Mike Krukow recalls 1989 earthquake

What was it like in the city leading up to the "Battle of the Bay" World Series?

Oh, it was outrageous. It was such a fun time to be in the Bay Area, because it started early on. It started in spring training. The A's had been to the World Series in 1988 and they were on kind of a mission from God because they got upset by the Dodgers and whatnot. And we were a team that had been in the playoffs in '87 and really had kind of a disappointing '88 year and all of a sudden, we knew in spring training, early on we had a good club. And just as the schedules would parallel one another, you're always comparing when you are playing in a city with another team, and for me, I played one year in a one-team town: Philadelphia, 1982. Prior to that, it was Chicago, and then after '82, from '83 to '89, I was here in the Bay Area. So, you're very much aware of what the evil twin is doing when you're playing. And if you're going bad, you want them to go bad. And if you're going good, you want them to go bad. But they were really good. So we were kinda trying to share headlines with them and whatnot, and they were a hard team not to like. The A's. They had swagger, and they had old-school talent, they were just a good team. They played baseball. And we did, too. We were a good team. And we played baseball right and we had a swagger. It was fun to be in that clubhouse. Guys got there early and left late. And the whole Bay Area got into this. In a number of ways, just with broadcasts that players were doing. I had a show, a couple of the guys had shows and whatnot. We would just interject daily things that happened in the clubhouse. And the people totally just identified with it. So the lines were drawn within the Bay Area very early. There were Giants fans, and A's fans. And there was no in-between. And as this thing started to forge, as we got into September, people are saying, we could have a Bay Bridge series here. And each level we got closer to the World Series, the likeliness of this actually happening became a reality. And it happened. By the time it did happen, it was fever pitch around here. People were pumped. And they were always saying around the rest of the country, it's going to be the lowest-watched World Series in the history of baseball. We didn't care around here. We knew that everybody was going to be watching this thing and everybody was into it. And it was so much fun. I couldn't play. I had hurt my arm in June. I tore my rotator cuff and had a career-ending surgery in July so I was just cheerleading.

Fast-forward to the earthquake. Where were you specifically?

Well, by the time we finally get there, we go over to Oakland and proceed to get our ass kicked twice. It was the feeling that, we need to get these guys back to our yard. So now it's 5:04, Game 3, and as always in a big game, big rivalry game, or a big adrenaline game, I would always go out before the game and make sure my family got in. At the time I had a pregnant wife and four kids, and a bunch of relatives that were up, and made sure all the passes were there. So I was out there, right behind home plate looking through the backstop, maybe 40 rows back behind home plate to see where they were at. I just look, hey, how are you doing … and then it hit! Now, before this earthquake, though, you have to understand, if you went back two years, for all of us that were on that club, we'd gone through like six of these episodes, where we had really good earthquakes. And I'm from Southern California. I'm from earthquake country. And I'd never seen what I'd seen, in my whole life. I've never seen what I'd seen the last two years, leading up to the big earthquake. Cause we saw a lot of shakes. Really good ones. We were in hotels, we were in houses, we were in tall buildings, we were at ballparks. We had a number of different shakes and quakes in different places. So we were veterans. We were savvy veterans of earthquakes. And uh, when this thing started to come, you felt it coming, and then it felt like, about a 600-pound gopher going underneath your feet at 43 mph, because it happened so fast, the roll happened so fast that you kind of braced yourself and went down, because you were going to get knocked down. And I immediately looked up in the stands and we had this really rigid backstop. Right behind home plate. No support wires. Wasn't very tall. Was the smallest one in the National League. … And this thing was swaying back and forth like 10, 15 feet. And then I looked up right behind it, and I could see the light tower that is adjacent to the third-base line and it was torque-ing huge. So this was heavy-duty. And this thing blows right through. And it lasted forever! And this is what was different about the shake. The shake wasn't any stronger than what we experienced before. We felt that type of surge in a quake before. But we didn't feel it for as long. This just didn't stop. And it was like 45, 50 seconds. And that's an eternity. So that's where I was. I mean, I was right there, and you could hear the, when it happens, you just kind of, you kind of brace to see where it's going and what happened around you. It's amazing what happens when you are in an earthquake. And when it was over, the place erupted. The place went crazy.

Where did you go? What did you do?

Well, we were talking about it back in the, in the dugout. And we had a cop there that had been our security cop all year long. And he was the only guy that was bummed out about this whole thing. We didn't think anything of it, right? Another earthquake. And we asked him, Bobby, why are you upset? We have this system of communications, and he had a hand walkie-talkie and he goes, "You can't, it can't go down. It's infallible. It is foolproof. It cannot go down." So? "It's down!" So he's concerned. And then all of a sudden, as he gets communications back, we start to get word of what's happened down at the Marina district, what's happened across the bay, and we realized right then and there, we weren't going to play this game. So then our concern was about … I had three kids down in the nursery. And I wanted to get to them. Then it was just kinda chaos, all hell was breaking loose basically. People in the stands were realizing this is bad. It wasn't pandemonium, but it was unsettling. There was a time there when the reality of what had happened to the Bay Area was hitting home. And we realized that this was serious business. And it was a heavy hit that we took emotionally.

What do you remember about the reaction of your teammates right after it happened? What were people doing?

Well, we still had some that had never been in one. So they were totally rattled. We had Rick Reuschel, his mother and father said, "I'm not coming to the World Series. We're not going out there to California cause earthquakes!" They're farmers in Illinois. They've never come out because they're afraid of earthquakes. Well, they were there! So our concern was for, Big Daddy's parents. And they were way rattled and you're taking inventory. How's everybody? Is he OK? I mean, in going down to get your kids, brought my wife and family out from the stands onto the field. You just kind of gathered, and got everybody close to you. And that was comforting for my wife. And that's what we did. It took us, when all was said and done and they called it, we were staying at the airport, which is 15 minutes south of Candlestick. When we got in the car to drive home, it took us 2 hours and 45 minutes to get back to the hotel we were staying at. It was a scary time.

