Recalling the wake of Bay Area disaster that put A's-Giants Fall Classic on hold
By Mike Bauman
SAN FRANCISCO -- Twenty-five years ago, October in the Bay Area, joy and jubilation were mingled with death and devastation.
It's Oct. 17, 1989, 5:04 p.m. PT at Candlestick Park, for Game 3 of the World Series. The Oakland Athletics lead the San Francisco Giants, 2-0, in the Series, but the entire Bay Area is captivated with both of its teams in the Fall Classic.
And it's a beautiful day. It will turn colder, because that's what happens at The Stick, but so what? This is baseball at its best; two exceptional teams and an entire metropolitan area mesmerized by their competition. At the time, I was a sports columnist for the Milwaukee Journal, and I was feeling privileged just to be on hand.
And then there is an incredibly loud rumbling sound. Sitting in the auxiliary press box at Candlestick, in the upper deck, you feel the stadium start to tremble, to shake. You are sitting still and yet you are moving. If you ever rode a carnival Tilt-A-Whirl as a kid, the feeling was something like that.
I checked this recollection with MLB.com colleague Lyle Spencer, who was covering the World Series for the New York Post at that time, and he had the same memory. There was the sensation that we were all going to be thrown out of the upper deck and would land on the infield.
But the shaking stopped and the park, which was built to be earthquake-resistant, stood. You can say whatever you want about this facility, but to the nearly 60,000 people who were there that day, Candlestick was like an old friend; a trustworthy, reliable old friend.
In the immediate aftermath, there was no knowledge about the enormity and the tragedy of this event. Those of us from the Midwest had no frame of reference for an earthquake.
Gradually, news of the extent of this disaster filtered in. Getting the picture, the ballpark eventually emptied.
By the time we returned to San Francisco, the city was in blackout mode. Major League Baseball had somehow discovered a place with an emergency generator, and we were able to file stories from there. There was no point in going back to our hotel. The locks to the rooms were on an electrical system, and there was no electricity.
For the next several days, we went from covering baseball at its best to covering tragedy. We went to the Marina District that night, where buildings had collapsed and where fires raged.
We spent a lot of time in Oakland at the site of the Nimitz Freeway collapse, where a double-deck portion of the freeway collapsed, crushing cars beneath it. We spoke to numerous residents of the economically-distressed area. They didn't need an earthquake to make their daily lives difficult.
In all, 63 deaths were attributed to the Loma Prieta earthquake, along with nearly 4,000 injuries.
After several days, we decided to visit the epicenter of the quake in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was with Cliff Christl, now the official historian of the Green Bay Packers, who at that time was the Milwaukee Journal's Brewers beat reporter.
At the top of a hill, in an otherwise splendid location, was the remains of what must have been a beautiful redwood and granite house. Now, much of it was rubble. A middle-aged man and woman were in the yard, sorting through the debris.
We asked if we could speak with them. The man said no, that we were just trying to trade on their troubles. He wasn't necessarily wrong. But Cliff persisted and said: "We've come a long way to talk to you."
I apologized in advance, but I said it was my journalistic duty to ask her what happened next. The woman responded, with a straight face:
"I don't know how it was for him, but for me, the earth moved."
That was the first grin, smile or, best of all, laugh that presented itself since the earthquake. It was really encouraging to see that someone in the middle of it had come through with her sense of humor intact.
The World Series resumed 10 days after the earthquake had struck. The A's won the final two games to sweep. I remember Brett Butler, then an outfielder for the Giants, diligently and politely raising money in the clubhouse for earthquake victims. Butler was so convincing that even the writers were making donations.
When we finally got back to Milwaukee, the writing coach at the Journal asked both of us to write pieces for the staff about the challenges that had been involved in covering the earthquake. I wrote about how difficult it was to go from covering the joy of October baseball to covering death and devastation. Cliff's essay reported that one of his difficulties was spending an extended period of time with me.
I can't say he was wrong. But I'm feeling privileged again to be covering October baseball in San Francisco; especially October baseball without the earth moving.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.