Unless you were part of it, unless you lost a loved one, unless you are a New Yorker, it’s hard right now to think of 9/11 in anything other than political terms. It’s difficult to remember that there was once a time before Democrats and Republicans alike had made a mockery of the greatest national misfortune of our lifetimes, before our raw pain had faded and before every ounce of the real unity we experienced that day had been thoroughly exploited. I find myself these days embarrassed to watch politicians compete with one another over who can best avenge the loss of that day, as though revenge is all that’s left to salvage from the tragedy.
And just when it seems that the Kerry/Bush train has worn the repository of 9/11 maxims to the ground, something like Nine Innings from Ground Zero comes along and puts the tragedy in a different perspective, a perspective in which platitudes are the lingua franca, but where cliches still bring grown men to tears. Where two outs, the ninth inning, and the bases loaded can still bring us to our feet, still have us praying to a higher power, inspired to look past the political affiliation of the man or woman standing next to us, as long as he or she is wearing the right baseball cap. Thirty-six months, a 9/11 commission, Michael Moore, two political conventions, hundreds of country-music songs, and two wars later, it is baseball that reminds us that 9/11 wasn’t always a political slogan: it was once a rallying cry; it was once what inspired all that was good about the United States; it was once the heartbreak of our country.
Nine Innings from Ground Zero, premiering on HBO on September 14th, follows the New York Yankees through what will likely be remembered as the greatest World Series ever to grace the diamond. Notwithstanding its impressiveness, let it be said that, like 90 percent of the country, I am a Yankee Hater. Having grown up in the South, I’m a lifelong and fervent Atlanta Braves fan, and I watched my team suffer the ultimate defeat at the hands of the Yankees twice in the 1990s. Now I live in Boston, and if I hadn’t hated the Yankees before, I would have been conditioned to do so by the sea of “Yankees Suck!” T-shirts that flood the T on game days. My hatred for the Yankees is so intense that I can’t listen to Sinatra without feeling violently nauseated, I can’t look at pinstripes without getting a touch of vertigo, and the only smirk I hate more than George Bush’s is Derek (fucking) Jeter’s. But, for a short while in the months that followed September 11th, I found myself, like many others, rooting for the New York (fucking) Yankees. Nine Innings recaptures the magic that followed that national devastation, recalling a time when we didn’t care about the skyrocketing Yankees payroll, when Red Sox fans held up signs that read, “Boston (Heart) New York,” and when 60,000 screaming fans could chant “USA! USA!” without a hint of irony.
Assembled by Joe Lavine and narrated beautifully by Liev Schreiber, Nine Innings is a sad and brilliant tribute to both the 2001 Yankees World Series run and the people of New York City. The documentary mixes Yankee highlights from the 2001 playoff season with startling interviews from Joe Torre, Rudy Guilliani, and Paul O’Neil, among others. But the film is more than a highlight reel; it examines the role that baseball played in helping the nation — and New Yorkers in particular — grieve.
Nine Innings expertly tackles a now hot political issue without a touch of partisanship, and it never falls to the level of hokum that has marred so many of the 9/11 tributes of the last three years. It skillfully humanizes the players behind the hated uniform, stripping away their Darth Vaderesque visage. And for a few minutes, when George W. Bush graces the mound of Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch in Game 3 of the World Series, it even reminds us that our President was not always the divisive figure he is today.
What is forgotten about the 2001 playoffs — after the miraculous Derek Jeter cut-off throw, after the extra-inning comebacks, after the heroics of Scott Brosius and Paul O’Neill — is that the Yankees lost to the Diamondbacks in seven games. Yet, there was perfection even in that defeat, because it reminded us that the all-powerful New York Team, like the country, is not without its humility.
George Bush is fond of saying that September 11th was the day that changed America forever. In some sense, that may be true. But just two months after, on November 4, 2001, the bases, once again, were loaded in the bottom of the ninth, and I doubt that — for a few minutes at least — anyone knew that anything had changed at all.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Nine Innings from Ground Zero / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()