COVER

THE EARTHQUAKE GAME

A TERRIFYING SIDESHOW AT THE WORLD SERIES

MARY NEMETH October 30 1989
COVER

THE EARTHQUAKE GAME

A TERRIFYING SIDESHOW AT THE WORLD SERIES

MARY NEMETH October 30 1989

THE EARTHQUAKE GAME

A TERRIFYING SIDESHOW AT THE WORLD SERIES

For the National League champion San Francisco Giants, the Oct. 17 World Series game in their home park was a chance to redeem themselves. After the Giants lost the first two games in Oakland—San Francisco scored only a single run in two outings—the series crossed San Francisco Bay to resume the battle in Candlestick Park, one of the oldest and most windblown stadiums in the country. “It’s evident,” said Giants manager Roger Craig,

“that our backs are against the wall.” But at 5:04, a deafening rumble arose from the earth and the whole park shook for a terrifying 15 seconds. Said Eric Gregg, a 300lb. umpire: “I try to be a big, tough guy. But I lost control of myself when the quake struck. I threw myself under a table and started to pray.”

Hall of Fame Giants outfielder Willie Mays, who would have thrown out the first ball, said, “This is the only time that I was ever scared in this ball park.”

Havoc: While last week’s earthquake caused havoc in the San Francisco area, killing at least 57 people and injuring hundreds of others, in Candlestick Park only a few people suffered bumps and bruises from falling debris.

And many of the spectators did not appear to realize the full magnitude of the tragedy.

Said Jennifer Haertl, 28, who arrived at the stadium moments after the earthquake:

“There were plenty of avid fans who had been through earthquakes before. And a chant started to go up, ‘Play ball. Play ball.’ ” But the earthquake knocked out electricity and cracked part of the upper deck in right field, and officials decided to evacuate the park to examine it for structural damage.

Police used bullhorns to inform the crowd that the game had been postponed. And while fans filed calmly out of the park, some of them carrying souvenir chunks of fallen concrete, several players ran to the stands to bring their wives and children onto the field. Others scurried to the dressing room. Said Giants catcher Terry Kennedy: “I started thinking about what

was happening here and I said, ‘To heck with the game.’ I sure as hell wasn’t going to stay around for another [earthquake].”

Victims: The Wednesday and Thursday games were also cancelled, while a team of architects and structural engineers assessed damage to 29-year-old Candlestick. Park manager John Lind said that a staircase in the upper

deck had to be reconstructed, but that the stadium did not appear to have been endangered. Baseball commissioner Francis (Fay) Vincent expressed hope that the park would be ready to resume the series this week, although not before Tuesday. Said Vincent: “It is becoming very clear to all of us in major-league baseball that our issue is really a modest one in light of the great tragedy.” Speaking in a room at the well-appointed Westin St. Francis Hotel, illuminated by candlelight as a result of the city’s electricity having been knocked out, he added, “We don’t want to have to conduct baseball while the hunt for victims goes on.”

Still, fans and players alike are certain to be haunted by the memory of the cancelled third game. Tom Cheek, play-by-play sportscaster for the Toronto Blue Jays, was in the Telemedia Sports Network booth when the earthquake struck. A minute before he was about to go on the air, he recalled, “a jet plane flew over the stadium, and then it sounded like a jet plane

coming through the bottom of the stadium, and I remember saying, ‘Boy, that guy is really low.’ ” Added Cheek: “Then, I saw these uprights that support the first deck sway one way and then the other. I thought that this place was going to collapse, and 60,000 people were going to be in a pile of rubble.” Blue Jays executive vicepresident Patrick Gillick was also in the stadium when the earthquake struck. “We were in right field under the second-deck overhang,” Gillick said after returning to Toronto the following day. “The upper deck is concrete and it was shaking noticeably. We stopped in our tracks. If that deck had fallen, we would have been killed.” Terrorists: After the tragedy, there was a debate about whether the games should be continued at all. But sports reporters pointed to historical precedents for resuming the contest. The Munich Olympics continued after PLO terrorists murdered 11 Israeli team members, and even during the Second World War, when many com-

mentators said that baseball should be suspended, President Franklin Roosevelt successfully urged that the games continue for the sake of national morale. Last week, Oakland A’s vice-president Richard (Sandy) Alderson said: “Once the community returns to a sense of normalcy, they will expect the World Series. I think it can be part of the healing.” At the very least, one city beside the bay will finally have something to cheer about.

MARY NEMETH

RAE CORELLI

NANCY DAY