Prior to the indefinite suspension of the 2020 season, the last time Major League Baseball completely shut down was September 2001. No games were played for a full week following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
NBC Sports Philadelphia Phillies analyst Ricky Bottalico was in his second stint as a Phillies reliever in 2001. He shared his recollections of that unique experience, beginning with the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We were in Atlanta to play the Braves and one thing I remember was getting phone calls in the morning to turn on the TV," Bottalico said. "We're baseball players so we're not necessarily up at 8:30 in the morning. You turn on your TV, you see what's going on and then the panic strikes. When is this going to affect us? Is this coming here? Atlanta has a heavy dose of planes coming in and out every day, do we have to do something different? We didn't have answers, at least in the first 24 hours we didn't have any answers. We all congregated in the hotel lobby and tried to get a better idea of exactly what was going on. At some point that morning you knew it was terrorist attacks."
Bottalico and his teammates knew they weren't playing baseball that night. But the plan for the rest of the week was unclear.
"As the days went on we got a feel for 'Ok we're not playing this series, we have a series in Cincinnati coming up, what are we going to do here?'" Bottalico remembers. "If anyone knows Larry Bowa, he's not real patient. Larry was like 'Come on get on the buses, we're going (to Cincinnati)'. Doug Glanville and myself were the (MLBPA) player reps at the time and we were in contact with our union. They were telling us most likely we're not playing the next series so if you're going to take a bus make sure you wait for us to tell you where to go. Well Bowa didn't want to wait, so we end up taking a bus to Cincinnati. Three hours after we started our trip we found out that series was cancelled. We were heading northwest to Cincinnati so we couldn't really turn back towards Philadelphia.
"I remember getting into Cincinnati late at night and they told us they had a plane (to Philadelphia) for us the next morning. This was four days after 9/11. We went to the airport that morning, got on a charter jet, and nobody said a word on that flight. You could've heard a pin drop. Obviously it was a tense situation."
But unlike this present day scenario, Bottalico and the rest of the Phillies knew the 2001 season would resume at some point in the not too distant future.
"We knew we were going to play," Bottalico said. "We knew this wasn't going to hold us back from playing for the whole season. We eventually got word that we were starting back up (the next week). I think from a player's standpoint then, we felt responsible to try to help get the nation back on its feet, be a distraction from what was going on in every day life.
"We had to play again. There wasn't any danger of planes flying into stadiums, so we ended up playing and I think it helped America heal a little bit."
The 2001 Phillies wanted to play again to help provide a sense of normalcy. But the week away from baseball was unnerving, especially that bus ride to Cincinnati.
"I had a young daughter who was with the grandparents in Connecticut so it was scary in that sense," Bottalico admits. "My wife at the time was on the road trip. We had other wives on the trip who were pregnant so that was kind of scary. They're six or seven months pregnant at that point and you're talking about a 10 or 11 hour bus ride to Cincinnati. It was tough for them."
Some players were still trying to come to grips with what exactly the country was going through.
"There were a lot of guys who were in disbelief," Bottalico said. "You're on a bus for 11 hours trying to figure out in your mind what could happen and what should happen. In my case obviously thinking about my daughter who was with her grandparents. It was a trying time. But after a few days of that, we felt an obligation to get back on the field."
First Game Back
The Phillies resumed their season on Monday, Sept. 17. They welcomed the first place Braves to town for a four-game series at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies entered that series just 3.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL East standings.
But that first game back was about far more than baseball.
"The greatest thing I remember from that night was the guy who had the American flag and he was walking around the whole stadium," Bottalico recalled. "That pretty much went on for that whole series. The guy with the American flag just kept walking around, and the chants of 'USA! USA! USA!'. It made you proud to be in that stadium that night.
"There was an unbelievable tribute video which still plays in my mind because right at the end of it they showed a Jimmy Rollins at-bat and he starts running and as he rounds first base it transforms into a Little League kid running to second base. And the kid gets to second base and they pan out and behind second base its a shot of the New York City skyline with the World Trade Center towers. At that point there couldn't have been a dry eye in the stadium.
"To be completely honest whether you won or lost that night, and it was odd because it was the Braves and it was the team we were chasing in the division, but it didn't matter what team you were on. I think everybody was just proud to be on that field."
The Phillies beat the Braves 5-2 that night behind a pair of Scott Rolen home runs off of Greg Maddux.
The Phillies won three of four against the Braves in that series to pull within a game and a half of the division lead. But the Phillies went 5-7 over their next 12 games and ultimately finished two games behind the Braves in the NL East.
Of course, Bottalico understands why the 2001 season was halted for a week following 9/11. But he wonders if things might have ended differently if the season would have played out without the delay.
"I just remember being extremely fired up for that series in Atlanta (that was postponed)," Bottalico said. "We had an off day before the Tuesday that was 9/11 and I remember going in there and we were fired up, ready to play those guys. We didn't have the greatest pitching staff but I think going into that series we really felt like we had a shot.
"I know we beat them up a little bit when they came to Veterans Stadium the following week after the break. But then we knew in the back of our minds that we had to go back to Atlanta (to make up the postponed series) at the end of the year. So things definitely changed a little bit.
"We lost some adrenaline as that week unfolded. We had it early on when we first came back but we sputtered at times towards the end. We stayed right on their heels but I just really believe if things would have gone a little differently maybe the season would have ended a little differently."
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