Twenty years ago, an earthquake shook a Bay Area World Series
In the middle of the night, when he was searching for peace,
Stewart didn't know who was dead and who was alive. It was not his place to ask. He was there to bring food, clothing and water to the workers by the Nimitz Freeway in the Oakland neighborhood where he grew up.
This was the first place he had gone when the earthquake stopped the 1989 World Series --
He was looking for his sister.
Brenda got off at the Bay Area Rapid Transit stop in West Oakland and pulled her car out of a nearby garage. The parking attendant told her there had been an earthquake, but so what? This was Northern California. Some places got snow; the Bay Area got earthquakes.
Brenda tried to drive to her home at 18th and Cypress Streets when she saw the road was blocked off. She looked up and saw that the Cypress Street viaduct had collapsed.
Dave Stewart showed up at Brenda's house later that night. The drive from Candlestick Park, normally 20 minutes, had taken five hours because a portion of the Bay Bridge had collapsed. Stewart was still in his baseball uniform when he saw his sister was alive.
That night, he drove to his home in nearby Emeryville, then came back with food and other supplies. He kept coming back every day.
A lot of people who lived in the neighborhood had temporarily moved out, either because their homes were badly damaged or because they could not handle the stench of death. But Stewart kept coming back. He had to come back.
Sometimes he would lie in bed at two or three in the morning, unable to sleep, and he would get dressed and drive down to Oakland, to confront the misery that consumed his friends, his teammates, most everybody he knew. Once he saw it up close --- once he helped a little bit more --- then, and only then, could he go home and fall asleep.
On the night of Oct. 17, Stewart, the rest of the A's and the San Francisco Giants had been at Candlestick Park, getting ready for Game 3 of the World Series. It was everything they had ever wanted out of sports. And then, suddenly, it meant nothing.
Twenty years ago this month, San Francisco and Oakland hosted one of the most unusual sporting events in American history: a rare moment of civic triumph (not one, but two hometown teams in the World Series) interrupted by unfathomable catastrophe (the Loma Prieta Earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the United States).
They had already been calling it the Bay Bridge Series for a week when the earthquake hit. The nickname was a natural. The Bay Bridge connected San Francisco and Oakland, and this was the modern-day equivalent of a Yankees-Dodgers Subway Series.
In that comparison, the A's were the Yankees: the dominant outfit, expected to not only contend but win it all. Before the playoffs began, a billboard went up on the east side of the bridge that read "Oakland Welcomes The World," with space left so they could fill in the word "Series" later. Oakland had been planning for this moment since the year before, when the Dodgers had stunned the A's in the World Series.
The A's easily dispatched the Blue Jays in five games in the American League Championship Series, thanks in part to
After Canseco rounded the bases, he met fellow Bash Brother
McGwire: "You didn't really get all of that, did you?"
Canseco: "No, I kind of popped it up."
Who could compete with seemingly superhuman strength? The
But here were the 1989 Giants, spurred by manager
The Giants won 92 games to take their division, then won the NLCS because they were playing the Cubs. In the celebration afterward, Dravecky broke his arm again. The cancer had returned. His career was over.
In the days leading up to the Series, Bay Area vendors sold hats that featured half of the Giants' interlocking "SF" and half of the A's logo. Commemorative T-shirts touting "Baysball" went for $20.
San Francisco Mayor
The World Series began with a moment of silence -- for the late commissioner,
Candlestick was rocking for the Giants' first home World Series Game in 27 years. People around the Bay Area had left work early so they could be home in time to watch.
The earthquake struck at 5:04 p.m. PST, a time of day that would be etched in the minds of a Bay Area generation. Giants pitcher
Krukow had felt "pretty good shakes" before. In 1987, the Giants felt a quake in their Los Angeles hotel early in the morning; two Giants were so scared that they went straight to Dodger Stadium at breakfast time and stayed there all day, even though the game was at night.
This felt different, Krukow thought. It was louder, and it lasted longer. Beyond the outfield, light towers rocked.
Finally, it stopped ... and the crowd erupted in cheers. How perfect was this? An earthquake in the middle of the Bay Bridge series! What could be more fitting?
Somebody made an impromptu sign: "Hey, if you think that was something, wait till the Giants come to bat." The Giants immediately started making jokes.
Krukow did not sense anything was particularly wrong until he got back to the dugout. "One of the police officers, he was rattled," Krukow said. "He was the only guy that was rattled."
The cop explained that they had a brand-new communication system that was supposed to be infallible. It couldn't be knocked out.
"So?" Krukow asked.
"It's knocked out."
When mass tragedy strikes, people usually say it is a communal experience -- that no matter your station in life, you feel the same way. And that surely happens ... eventually. But the initial reaction is individual.
