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Posted: Wednesday October 28, 2009 11:40AM; Updated: Wednesday October 28, 2009 5:00PM
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Twenty years ago, an earthquake shook a Bay Area World Series

Story Highlights

In 1989, a large earthquake struck San Francisco before Game 3 of World Series

What was a celebration turned into tragety as bridges and roads collapsed

The Oakland A's swept the San Francisco Giants but the game took a back seat

By Michael Rosenberg,

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Kelly Downs
Kelly Downs carried fan Billy Kehl off the field after an earthquake shook San Francsico before Game 3.
John Iacono/SI

In the middle of the night, when he was searching for peace, Dave Stewart would go walk among the bodies.

Stewart didn't know who was dead and who was alive. It was not his place to ask. He was there to bring food, clothing and water to the workers by the Nimitz Freeway in the Oakland neighborhood where he grew up.

This was the first place he had gone when the earthquake stopped the 1989 World Series -- his World Series, between his team, the A's, and the team he watched as a kid, the Giants. Stewart was known throughout baseball for his community involvement; he ran an anti-drug program in Oakland. But he did not go to Oakland to help -- not at first.

He was looking for his sister.

Brenda Stewart worked as an underwriter at The Hartford in San Francisco, and her daily drive home took her over the Bay Bridge. Brenda had been commuting home when the earthquake hit. But she had taken the train.

Brenda got off at the Bay Area Rapid Transit stop in West Oakland and pulled her car out of a nearby garage. The parking attendant told her there had been an earthquake, but so what? This was Northern California. Some places got snow; the Bay Area got earthquakes.

Brenda tried to drive to her home at 18th and Cypress Streets when she saw the road was blocked off. She looked up and saw that the Cypress Street viaduct had collapsed.

Dave Stewart showed up at Brenda's house later that night. The drive from Candlestick Park, normally 20 minutes, had taken five hours because a portion of the Bay Bridge had collapsed. Stewart was still in his baseball uniform when he saw his sister was alive.

That night, he drove to his home in nearby Emeryville, then came back with food and other supplies. He kept coming back every day.

A lot of people who lived in the neighborhood had temporarily moved out, either because their homes were badly damaged or because they could not handle the stench of death. But Stewart kept coming back. He had to come back.

Sometimes he would lie in bed at two or three in the morning, unable to sleep, and he would get dressed and drive down to Oakland, to confront the misery that consumed his friends, his teammates, most everybody he knew. Once he saw it up close --- once he helped a little bit more --- then, and only then, could he go home and fall asleep.

On the night of Oct. 17, Stewart, the rest of the A's and the San Francisco Giants had been at Candlestick Park, getting ready for Game 3 of the World Series. It was everything they had ever wanted out of sports. And then, suddenly, it meant nothing.


Twenty years ago this month, San Francisco and Oakland hosted one of the most unusual sporting events in American history: a rare moment of civic triumph (not one, but two hometown teams in the World Series) interrupted by unfathomable catastrophe (the Loma Prieta Earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the United States).

They had already been calling it the Bay Bridge Series for a week when the earthquake hit. The nickname was a natural. The Bay Bridge connected San Francisco and Oakland, and this was the modern-day equivalent of a Yankees-Dodgers Subway Series.

In that comparison, the A's were the Yankees: the dominant outfit, expected to not only contend but win it all. Before the playoffs began, a billboard went up on the east side of the bridge that read "Oakland Welcomes The World," with space left so they could fill in the word "Series" later. Oakland had been planning for this moment since the year before, when the Dodgers had stunned the A's in the World Series.

The A's easily dispatched the Blue Jays in five games in the American League Championship Series, thanks in part to Jose Canseco's mammoth home run in Game 4, which landed in the fifth outfield deck of the sparkling new Skydome. That home run seemed to crystallize the dominance of the A's: they did not just beat you, they left you awestruck, and they seemed to have power they didn't even need.

After Canseco rounded the bases, he met fellow Bash Brother Mark McGwire at home plate.

McGwire: "You didn't really get all of that, did you?"

Canseco: "No, I kind of popped it up."

Who could compete with seemingly superhuman strength? The Giants? In 1988, while the A's were marching to the World Series, the Giants had finished in fourth place in their own division, and the year was even worse than the season: starting pitcher Dave Dravecky was struck with cancer and shortstop Jose Uribe's wife had died during childbirth.

But here were the 1989 Giants, spurred by manager Roger Craig (and his "Humm Baby!" rallying cry), inspired by Dravecky (who returned to pitch two games in August) and led by first baseman Will Clark and National League MVP Kevin Mitchell, who hit 47 home runs that year, 14 more than McGwire.

The Giants won 92 games to take their division, then won the NLCS because they were playing the Cubs. In the celebration afterward, Dravecky broke his arm again. The cancer had returned. His career was over.

In the days leading up to the Series, Bay Area vendors sold hats that featured half of the Giants' interlocking "SF" and half of the A's logo. Commemorative T-shirts touting "Baysball" went for $20.

San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos proudly told The New York Times that "we will be the media capital of the world for a couple of weeks," and Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson said, "A lot of people, even in the Bay Area, don't know anything about Oakland. This is a tremendous opportunity to show off."

The World Series began with a moment of silence -- for the late commissioner, Bart Giamatti, who had died suddenly of a heart attack at age 51 just six weeks earlier. The A's then won the first game in Oakland behind a shutout by Stewart. They won Game 2 behind seven strong innings by Mike Moore. If the Giants were going to make this a series, not just a local party, they had to win Game 3 at home.

Candlestick was rocking for the Giants' first home World Series Game in 27 years. People around the Bay Area had left work early so they could be home in time to watch.

The earthquake struck at 5:04 p.m. PST, a time of day that would be etched in the minds of a Bay Area generation. Giants pitcher Mike Krukow was standing on the field, and he instinctively went into an athletic position, bent at the knees, to keep his balance. He looked up and saw the backstop swaying back and forth.

Krukow had felt "pretty good shakes" before. In 1987, the Giants felt a quake in their Los Angeles hotel early in the morning; two Giants were so scared that they went straight to Dodger Stadium at breakfast time and stayed there all day, even though the game was at night.

This felt different, Krukow thought. It was louder, and it lasted longer. Beyond the outfield, light towers rocked.

Finally, it stopped ... and the crowd erupted in cheers. How perfect was this? An earthquake in the middle of the Bay Bridge series! What could be more fitting?

Somebody made an impromptu sign: "Hey, if you think that was something, wait till the Giants come to bat." The Giants immediately started making jokes. Do you think this is what Craig meant by shaking up the lineup? Nobody realized just how big it was: 6.9 on the Richter Scale, one of the biggest earthquakes in California history.

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