Giants make World Series 25 years after the Earthquake Series

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It seems astonishing that 25 years have passed since the earth moved violently and frighteningly as ticket-clutching fans sought their seats for Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s.

The 6.9 Loma Prieta quake that rocked Candlestick Park a half-hour before first pitch did more than disrupt baseball’s showcase event. Some 42 people were killed, the Bay Bridge nearly shaken apart, and fear overwhelmed millions more as they huddled together with hugs by candlelight.

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Sense of perspective

Almost immediately, when the magnitude of the earthquake was realized, games no longer mattered. Being close to loved ones and ensuring their safety did.

The literal anniversary of the quake was Oct. 17 and it is once again World Series time in America. This year, too, some of the games will be played in San Francisco as the Giants take on the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 World Series beginning Tuesday.

Regular Bay area Series games 

Bay Area Series games have actually been a fairly regular occurrence over the last quarter century. In 1990, the Athletics, who won the ’89 Series in a four-game sweep returned to the championships, but lost. In 2002, the Giants were participants but lost. Then the Giants won crowns in 2010 and 2012, also in Bay Area Series games. The Giants abandoned Candlestick in 2000 in favor of AT&T Park (this week’s corporate name), so post-season play has changed addresses if not cities since the quake.

The reality is that World Series games in the San Francisco Bay Area have been far more common than killer earthquakes. Yet it does give pause. California is the most seismically active state in the Lower 48. San Francisco also endured a much more terrible and extreme earthquake in 1906 when subsequent fires reduced much of the city to ashes.

Pause for thought 

Alaska’s 1964 Good Friday Earthquake registered 9.2 on the Richter Scale and is the second most powerful earthquake in world history, as well as being the most jolting in American history. People who live in Alaska and California become almost inured to big shakes, but live with a certain amount of background nervousness about when The Big Shake will hit.

Location of the epicenter is critical to how people react when the earth’s tectonic plates get frisky. A 4.3 quake might not sound like much, but if it is centered in your backyard it can send a bone-jarring electronic current through you and knock cherished knick-knacks off the shelf. A 7.0 earthquake might impress you for a moment, but if the epicenter is 150 miles away it might serve as little more than a wake-up call.

Hoping for no repeat 

Mother Nature is unpredictable and the earthquake-prediction business is an iffy science. Odds are this World Series will be played in an earthquake-free zone. But remembrances of 1989 will surface. When the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, players forgot their gloves, the bats and balls, and searched for wives and children. The most important thing was to gather family and flee to safer ground.

A’s manager Tony La Russa, pitchers Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley, and hitters Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Rickey Henderson helped make that championship team great. The Giants got to the Series on the strength of Rick Reuschel’s arm and Will Clark’s and Kevin Mitchell’s bats.

But the earthquake swung a more powerful bat than anyone and Commissioner Fay Vincent halted play for 10 days. Fans forget that some people called for the Series to be called off, but the break’s length seemed like a respectful interlude for the dead. The region was starting to hum with normalcy again, people going back to work, transportation plans sorted out.

Baseball responded properly to a regional tragedy, knowingly pausing at the right time for the right interval. But it was also right to resume baseball and scheduled daily life after a time, aware that some people’s lives were altered forever.

Subdued celebrations 

Even Oakland’s championship celebration was subdued. It was difficult to find champagne being sprayed or unrestrained giddiness. There was joy for men accomplishing something special at the peak of their profession. Yet there remained an overriding sadness, a hole in the heart, for those who had suffered.

Twenty-five years. The names of the players do not seem to have receded into the historical mists yet. They seem too fresh. The images of jumpy camera shots on the screen and announcers shouting “Earthquake!” also remain all too clear in the mind.

That is probably because we have never seen anything like it again -- an earthquake telecast on national live TV with people in the background running and screaming. And we hope never to see such a scene again. We hope.

Kansas City Royals
San Francisco Giants
Oakland Athletics

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