Bobby Valentine claimed today that Yankee players were absent from Ground Zero in the days after September 11, 2001. Valentine is dead wrong. The Yankee players and management were a visible presence in the stricken city in the days after the attack. They were where it counted: with rescue workers and grieving families.
Valentine, busy managing the Mets to a third-place finish in 2001, said on WFAN today:
Let it be said that during the time from 9/11 to 9/21, the Yankees were [AWOL]. You couldn't find a Yankee on the streets of New York City. You couldn't find a Yankee down at Ground Zero, talking to the guys who were working 24/7.
None of this should be surprising. Valentine, another genius who thinks he invented baseball, is a shameless publicity hound. In his managing days, he was known as "Bobby Top Step" because he always stood on the top step of the dugout to show that he, not the players, was controlling the game and, of course, to provide photo ops. (Hey, Bobby, how are the Red Sox doing since they fired you?)
Yankee president Randy Levine had a quick and pointed response (via ESPN):
Bobby Valentine should know better than to be pointing fingers on a day like today...On this day, he would have been better to have kept his thoughts to himself rather than seeking credit, which is very sad to me.
Yankee fans have a more Cashman-esque response: STFU, Bobby.
The Yankees chose to avoid publicity for their post-9/11 activities. They were acting out of compassion and a sense of community, not for publicity. They didn't want publicity, a concept that Valentine won't understand.
On September 15, four days after the attack, Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch, Bernie Williams, Levine and several coaches visited the Javits Center, St. Vincent's Hospital and the New York Armory. The Armory was the gathering places for families looking to learn the fate of their missing loved ones but knowing what that fate would be. Feeling as if they were intruders in a private moment, the Yankees were reluctant to enter the room where the surviving relatives had gathered, but the relatives asked them in.
"I think I realized at that point in time there was a purpose for us being there," Torre later told writer Tom Verducci. "They brought out pictures of their family members they were waiting on, pictures of them wearing Yankee hats, big Yankee fans, which was pretty moving."
Bernie Williams approached one grieving woman. "I don't know what to say," Williams told her, "but you look like you need a hug." He then embraced her.
Jeter was surprised that rescue workers were so excited to meet the Yankees. "I remember hearing the stories and how people were so excited to meet us," he said, "That didn't make much sense at the time, because we were with the real heroes - the Fire Department, the NYPD, the EMS workers."
Torre remembered the incongruity of it all. "There was one youngster who had lost his dad and he was looking for Jeter."
At first, the Yankee PR department wanted to publicize these visits. Jeter, however, put his foot down and held his ground: no publicity. He felt that publicity would make it appear that they were trying to capitalize on a catastrophe to enhance their image. Valentine's Mets, however, had no such qualms. As writer Ian O'Connor later put it, some Mets joined forces "to practically march through the streets playing the bagpipes" to announce their post-9/11 activities.
Phil Rizzuto, then 83, and his wife, Cora, also went to Manhattan to console grieving survivors. Rizzuto spent hours talking to the families and, in the words of the N.Y. Daily News, "telling his Yankee stories of huckleberries past and present and bringing smiles to faces otherwise filled with only dwindled hope and despair." At the end of the day, an NYPD officer handed Rizzuto an envelope with a rose inside. The envelope bore the message, "Thank you for your kindness. From the NYC Police Department."