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No Forgetting the Earthquake World Series

SAN FRANCISCO - Twenty years ago, Oct. 17, 1989. 5:04 p.m. PDT, Athletics vs. Giants, Game 3 of the Bay Bridge World Series, a festive time that in an instant would become a tragic one,

"I didn't really feel the quake at first,'' Bob Welch said a while ago. He was in the visiting clubhouse, getting liniment rubbed on his shoulder. He was five minutes from walking to the bullpen to warm up, to prepare for his start.

"I thought they were rolling barrels on the ramps above the clubhouse.''

On the other side, Dusty Baker, the Giants' batting coach at the time, didn't have any doubts. He knew it was an earthquake.

Up in the second deck at Candlestick Park, where the overflow media had been seated, an area of temporary desks, the so-called auxiliary press box, I also knew.

What no one knew was how severe it would be. How it would knock down freeways, dissect the World Series.

Twenty years ago. I still have the memories. I still have a copy of the column I wrote for the San Francisco Examiner a couple of days after the quake. Not the night of the quake, because there was no power in the city.

The Examiner and Chronicle, a joint-operating effort, couldn't print. The Oakland Tribune could. The San Jose Mercury could, but not the papers in the city where the tragedy occurred.

Rob Matwick is an exec with the Texas Rangers now. Twenty years ago he was public relations director for the Houston Astros, assigned as many of his colleagues, to work the Series. He was adjacent to me when it sounded as if a fright train were running through the park.

"What's that?'' he asked. As Dusty, I'm a native Californian. "An earthquake,'' I answered. I'd spent all my life in the state, south and north, I know earthquakes.

"But,'' I wrote 20 years ago, "I've never known one like this before. Candlestick swayed like a ship on a stormy sea. The quake lasted maybe 15 seconds that seemed like an hour.

"And then it was over, and some 60,000 cheered. They were Californians. They were Giants fans. They were survivors. Surely this was a sign from nature: No harm, no foul. ‘Play ball, play ball,' they began to chant.''

The teams couldn't play. No power. No lights. No idea of what was happening.

Norm Sherry, the Giants pitching coach, was telling those on the field, "The Bay Bridge is down.'' I had one of those little battery-powered TV sets. The bridge was standing, but a section of the upper deck had dropped onto the lower deck.

In effect, the bottom had dropped out of the World Series.

"After it stopped,'' said Welch, who now lives in Arizona, "I still thought I was going to pitch. Actually, I thought about (Oct. 1) 1987, when my last start for the Dodgers, there was a 5.9 quake in L.A. that rolled me out of bed.''

This one, the Loma Prieta Quake, named for the fault some 65 miles southwest of San Francisco, was first called at 6.9 on the Richter scale, where the rating is logarithmic and not merely one step above the next.

Then it was revised to 7.1, the worst earthquake in Northern California since the infamous one of 1906 which along with a subsequent fire destroyed most of San Francisco.

There was a fire in the '89 quake too, centralized in the Marina District, and because of low pressure water had to be pumped from the bay. A couple of days after the quake, Joe DiMaggio was in line with Marina residents to check on property owned by his family.

That first night was science-fiction eerie. All of San Francisco was pitch-black. No lights, no elevators, no television. The next afternoon baseball commissioner Fay Vincent spoke to the media in a ballroom at the St. Francisco Hotel lit only by candelabra, as in the 18th Century.

From Candlestick to candelabra in a matter of hours.

Dozens were killed by the quake, many under a collapsed freeway in Oakland, never to be rebuilt. Damage was in the billions.

Candlestick, windy, much-reviled Candlestick, built on a solid ground, held up except for broken hunks of cement here and there.

The A's, who had taken the first two games in Oakland, decided to dress at their park and bus across the bay, maybe 23 miles from stadium to stadium. Wives and families had come in their own transportation.

Mark McGwire helped his then girlfriend from the stands. As the A's Stan Javier, years later to play for the Giants helped his wife, Vera. Oakland's Terry Steinbach embraced his wife, Mary. The Giants' Kelly Downs, in a photo which would be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, carried a young relative to safety.

Jose Canseco would be seen gassing up his Porsche some place down the Peninsula from Candlestick. Who knew if the San Mateo Bridge, the next one south of the Bay Bridge were open - it wasn't at first - or even the Dumbarton Bridge?

Some wanted the World Series stopped right there. Vincent, alluding to Winston Churchill insisting the cinemas in London be kept open during Blitz to create a sense of normalcy, intended to continue.

Ten days after the quake, with a group of rescue workers and police and firemen tossing out ceremonial first pitches, baseball was back. But not for long. The A's won two more and swept the Series.

Twenty years ago, a time of joy and grief.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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