Shaking Up the Series in San Francisco

published October 25, 2010

When the Giants face the Rangers Wednesday, I’ll be thinking about the last time I went to a World Series game in San Francisco.

I still have not attended a World Series game in San Francisco.

The Giants lost the first two games of the 1989 Series to their cross-bay rivals, the Oakland A’s, getting outscored 10-1 and looking bad doing it.  They called on Don Robinson to face 17-game winner Bob Welch in this must-win game; Robinson, better regarded for his hitting (.231 career average, 13 home runs) than his pitching, wore a heavy knee brace and acknowledged to The New York Times, “(I)f the ligament in my knee gets stretched out and the burning sensation gets strong enough, I won’t even be able to throw the ball.”

A pitcher’s knee proved to be the least of anyone’s concerns.

I was sitting in Candlestick Park’s lower deck along the third-base side; my brother, a San Francisco resident for more than a decade then, had gone to get us some beers.   The crowd noise was building as game time approached.  Then came a different kind of rumble.

It felt at first like being on a set of pull-out bleachers when the crowd starts jumping up and down.  That feeling lasted about ten or fifteen seconds.  And then – WHAM!  The stadium was being shoved forward, hard.  I don’t know if this is possible, but my impression was that the row I was in moved two rows ahead relative to the stadium post nearby.

I’d never been in an earthquake before, and as I tried to make sense of the sensations, I came to a quick conclusion: Someone had mistakenly hit the switch that reconfigures the stadium for football.  Never mind that I wasn’t sitting in one of the movable sections.  Then I realized, no, it’s just after five o’clock, primetime in the east, the telecast has just begun – terrorists have hit the switch that reconfigures the stadium for football!  (I was way ahead of my time.  I mean, it was 1989; what terrorists was I thinking of, Basque separatists?)

Two things happened simultaneously to clarify matters.  A kind soul, seeing what must have been a shocked and gaping look on my face, tapped me on the shoulder and mouthed over the din, “Earth-quake.”  And I heard someone near me say, in Californian wonder, “Wow – that had to be at least a six.”

It was, in fact, a 7.1, the Loma Prieta earthquake that caused fires in the marina, collapsed part of the Bay Bridge, knocked down elevated highways, cost 63 people their lives and thousands more their homes.  We knew none of that at Candlestick; we wouldn’t know for a while.

I recall the public address announcer telling us, “In the event of another” (pause) “incident, people in the upper deck should make their way to the lower deck, and people in the lower deck should go out onto the field.”

Shortly after this announcement, the stadium lost power and the scoreboard went dark.  The crowd, for reasons I cannot explain, cheered.

(I should note at this point that I have talked about these events with several people who were there, including former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent.  He not only does not remember this and several other parts of my recollection, he is quite clear in insisting they didn’t happen.  Maybe they didn’t.)

My brother returned from the concessions line with two beers.  We all stood and waited for the game to begin.  An ambulance drove onto the field and positioned itself near home plate.  Still we waited.

There were no smart phones in 1989 – few portable dumb ones, either – but I had a small TV with a two-inch screen that I liked to use to watch replays.  I turned on the network coverage of the game, and eventually saw footage of the collapsed Bay Bridge section and advised people around us to find other routes to the East Bay.

At last, players in uniform came over to the sections where their families were seated and brought them onto the field, some carrying their young children in the direction of the clubhouse.  That’s when we knew there would be no baseball tonight, no baseball for quite some time as the city cleaned itself up and devoted its resources to more important matters.

We went to our car, took more than an hour to exit the parking lot, and made our way, slowly, through dark streets back to my brother’s house near Golden Gate Park, avoiding the major roads and traffic because we were nearly out of gas.  (We figured we’d just pick some up on the way home; who expected an earthquake and blackout?)  The restaurants and bars nearby were open and candlelit; an Anchor Steam went down in two swallows, then another, then another.  My sister-in-law looked at me and said, “You look like you could use a hug.”  She was right.

The Series resumed ten days later.  I was back in New York, relieved.  I love San Francisco, and I’ve been there many times since.  I hope the only tremors this week will be in the back legs of hitters fooled by a Cliff Lee curveball.

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