On October 17, 1989, at 5:04:15 p.m. a magnitude 6.9 earthquake severely shook the San Francisco and Monterey Bay regions. The epicenter was located at 37.04° N. latitude, 121.88° W. longitude near Loma Prieta peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains, approximately 9 miles northeast of Santa Cruz and 60 miles south-southeast of San Francisco.
It caused 63 deaths and more than $6 billion worth of damage. A piece of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge crumpled to the lower deck. A mile-long section of Interstate 880 — the double-decked Cypress Structure — pancaked during rush hour. Fires raged in San Francisco’s Marina District.
The Giants and the A’s were in the World Series, the cross bay rivalry has reached a crescendo. With 60,0000 in attendance and millions more watching the opening to the third game of the 1989 World Series on television the unthinkable became possible; the earth began to rumble. For many news of the quake reached the world through sports. ESPN had a generator in its center-field location, allowing it to stay on the air and give some of the only on-the-scene reports from a blacked-out city. The Goodyear blimp, hired by ABC to provide aerial shots of the ballpark, became a vehicle for documentary footage. Without baseball, who knows what we would have known?
I was on my way home from work. Stopped at a traffic light I initially thought there was something wrong with my car. I looked up and saw the lights violently swaying and instantly knew that was not the problem. My parents were at Candlestick Park that day waiting the start of the third game of the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants. This is my mother’s recall of that day….
October 17 was a fabulous day for a ballgame – shirt-sleeve weather at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Actually I’m not that much into baseball, but this was the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. So when our son-in-law, Tim, said he could get tickets and asked if we wanted to go with him Ken was ecstatic and I said, “Why not? It’s possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
That afternoon it seemed as if everyone was going to the game. Traffic was heavy but steady and we left early enough to find an acceptable parking space. Heading toward the complex we passed tail-gate parties by the score with revelers who were already enjoying themselves a little too much. Generally the crowd was in a good mood and excited about the game. These people were fans in every sense of the word.
Near the top of the stadium we found our seats about 30 feet from what Ken called the “eyebrow.” This was a concrete overhang all around the top of the facility and as it hung over us unsupported it did look like an eyebrow; a very large eyebrow. Towering above the eyebrow a couple of light standards stood rather ominously to the right and left of us. Looking down on the field we could see miniature people finishing preparations for the game, but fortunately, we were prepared having brought a couple pair of field glasses. I took out my camera with its telephoto lense, hung it around my neck and sat back in my seat. Glancing at the time we had about 25 minutes to kill before the game started at 5:00 p.m. We watched as a steady stream of enthusiasts continued to pour into the stadium wearing team hats and waving banners.
At the scheduled hour a cheerful resonating voice spoke into the loudspeaker welcoming all to this historic sporting event. With hardly a few words out of his mouth the sound of what seemed to be a rumbling train drowned out the rest of what he said. Bewildered, the fans looked around to see where the sound was coming from; recognition was almost instant. The stadium began to tremble and the light standards shook and swayed so violently I was sure they would fall on us along with the overhanging “eyebrow.”
While my whole life did not pass before me I was amazed at how many thoughts raced through my mind in just 17 seconds. The first was fear – terror at what was happening. I was certain we would be crushed in the wreckage. The second feeling was acceptance, and the third feeling was a wonderful, peaceful calm. We were all going to die and it was all right. The next thought was planning my last act of service to the world. With my camera in tact I would snap photos of death and destruction until I either ran out of film or a slab of concrete took me out. And then it was over. An audible sigh reverberated through the air as probably every person in attendance let out their breath. Later, as TV and radio commentators spoke of the fans they called it a “cheer.”
Wrong! It was the sound relief.
While everyone was sucking in their next breath the same announcer who had welcomed us all just seconds before came back with the calmest, most controlled voice imaginable and said, “In case of an emergency, please exit in an orderly manner through……..” And then there was silence.
Many bolted from their seats and left, but the stalwarts had come to see a game having paid $100.00 and upwards for their tickets. The earthquake was over, nothing seemed damaged. Let’s play ball.
From our high-in-the sky vantage point we could see some billowing puffs of smoke throughout the city. People in front of us had a portable radio and we asked, “What do you hear?” “Nothing,” was the reply. Must be okay we decided as there were no announcements on the news. But “nothing,” meant nothing. The stations were dead.
And yet we waited. Were they going to play or not? So we waited some more, as did most of the fans. Finally as the sun began to slip over the western hills of San Francisco an official came out with a bull horn and made the announcement, “The game is postponed.” We were dismissed.
Those who had waited had become instant friends talking about the earthquake, damage throughout the city and speculating about the future of Candlestick. Was it stable? Were our homes okay? How about our families? What about the smoke we saw? Are the bridges in tact? How long would it take us to get home? Would the game be played here? We could only imagine. Some of the answers came through our new friend’s portable radio. Within a few minutes after losing power, back-up generators at TV and radio stations kicked in and they were back on the air. We were shocked that a section of the Bay Bridge was down. The Marina was badly damaged and there were fires. In Oakland a section of the Cypress Freeway had collapsed. Rescue teams were on the way.
There was this amazing camaraderie among those who stayed, but now it was time to go home. I looked around as the crowd filed out of the stadium in the requested orderly manner. Would we come back? That day nothing was certain so before we left the top of the world I took some photos of the sun setting over Candlestick, the light standards silhouetted against the fading orange and red sky. These pictures wouldn’t bring me world acclaim, but they would be a part of my remembrance of October 17, 1989 and 17 memorable seconds: and for me a “once-in-a lifetime event.”