The 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay Area at 5:04 p.m., Tuesday, October 17, 1989, fifteen minutes before the start of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. Now, nearly thirty years later, hardly an October 17 goes by that I don’t reflect on that fateful day.
When the earth heaved beneath Candlestick Park on that sultry afternoon, those of us who worked there knew that something ugly had crashed our historic party. An intruder we couldn’t even see rudely upstaged the first World Series game to be played at the ‘Stick in 27 years, and ultimately forced its postponement for 10 days.
Naturally, the death and destruction that Loma Prieta spewed in San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz vastly overshadowed the mere delay of a ball game, even one of such significance. “It put everything in perspective,” Will Clark said in an ESPN special twenty years later. “Baseball isn’t life or death.”
Literally, he’s right, of course, and we righteously mourn the losses of Loma Prieta year upon year. But anyone who has worked backstage in post-season baseball knows that on a figurative level, for many fans, the game is sometimes more important than life or death. It is hope.
Calls arose in some quarters to cancel the Series altogether. They were duly considered, then wisely rejected. People in the Bay Area needed the reassurance and restoration of spirit that a resumption of the Series could bring. The game must go on – that’s why they call it The Show. And like every show, the actors get the applause while the producers watch from the wings with satisfaction, if not recognition.
Every October I think of the front office staffs in cities that are working 24/7 to get ready for a World Series, even though only two will prevail. Unlike a Super Bowl, you might not know the venue for a baseball playoff until a day or two in advance. So everyone with a shot at the post-season prepares until the day they win or are eliminated.
That’s how it was in 1989. Working in concert with Major League Baseball, we spent weeks getting ready. The tasks were monumental and the club had had precious little previous experience at it since the Giants and Yankees squared off at Candlestick in 1962.
While the Giants executive office coordinated VIP parties and other social activities with Mayor Art Agnos’ office and MLB officials, the ticket office assigned seats to other teams and players and sold post-season strips of tickets to season ticket holders and individual fans. The stadium operations crew had an impossibly long to-do list that began with dusting off the bunting from Opening Day for a new purpose.
It was my job to handle arrangements for more than 1000 media who came from around the globe to cover the World Series in San Francisco (and Oakland).
This included issuing credentials and assignments for press parking, seating, photo positions and broadcast booths; overseeing the installation of tabletops, TV monitors, telephones and electrical connections for temporary press seating in three upper reserved sections (we could accommodate only 50 in the regular baseball press box and another 100 in the 49ers press box); arranging bus transportation for media from downtown hotels to the ballpark and back; publishing stadium diagrams, clubhouse rules, schedules, a post-season media guide and daily game notes and statistics; outfitting a working press room and interview areas; even ordering box lunches for the press.
Once your team makes it to the Fall Classic, what you wish for most – other than winning it all – is that you get to host your fans and show off your ballpark to the world for at least three games, if not four.
Alas, the 1989 Giants got none of it. First, the A’s took Games 1 and 2 in Oakland in short order. Then, not only did Loma Prieta interrupt the San Francisco celebration, Oakland quickly finished it off with two more back-to-back victories when the Series resumed on Oct. 27.
It was a crushing defeat for all of us and our fans. Seven months of work (make that 27 years for some) to bring a World Series to Candlestick Park and our hopes for a better outcome were abruptly buried in the dusty rubble of a terrible natural disaster. But lives were lost and families still grieve. For some, the aftershocks will last forever.
Perhaps the only upside for the Giants was that the quake overshadowed their ignominious sweep by the Bash Brothers and Co.
Come to think of it, there were two redeeming things about 1989.
A year later, the A’s found themselves on the short end of a World Series sweep by the Cincinnati Reds.
And thanks to the generosity of Bob Lurie and Al Rosen and the managerial talents of Roger Craig, I have something that a lot of people in baseball, whether they wear uniforms or office attire, never get for their efforts: A championship series ring.