Originally published Nov. 27, 2014
By Bob Elliott
SAN FRANCISCO _ Little League star Mon’ne Davis threw out the first pitch Saturday night before Game 4 of the 110th World Series.
It got the job done.
As ceremonial first pitches go it paled in comparison to Game 3 at Yankee Stadium in 2001.
That’s when President George Bush took the mound and threw a strike as Yankee Stadium 49 days after 9/11.
The story begins in the umpire’s room before Bush stood on the mound as Derek Jeter had told him “don’t stand at the base or the fans will boo,” when he saw the President warming up inside the batting tunnel.
Jim Joyce was part of the 2001 World Series umpiring crew and made his usual pre-game trek down the hallway toward the right field line.
“Secret service agents were stationed the length of the tunnel every 10 feet,” Joyce said from Beaverton, Oregon. Joyce walked in to find a CIA agent in the room.
“His name was Ray and he told us when it comes time to go onto the field, he’d dress as Mark Hirshbeck and Mark would watch from the tunnel. They didn’t want seven umpires. Everything was supposed to look normal and then after the pre-game ceremonies Mark and he would switch places.”
Dale Scott, Ed Rapuano, Dana DeMuth, Steve Rippley, Joyce and Hirschbeck sat around asking the secret agent questions.
“We were like little kids: ‘what kind of gun is that you’re wearing?’ and Ray answered ‘Glock whatever,’” said Joyce. “He was very personable stayed out of our way, saying ‘this is your domain.’
“He had smoke grenades, concussion grenades and two guns on his belt.”
The dress-up ump, who would not make either an out or safe call, wore black shoes and the grey pants like the normal umpire attire. He pulled an umpire’s wind breakers over his bullet-proof vest and ... “everything disappeared,” said an impressed Joyce.
“He told us if anything happens he will take care of it ... believe me.”
We were never aware Hirshbeck was not at home plate during the pre-game.
“Ray was an average height but slight, maybe 180 pounds ... he was too skinny for the way most umpires were back then -- we’re in better shape now. Once he put on the jacket he looked like he belonged.
“I’ve never seen the man since.”
The ump’s room is a busy place before a post-season game as a it’s where plenty of officials from Major League Baseball await the game’s first pitch.
And in walked President Bush, with his full detail, 10 secret service. Sandy Alderson of the commissioner’s office who at the time oversaw the umps was also there.
“Being an AL guy the Preident remembered me from working his games in Arlington, when he ran the Texas Rangers,” Joyce said.
“He’s very good at remembering names -- I saw him last year in Texas he tapped me on the cheek and said ‘Jimmy you’re getting to be one of the older guys.’ I said ‘thanks for remembering me Mr. President.’”
Joyce said he and the rest of the crew found it exciting to have a President in the room pre-game.
“After he shook hands with everyone, he sat down and signed three dozen balls, told us about 9/11, how the Australian Prime Minister was here,” Joyce said. “How they rushed him home in case it was a global attack ... not on a passenger jet on an F-18.”
Joyce said a Hazmat team, anti-terrorist team, an offensive terrorist team and a sniper team on the roof were all at the big ball park in the Bronx.
“That night Yankee Stadium was probably the safest place on earth to be,” said Joyce, who recalls going into the hall for a cigarette, as he was smoking in those days.
“I’d mess with the secret service, lighting up right beside this one guy,” said Joyce. “Finally he said “man, would I love to have one of those?’ I said go ahead, I have extras. He declined.”
Joyce was the only one who had a video camera in the room and some of his footage was used on a documentary about baseball after 9/11.
The night’s events were planned to the minute. Bush left the ump’s room for the Yankee dugout and four minutes later the umpires -- five real ones and the imposter -- headed onto the field from another entrance.
Bush was introduced, strode quickly to the rubber, past the additional rubber set at the front of the mound and headed up top as Jeter suggested. Bush gave a thumbs up to the upper deck down the third base line and threw a strike to Todd Greene.
The noise was about the same level as the next two nights when the Yanks homered off Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim with two out in the bottom of the ninth.
It was more than noise. It was a city saying ‘we’re back, we’re ok.’
“When President Bush threw that pitch, I was standing next to Dana and if one of us had something, the other wouldn’t have heard, that’s how loud it was,” said Joyce. “The place went crazy it make you proud you were there. It was like OK everything is going to be OK, baseball is back in New York.”
Joyce guesses he has worked 100 games at Yankee Stadium in his 27 years wearing blue, over 3,000 games in all. Nothing topped the emotion that night.
Not even Game 4 when Tino Martinez homered with two out in the bottom of the ninth and Jeter hit his walk off in the 10th both against Kim.
Or the next night in Game 5 when Joyce worked the plate as Scott Brosius homered with two out and the Yanks won in 11 on an Alfonso Soriano single.
“I don’t want to use the word patriotic, but that night was very comforting,” Joyce said. “That was one of the few nights I didn’t talk to Jeter, outside of ‘how’s it going?”
Usually when Jeter stepped in with Joyce working the plate the exchange unfolded like this:
Jeter: “don’t screw up tonight.”
Joyce: “don’t you be eye balling me.”
“After Jeter grounded out one game, it might have been Benny Santiago -- but it was a Toronto catcher -- turned and asked ‘why not throw him out?” said Joyce. “I had to turn around, I was laughing so hard.
“Ever since he got in the league he was always so personable on the field. He was one of the special ones.”
Joyce worked a Yankee series in Baltimore before the all-star break and made a point of telling the Yankee captain “I’ve seen a lot of guys in my career it was an absolute pleasure to watch you play.”
Jeter thanked Joyce.
The day before Game 3, DeMuth and Joyce were driven to Ground Zero by a New York state trooper who told them he had arrived late in the day after the twin towers had crashed to search for survivors.
“Walking down the street he said papers were blowing in the wind, sticking to people’s leg,” Joyce said. “This piece of paper stuck to the state patrol’s leg a couple of times. It stuck again. He reached down and looked at the piece of paper. It was a Chase Manhattan bank statement. He looked at it and it had his father’s name on it.
“His father had passed away two years before.”
Joyce was on the field and behind the scenes for Game 3.
What I’ll remember is getting up from my seat in the front row to the right of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s box as wave after wave of applause came down from the upper deck.
Walking up the stairs standing ram rod straight were four NYPD and Fire Department of New York brass.
Each one had tears streaming down their cheeks thinking of the brave men and women lost on 9/11.