Dusty Baker Recalls Dread in Houston on Sept. 11, 2001
Barry Bonds' home run chase put on hold after Sept. 11 attacks
HOUSTON – Dusty Baker was sleeping at Houston’s Westin Galleria on Sept. 11, 2001, when a friend called to tell him to turn on the television. His San Francisco Giants were the biggest story in sports at the time as Barry Bonds chased baseball’s single-season home run record, but baseball suddenly became the last thing on his mind.
A sellout crowd was expected that night at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros had celebrated their annual Wives Charity Gala late into the evening on Sept. 10. Baker, who was managing the Giants, turned on the television just as the second plane hit the World Trade Center in New York.
“I thought it was a replay of the first,” the Astros manager says. “It was actually the second one. I was like, ‘Ah, man.’ Then I got sick to my stomach. I thought about some of the people I knew that worked in the World Trade Center.”
Baker had a good friend who lost a fiancée in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Twenty years later, he still calls to check on that friend as the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches.
Major League Baseball postponed the schedule on Sept. 11. A day later, Baker, the Giants and the Astros showed up at Minute Maid Park not knowing when they’d play again.
Sept. 11 humanized us all
It was eerie 20 years ago to see the out-of-town scoreboard on Minute Maid Park’s left field wall with all the games that were scheduled that day. It was a sad reminder of how the country had stopped as it was enveloped in fear.
I still remember most of the Giants players lingering around the visitors’ dugout, whether inside or just outside. The dread was palpable. Bonds, who had already secured his aloof reputation, spoke to us without his usual edge.
The all-time home run leader seemed more vulnerable, sharing the same fears we all had. The attacks humanized us all, making us realize we were all in this together. We were all worried, all hurting, all mourning.
“It did humanize everybody,” Baker said. “Yeah, yes it did. All of a sudden baseball was not that important. Baseball was kind of some healing medicine for the nation and the world.”
All domestic air travel was halted after the two planes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. Government and military planes were the only ones allowed in American airspace for three days, grounding Baker and the Giants in Houston.
With the exception of a few visits to Minute Maid Park, Baker holed himself up in his room at the Westin Galleria watching news about the attacks.
Dusty Baker dreaded another attack
“Well, I think everyone was wondering if that was the only time that was going to happen,” he said. “I think everybody was wondering, was this going to happen elsewhere. That’s what I think.”
One of the Giants’ owners, a friend of Baker’s, owned the Bank of America building in San Francisco. They evacuated everybody out of that building.
“Certain landmarks were sort of designated (potential terrorist targets) to make an impact for America,” Baker said. “The World Trade Center, the B of A building, different buildings. That’s what everybody was apprehensive and nervous about. …
“The thing that was on everybody’s minds was the safety of the people in the building, hoping that some people made it. We watched it on TV around the clock to sort of keep up on things. Baseball was the last thing. I didn’t know when and where we’d get back to baseball.”
The Astros and Giants didn’t return to action again until Sept. 18. They resumed the schedule as it was set originally for that day. That series was played in San Francisco.
The series that was postponed after the Sept. 11 attacks began on Oct. 2. Bonds tied the single-season home run record in Houston on Oct. 4 in a 10-2 victory by Russ Ortiz to cap a three-game sweep and a six-game losing streak by the Astros.
“I think it changed a lot of people, a lot of the attitudes of New York City,” Baker says of Sept. 11. “We used to complain that people wouldn’t be that friendly. That changed a lot. We started to go back to New York and we were like, “Man, these people are super friendly.’”
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