The A's clubhouse went dark. Some players, like Eckersley and Parker, turned left as they left the clubhouse and ended up, in full uniform, in the parking lot. Stewart and others turned right and ended up on the field. Eventually, almost all the players ended up on the field, where they searched for their families.
Most of them had gone from thinking this was awful to believing everything was OK. Then the news trickled in, each update worse than the last: Power is out ... phones aren't working ...
The game was postponed. With many of the phone lines out, players and coaches could not reach babysitters to make sure their kids were OK. Canseco was spotted at a gas station, sitting in his car in full uniform to avoid autograph-seekers while his wife,
Krukow was living in a Marriott (his rental lease had expired at the end of September), and when he got back to his suite, "it looked like somebody had ransacked rooms. The television had bounced across room." They had no electricity, and slept with the windows open -- not because they wanted cool air, but because the windows would not close.
There were reports that hundreds had died.
Brett Butler had told reporters that "this World Series, you can take it or leave it." Giants outfielder
Around the country, and especially in the Bay Area, people wondered: should the World Series be canceled? It did not seem to matter that the 49ers simply moved a home game against the Patriots from Candlestick to nearby Palo Alto, or that Cal and Stanford played at home while the World Series was on hold. Those were just
The World Series was different. It was an event, inextricably tied to the earthquake in the public's consciousness. And since the Series had already been established as a Bay Area celebration before the earthquake ... well, how could San Francisco and Oakland party now?
The Series was pushed back to the following Tuesday, Oct. 24, and then finally to Friday the 27th. Commissioner
"Churchill did not close the cinemas in London during the blitz," Vincent said. "It's important for life to carry on."
Besides, the World Series had already done a service for the Bay Area -- inadvertently. When the quake hit, many people were home to watch the game instead of on the roads at rush hour; after those initial reports that hundreds had died, the final number would be around 67. Baseball had saved many lives.
There had never been an American sporting event like it: a party for one area of the country, interrupted by one of the biggest tragedies in that area's history. Once Vincent decided to restart the Series, the question for the players was: How?
The question was partly physical: a week and a half off between games is no way to stay fresh. The year before, the A's had a five-day layoff between the ALCS and the World Series, and some of the players thought it hurt them against the Dodgers.
This time meticulous A's manager
And then there was the mental part of the question. Days after saying the Series did not matter, would the players be ready? What if there were aftershocks during the game? Some expressed fears that pieces of Candlestick would fall from the sky.
And what would happen to Smoke? That was Dave Stewart's nickname; he was known as much for his cold stare on the mound as for any of his pitches. Now here he was, back at the scene of the terror, pitching Game 3 for the A's. Officially, Stewart was working on 11 days rest. But his mind had not rested at all. Could he lock in on opposing hitters the same way he always had?
A spot at the top of the park -- Section 53, Seat 24 -- turned into an impromptu shrine. That was where The Stick had cracked but not collapsed.
There was a moment of silence at 5:04 p.m., precisely 10 days after the quake struck. Then the crowd sang "San Francisco," the title song from the 1936 movie about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake:
Rescue workers threw out ceremonial first pitches. Then the teams picked up right where they'd left off. Stewart had a 2-0 lead before he threw a pitch and never looked back. There was a brief scare in the bottom of the ninth, with the Giants staging a hopeless rally: a bank of lights in right-centerfield went out.
It was a simple electrical problem. Fans were used to those by now. They pulled out cigarette lighters.
The A's won Game 3, 13-7 to take a 3-0 Series lead. In Game 4, Oakland took an 8-0 lead and won 9-6 to finish the sweep. The Giants never had a lead in any game. The Bay Bridge Series ended, mercifully, with Eckersley getting a three-up, three-down save in Game 4, a year after giving up that home run to Gibson. It was closure for the closer -- and for the region, too.
The A's celebrated like they'd just won the annual softball tournament at the Betty Ford Clinic. There was no champagne celebration, no shotgunning of beer. "It would have been the improper thing to do," Stewart said.
In the ensuing months and years, the Bay Area coped in typical American ways, for better and worse: solemn memorials; questions about whether the government was doing enough; reconstruction of buildings, including most of downtown Santa Cruz, which was virtually obliterated by the quake; and bickering over whether the Giants would -- or should -- get public money for a new ballpark.
People moved on -- in Brenda Stewart's case, literally. She left her house for a place in Oakland Hills shortly after the earthquake, and never moved back. She now lives in the Sacramento area.
"I always say, like when 9/11 happened: for people who live in those areas, the memory stays the longest," she said recently. "The rest of the world forgets."
She will never forget. But she didn't need that daily reminder, either.
Dave Stewart lives in San Diego, where he is a baseball agent. He said he doesn't think about that earthquake too often. But once in a while, he'll go back to his hometown, and he'll drive over the Bay Bridge, and he'll think back to 1989, back to the Bay Bridge Series, back to that moment when he was on top of the world and the world cracked.