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Players sure know their place


Special to ESPN.com

Sept. 15

Take heart in this: when all our forces went awry on Tuesday, most baseball players got it. They respected the pain and suffering of those, like Marvin Benard and John Franco, who lost relatives and friends, or like Matt Morris and Doug Glanville and so many others who spent hours and days trying to sort out their personal ties to the horrific tragedies of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on America.

But when Washington pressured Major League Baseball -- and the NFL, as well -- to get back to playing right away, it was the players who essentially stood up and refused to play this weekend. It was Javier Vazquez and the Montreal Expos who voted unanimously, at the potential cost of a day's pay, to not play -- as originally ordered as of 2 p.m. ET Thursday -- against the Mets Friday in Ottawa. Said catcher Randy Knorr: "We all agreed that we could not play baseball on a national day of mourning."

I see great things in baseball. It's our game -- the American game. It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.
Walt Whitman, on Union soldiers playing baseball during the Civil War

There were many other players like Scott Rolen and Mark McGwire who said they could not play, words that were echoed over and over and over again among baseball and football players.

We have heard the voices of players like Curt Schilling, who suggests that players donate a day's pay, that all Monday and/or Tuesday games be free or at minimal costs to all fans, that all season ticket monies Monday and Tuesday be donated to the New York 911 Fund, that singing of the National Anthem and God Bless America be as coordinated as possible and shown on ESPN and that he and many players will write God Bless America, NYPD and FDNY on their uniforms and get an NYPD pin for his cap. (see Schilling's letter below).

There are players who are discussing ways to set up centers in New York after the season to interact with and spirit the people and workers of New York.

And players have understood that while their role in the "healing process" may be exaggerated and that it's going to be hard for the American public to become emotionally involved in pennant or home run races in the coming weeks, that it is their job to play. "If Barry Bonds' 71 home runs is a light to anyone in this country, then we should be proud to have contributed," says Astros catcher Brad Ausmus. More than 20 players e-mailed the thought that if it snows in November ? hey, they play in cold and snow flurries the first week of April, as well.

But in the coming months and weeks, it is going to become increasingly evident that things are not going to be the same. In the years building since The Strike of 1994, the Clinton economy has fueled a boom of conspicuous consumption that increased industry revenues from $1.6 million to $3.3 billion (in 2000), salaries to as high as $25.2 million a year and tickets in ballparks like Fenway Park increased 250 percent in three years.

The economy had already downturned before Tuesday, but that was minor compared to the wartime economy we now face. New York City can't even think about sinking public funds into helping the Yankees or Mets build new ballparks now. And in a recessed economy with greater demands on public security, social and infrastructure services, the value of the Boston Red Sox may slide back from its origjnal $300 million bidding area, since the value of any asset which in some part if built on speculative factors must be affected.

When Bud Selig proclaimed that baseball's role in the healing process is vital and that the integrity of the 162-game regular season is reverential, he dug out a position that precludes any thought or threat of a lockout or forced labor stoppage. Hopefully he, some of his hawkish owners and the Players Association realize just how vile the notion of billionaires squabbling with millionaires would be this winter, that either they must come to a silent agreement or let their current system run another year or two past this year's World Series.

It doesn't take Alan Greenspan to know that it would be folly to try to establish an economic system for baseball when no one knows what the American economic playing field is going to be. As clubs gathered in their offices Friday, many officials said that they fear a significant drop in corporate marketing dollars and high-end season ticket revenues and luxury hits. "The days when pure ballpark attendance is the driving wheel of the game's economy are behind us," says one AL GM. "But we can't see the kind of corporate investment that we've seen in the past. How can we? They have too many other concerns in the coming years. We have no idea right now how costs and revenues are going to change as this war runs on."

One agent says, "With all the uncertainties, I feel as if I'm almost being distasteful talking about it, but clubs are not going to get into bidding wars over free-agent players this winter. There is going to be a lot of apprehension, and where there's apprehension, there is going to be cautionary spending."

Selig and baseball have far greater concerns. Schilling and several players have suggested reaching out to the public. Management and fans have to appreciate the apprehension that players and other public figures are going to feel in the coming weeks; what's it going to be like to play at Shea Stadium when those jets roar right over the park? Players have long feared that some nut would act in the stage of a crowded ballpark, but with 35,000 people in one place or every time some stranger runs on the field, what will go through everyone's mind?

Ballpark security was an issue before Tuesday. When one East Coast radio station handed out placards expressing hate and obscenities, the club claimed it couldn't keep folks from bringing them into the park and displaying them; how would they deal with more serious issues?

"We are going to have to make significant changes, and we are going to try to make ballparks safer than ever before beginning Monday," says Kevin Hallinan, MLB's Director of Security and onetime New York City FBI chief officer on terrorism. Hallinan says that he does not favor the instillation of metal detectors "because this is a family business."

But there will be a far greater security and police presence in all ballparks, no matter what the cost to individual clubs. There will be increased use of cameras and other video devices. Coolers, backpacks and bags will be subject to search upon entrance to the parks.

"Target assessment is very important and effective," says Hallinan. "We can have a pretty good sense of what we're looking for and deal with it if we have enough police and security presence. I think all the clubs are going to be very cooperative. They will have to be."

No one now knows precisely how clubs will deal with phone threats. They have lived with crank and prank bomb threats for years. "Now," says one official, "we must treat every one as if it's phoned in the day that the president is visiting our park. Will this mean that some night an entire stadium has to be cleared? Who knows? Who knows where we're headed?"

