On experiencing the San Francisco Earthquake World Series

It was a World Series game to remember. And the game wasn’t even played.

It was Oct. 17, 1989, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco where Game 3 of the World Series was to be played between the host Giants and the Oakland A’s.

But Game 3 wasn’t played that night because the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit the area, resulting in 63 deaths, with thousands injured and displaced from their homes.

With the 21st anniversary of the Oct. 17 date coming up and the Major League Baseball playoffs underway, I have been thinking back to that memorable time in San Francisco.

Wayne Pearson and I were sitting in the lower part of the upper deck between home plate and first base when the quake hit.

I remember the stadium shaking and for an instant not realizing what was going on. I was convinced it was an earthquake when I saw the dust rising from the hills outside the stadium.

Pearson said, “I was most impressed and surprised by the sound of the earthquake. At the time it sounded like a huge swarm of bees coming by. Other people described it as a really loud jet airplane flying by.”

I was a sports writer at the Review-Journal at the time but I was at the game on my own because I was an avid Giants fan and not to cover the Series for the paper.

I did call the R-J later from our hotel and was asked to give a first-person account of the earthquake at the World Series.

Much of this blog was taken from my own story which appeared on the front page of the R-J on Oct. 18, 1989.

Pearson, who obtained our tickets, was the director of development for the UNLV Museum of Natural History at the time. He was better known as a former associate athletic director at UNLV and as a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

The quake hit at 5:04 p.m. PDT.  about a half hour before the game was scheduled to start and Candlestick was mostly full.

There was little or no panic inside the sold-out stadium. In fact, there was actually some celebration of the quake, believe it or not. People actually stood up and cheered. Some people made jokes about it.

Most of the power was off in the stadium, including the field lights, scoreboards and message board.

There were no lights in the restrooms or the concession stands.

The only announcement made at the stadium was that if it was necessary to evacuate, fans were told to walk calmly to the nearest exit and leave.

And the fans were calm although some did have serious and worried expressions.

Fans around us left in a slow but steady stream. Pearson and I stayed longer than most. It wasn’t until players from both teams, with their wives and children accompanying them, walked across the field to the dressing rooms that we left.

It was a good thing we did finally leave then because we managed to catch the last bus to leave Candlestick for San Francisco.

The bus was crowded, and like at Candlestick, there was some joking on the bus along with the concern and the angst. But I remember I sure wasn’t joking. I was worried.

The freeway to the city was closed, but the bus went around the barrier. I guess the bus driver wanted to get home like everybody else.

Seeing a darkened San Francisco from the freeway was certainly an eerie sight as the city was without power.

I saw smoke from the bus which I later learned was from the Marina District.

Pearson and I got off the bus at the corner of Market Street and Van Ness and quickly walked to our hotel, the San Francisco Hilton.

We walked down a darkened Market Street and the only lights were from the cars driving the streets. Traffic lights were not working, adding to the chaos.

The sidewalks and streets along Market Street were littered with glass from skyscraper windows that broke during the earthquake.

The lobby of the San Francisco Hilton, which covers one square block, did have lights from an emergency generator.

Thousands of people were stuck downstairs because they couldn’t get to their rooms.

The elevators were not working. Security advised not to try to walk up the stairs, which were in compete darkness. Since we were staying on the 34th floor, we had to kill time downstairs.

The San Francisco Hilton graciously gave away sandwiches, lemonade and soft drinks downstairs. The hotel also provided pillows and blankets and people were laying on the floor all over the place.

I stood in line to use a house phone when I called the R-J. My actual purpose was to ask them for news.

Finally, about 2 a.m. one elevator started working and we were able to get to our room.

The room had a patio and we were able to look out at the city in the dark, including the collapse of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Talk about eerie.

Pearson and I had taken a drive to Berkeley and driven back across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco  less than three hours before the earthquake.

Pearson said, “What if the earthquake had happened earlier when we were on the Bay Bridge?”

Pearson and his wife, Jerrie, had seen the first two games of the Series in Oakland. Jerrie returned to Las Vegas after the first two games and I flew up and joined Pearson for Game 3.

A few days before the earthquake when Pearson was at the San Francisco Hilton, he remembers, “I heard the building creaking. I said to Jerrie, ‘Listen to that. It sounds like something is wrong with this building.’”

Talk about ominous.