How much information were you getting about what else was going on in the city? You said initially from the guy with the radio … What else?

We heard the Marina district was on fire. We had heard about the Nimitz [Freeway] or about what had happened in the East Bay, but we knew that there was damage in the Marina, and one of the grounds crew guys says, I guess that it was a sandy bottom there in the Marina, which is a worse area to be in when there is a quake like that. It's not as stable. They were having major problems there. They were having fires. And Al Rosen, who was our general manager, his son Robbie … Maybe Al had a house there, or his son had a house there, but we were trying to find out what was going on with them … there was concern. We had friends in that area as well who we couldn't get ahold of. I mean, communications-wise, we were pretty primitive back in 1989, and we couldn't get ahold of people there. And then there was just a big period, where you just could not get communications anywhere. There was so many phone calls coming into the Bay Area. You couldn't call out. They couldn't call in. So that added to the apprehension and the fear of friends and family who were concerned about us, as we were concerned about them as well. So there was that period of time where you really felt like you were in a war zone. That something bad had really happened. And of course it did.

What about the 10 days between the earthquake and the eventual Game 3. What was that like?

That's what got talked about when we had our reunion with the '89 team this year. After 20 years, we all got together and when you have a reunion for a team that was that close, there's pats on the backs, there's hugs, there's a couple of cocktails, there's old stories. But then, there were the testimonies, as to what those 10 days meant, to each individual guy. And we were disoriented as a group. We didn't even know if they were going to play the World Series. We were down two games, the A's pulled up and they went down to Arizona just to kind of bring the group back together and whatnot, but we stayed here, and it turned out to be one of the most life-changing things that ever happened to me. Because, on a daily basis, we were going into the cities, to the different shelters, to the Moscone Center where they were housing a lot of people who had lost their homes. And it was amazing. We felt like we were parish priests. Because the first time in our lives, as … professional athletes, you go into a room, and you're so used to being heard. People would ask you questions, and you would tell your story. There was never really much interaction when you're the sole person in a room, 25, 40, 50, 100 people, 1,000 people, whatever, you're telling your story. And you kind of get used to that as a professional athlete. But here we were in an auditorium at the Moscone Center, and there were thousands of people, and we would be interacting one-on-one, and they were telling us their stories. And we were sitting there in silence nodding our heads. And I think, all of us felt like, in some small way, we were a sense of normalcy, and we were a security blanket to these people. And it was overwhelming. The emotion that we would be overcome by, going through this experience, and then coming back on a bus, and riding back to the ballpark for a workout … and the bus would be so quiet. Completely quiet. Because of what had gone down, and the moments that we'd interact with the people who were so tragically affected by this earthquake … it was unbelievable! And this happened every day.

How often do you think about those times?

All the time. I think about it all the time. It did so much to ground me. It made me a listener. And I was what? Thirty-eight years old, father of four, wife pregnant, and it made me a listener. It made me a better parent. And I think a better person. Those 10 days were, they were amazing. And we also, during those 10 days realized just how important it was for us to get back on the field for these people. And again, I'm done, my career's over. I walked out of that stadium the last time, that was the last time I would ever wear a uniform. I didn't even take a glove out. I was done. But, what that World Series did for me and for all of us -- and we lost it! We got swept! We got our ass kicked! And I tip my cap, it's the best team I ever played against. Oakland A's, 1989. But, I look around that room in that reunion, and there was little regret in that group of men, that went through that. There was little regret. And I think we all became better men because of it.

Did baseball do the right thing in terms of the delay? Was it the right amount of time?

I think it was handled perfectly. I don't think they could have sped it up. You had, I believe, what there was 68 deaths, I forget. But, there was an enormous tragedy beyond the catastrophic loss, and damage, and rubble. It was just bad. And then the loss of life on top of that. It was just overwhelming. You could not have gone back on the field any sooner then we did. But it was absolutely essential that we go back on the field. I am 100 percent convinced of that!

What's been your experience since then with earthquakes?

We have them all over the place. We had one in Missouri a couple of years ago. Can you believe that? We had one in St. Louis. So, I just think that, it kind of follows us around. But, now when you go through one, obviously we've never gone through one as big as the one we went through. Not even close. In fact, I don't even think we've been in the 5s [on the Richter scale] since, and that's 20 years. But when we do get a little jolt, your mind and your thoughts go right back to 1989.

When you think of the earthquake, what comes to your mind?

The power of people. You watch, every time there is a tragedy. A hurricane or a fire or a flood, you just watch people stand tall and stand strong. And when you go through something like that, there is no Democrat, there is no Republican, there is no adversary. It's just people getting through a tragedy. And this was our tragedy, and I was just in awe of the humanitarian effort that was made on everybody's part to get everybody through this. It was unbelievable. And it made me so proud of where I lived, and the city that I was representing, that I wore across my chest. That, I think, is the biggest thing. We really felt the weight of that uniform when we put it back on, because we really felt we were representing some people that we loved, that we were so impressed with. And we wanted to be part of. And that's what a tragedy like that opened all of our eyes to. We were so naive. It kind of takes away your fear, when you know what's on the other side of a tragedy. There's going to be a hand reaching out to help you. It was the most tragic thing I've ever been through and it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever been through … if that makes sense.

Justine Gubar is a bureau producer for ESPN.