No one does know. How celebratory can any player be? How can Barry Bonds react if he hits 71, especially if the nation is too drawn and distracted to care? If the Yankees win the World Series, how can they celebrate on the field? They may choose to take the lead of Dave Stewart, who after the earthquake during the 1989 World Series came back and pitched Game 3 for the A's against the Giants and at 8:30 a.m. the next day was bringing food and coffee and support to the searchers underneath the crushed expressway in San Francisco.

Baseball has always been a reflection of American society, and so it will not be the same as if was on Monday, Sept. 10. If records are greeted with an autumnal chill, remember, Ted Williams didn't care about records; when he finished playing instead of lamenting what would have been a sure shot at 700 home runs, he said that the most important event in his life was entering the Marine Corps.

Perhaps, as we reflect on the hatred and irrationality around us, we will realize that the anger and obscenities and vitriol that too often spits out of fans in places like Fenway Park is pitiable, and that to take "the healing process" out of one side of one's mouth and "Yankees Suck" from the other is not only offensive, but hypocritical.

It's going to be difficult to allow any emotional energy for baseball or any other sport for awhile, but Curt Schilling, Brad Ausmus, Scott Rolen, Javier Vazquez and the rest of the players will try to at least divert our attention and make us smile no matter how long they have to stand in the November cold to do so. Which brings us to this letter from Schilling, a fitting thought for this weekend and this sport's place in time from a human being with whom baseball's healing process should begin:

From Curt Schilling
To the fans of Major League Baseball, and the victims and families of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.,

Curt Schilling
Schilling

I'd like to start off by saying that what I am writing is purely my opinion, and my family's feelings on these issues. I am not speaking for any other players in baseball, or in any other sport across our nation or around the world.

I'll begin by addressing the trivial items addressed late this week as far as our sport is concerned. The decision made by Commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday afternoon to resume games on Monday was one overwhelmingly favored by the major-league players. In our conference call on Thursday I got the impression that players, just like every other American citizen out there, didn't need baseball right now, and it was probably best said by Jerome Bettis when he stated, "We are entertainers, and I don't think America wants to be entertained right now."

It's my belief that if you watch close enough you will see players, many players in fact, trying in some small way to say thank you, and that we won't forget you or your loved ones as some of us will have messages scrawled somewhere on our hats or uniforms that you can read.

I believe that we all felt this way, and hope that the few people in this country who wanted us to play understand that we made the decision as citizens of this country, not as baseball players.

To the victims and families of the tragedies inflicted on us this past week we send our hearts out to you, and our prayers that you will find some comfort, some solace in the coming weeks as this great country gets up on its feet and defends itself as the world's greatest nation, with the world's greatest people.

Like a lot of people, my thoughts Tuesday afternoon steered towards revenge, retaliation, retribution, in just how hard we could hit back.

My first cognizant thought was, "Man, did they pick on the wrong country." Then, after watching TV, I began to realize that not only did they pick on the wrong country, but they couldn't have picked a worse target. There is no city on this planet that more represents its nation than New York does in the United States. New York is the true definition of a melting pot. Every race, religion and color are represented in New York, and on Tuesday you saw every race, every religion, every color, come together as one nation of people fighting for one common goal -- to save lives. I can honestly tell you that I have never been as proud to be an American as I was that day, to see the men and women of this great country come together and pour their blood, sweat and tears into saving those that could be saved. They continue to do so today, and with no less effort. That in and of itself should make us proud as hell.

My wife, Shonda, and our three young children stepped outside on Friday at 7 p.m., lit a candle and prayed together. We prayed that those heroic men and women of the NYPD, FDNY and the U.S. Government that sacrificed their lives in the minutes following the first explosion at the World Trade Center are now in a safe and beautiful place.

To those families that lost loved ones in the NYPD and in the FDNY, I can only offer our sincerest thank you. Please know that athletes in this country look to your husbands and wives as they may have looked at the men of our profession when they were young, as heroes, as idols, for they are everything every man should strive to be in life and they died in a way reserved only for those who would make the ultimate sacrifice for this nation, and for the freedom we oftentimes take for granted.

Words cannot heal your wounds, not even time will heal the wounds for those who have suffered loss this week. But other than money and blood, which I hope the players in MLB will be giving of both, it is all we have to offer.

We will step on the fields of Major League Baseball on Monday night, but please know that we are not doing this as an aversion to forget what happened on Tuesday. Nothing will ever make us forget that day. But we are doing so because it is our job, and I honestly feel that if you do have a chance to catch a few minutes of a game, and see every sports fan in every stadium stand for that initial moment of silence, and understand when we do so that we do so for you, and for your families. And in the seventh-inning stretch when this nation sings God Bless America, we do so because we can, because in this country men and woman have died so that we can continue on as a free nation, and we will be thinking of you then also.

And it's my belief that if you watch close enough you will see players, many players in fact, trying in some small way to say thank you, and that we won't forget you or your loved ones as some of us will have messages scrawled somewhere on our hats or uniforms that you can read.

We will proudly wear the great flag of this country on our uniforms, and it's something I hope baseball adopts forever.

The flags in this country fly at half-staff to honor those that have fallen, but the flags are the only thing going halfway in this country and it's my belief that that will not change. I believe our President when he says retribution will be swift and total; as an American it's all I can go on, but based on what I have seen done these past few days by other Americans it's more than enough.

To those out there that serve in the military, and to those with children serving in the military, I offer my sincerest thanks, and our prayers are with you and yours in the days and weeks to come. We know you'll do us proud.

In closing let me say God Bless America and God Bless Americans everywhere.

Thank you,
Curt Schilling

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Curt Schilling's letter to America

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