26: World Series halted by Bay Area earthquake

Twenty-five minutes before the start of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's at Candlestick Park, there were a handful of players on the field, stretching, playing catch, mingling.

There were 63,000 fans in the stands, waiting for the pregame introductions for the first World Series game at The Stick in 27 years. There is a buzz in the air, typical of baseball in October.

The ABC television broadcast of the game had just begun. It was 5 p.m., Pacific Time. The press box was jammed with reporters from all over the world. Suddenly, seconds later, at 5:04, the world changed.

There is a rumbling, then a fierce jolt. The earth quakes, violently shaking the stadium, cutting off power, causing concrete to fall from some sections of the upper deck and generating shrieks of alarm and fear from the crowd.

Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent is nearly knocked out of his chair next to the Giants' dugout when the earthquake strikes. "I thought it was a jet, maybe something breaking the sound barrier," he would say later.

There is an eerie silence throughout the stadium as the ballpark structure swings and rumbles back and forth, as if a monster is ready to emerge from behind the right-field stands and shake the stadium until it crumbles to pieces, one by one. But the stadium, much maligned by many who said it wouldn't withstand a major earthquake, holds.

A's pitcher Storm Davis takes a crying baby from stands, fearing concrete might fall from the top of the stadium. Mark McGwire steadies one of his friends. Stan Javier helps his wife, Veva, to the field. Terry Steinbach comforts his wife, Mary.

TV sets mounted on stands above the press tables sway in the air. Reporters ask what the quake might measure on the Richter scale. One response is that it's a 5.4. When the rumbling finally stops, fans in the stands let out an enormous cheer. They're relieved. Some even yell, "Play ball!"

But power is unable to be restored at Candlestick. Police appear on the field. Vincent decides he has no alternative but to postpone the game. Without power and lights, Vincent determines that it isn't reasonable to keep fans in the stadium with darkness rapidly approaching.

"I'm sure many fans would have stayed on the chance the power could have been re-established, but I couldn't take that risk," Vincent tells the press. "The safest course was to have people leave in an orderly fashion while there was still light."

The fans begin to head for the exits, cheerfully and orderly, yet disappointed. But they have no idea what is transpiring in the world around them. They soon learn that this quake is a staggering 7.1, the biggest in San Francisco since the 8.3 quake of 1906.

Word arrives that this shaker is a bad one. Deaths have occurred. The Nimitz Freeway has collapsed, people hear. Bridges are falling. Thousands are dead, thousands more injured. Downtown is in ruins. There are fires. There is looting and rioting. The city is falling apart.

"Stay clear of the stadium," policemen scream to the exiting crowd. There is fear the stadium might crumble to earth, crushing everyone.

Chunks of concrete are seen falling from a section in the upper deck in the right-center field. People hear that cracks in the upper deck are so big that people can stick their arm through it.

In the Candlestick parking lot, fans are hunting for pieces of concrete, almost an hour after the quake. One fan carries a chunk of concrete, offering to sell it for $500.

When Vincent learns the enormity of the quake, and that people have died, he doesn't know whether to cancel the World Series altogether or simply postpone it. He says he'll first have to meet with officials from the Giants, A's, Candlestick Park, Oakland Coliseum and the government, city and federal, in order to make a decision.

"This is a crisis, and baseball, at this point, is only a small part of the community," Vincent tells the media.

As night turns into day, and day to night, with no resumption of the World Series in sight, it is learned that the World Series actually saved hundreds of lives. For at 5:04 p.m., under normal rush-hour conditions, the Nimitz Freeway would have been bumper-to-bumper traffic. But because of the Series, most people left work early, either to go to Candlestick or to watch the game on television. Sixty-seven people died in the quake.

Still, it is evident it'll take many months, and maybe several years, for life to return to normal in the Bay Area. The city is a colossal mess. Ten days after the quake, the World Series resumes, with heavy hearts. No one really wants to play the games, knowing how meaningless a game is compared to loss of life and property.

"I feel like I'm getting ready for an intrasquad game," outfielder Kevin Mitchell would tell the media. "I just can't get pumped up. I feel like the year is over. I look at everybody and they don't seem themselves. They just don't have that intensity."

But the return of the World Series is, in a way, therapeutic for the Bay Area. The therapy is carefully orchestrated. It begins with a moment of silence at 5:04 p.m., the exact moment the earthquake rocked Candlestick Park.

Three minutes later, fans are asked to change the somber mood by singing the song, "San Francisco," the city's unofficial national anthem, written by Gus Kahn in 1936. They will sing another song, a symbol of survival, with the cast of the City's long running musical, "Beach Blanket Babylon."

At 5:27 p.m., the first ball is thrown out by representatives of the public safety and volunteer agencies that offered assistance after the quake.

The World Series resumes, but there is a strange, errie feeling, the kind one never has experienced at a sporting event of this magnitude. It's always been about the game, the players, but as Giants center fielder Brett Butler would say, "The lasting memories of this Series will be the earthquake, not the games, not the World Series winner, nothing but the earthquake. It's sad, but true."