was appropriate for the team to be there. “I remember thinking, ’We’re just baseball players and this is the game of life.’” When family members approached the players with photos of their lost loved ones at Yankee games or in Yankee gear, Torre said he realized “there was something for us to do, and that was to try to distract them. ”
Torre recounted the first games the team played once games resumed after the attacks. “The ‘NY’ on your hats represents more than just the Yankees,” he recalled telling his team. “It represents the city of New York.”
He recounted the team’s fight to take the pennant in the 2001 World Series. Even though they were ultimately unsuccessful, Torre remembers “there was a purpose to every game—it was more than just baseball.”
The fallout from the attacks continues. Soon after the attacks, MLB teams began playing Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch—a tradition the Yankees have kept. “Now, as the camera pans on the audience and focuses on kids, I realize that these kids aren’t going to have the same freedoms we had.” Torre said.
The program, which is part of the “Now and Then” series, is first in a robust lineup of free evening programs offered by the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
By Jenny Pachucki, 9/11 Memorial Content Strategist