Recalling the day the earth shook


SF earthquake one.jpg

It doesn’t seem possible, but at 5:04 p.m. PT on Saturday, it will have been 20 years since the earth shook in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake brought the first (and only) Bay Bridge World Series to a stunning halt and it would be 10 days before the Series resumed. It ended two days later with the Athletics completing a four-game sweep.

My memories of that day remain vivid.

Tacoma News Tribune baseball writer Larry LaRue and I were staying in Alameda with a longtime friend of mine, the late, great Dr. Sebastian Russo, the team dentist for the Athletics and Raiders at the time. Around 2:30 that afternoon, with me behind the steering wheel, we headed for Candlestick Park, driving over the Bay Bridge shortly before 3 p.m., We arrived at Candlestick around 3:30, parked the car and found our assigned seats — which happened to be in the football press box, which overhangs the facility between the first and second decks.

Everything was normal. The Giants and Athletics were preparing for that night’s Game 3 of the Fall Classic and the stadium was filling up quickly for the first pitch.

I was talking on the telephone with Seattle Post-Intelligencer Sports Editor Glenn Drosendahl — when all of a sudden the press box started to move. Having lived in San Jose for several years, I recognized the feeling of an earthquake and this one was similar to a couple of others that I had experienced. We continued our phone conversation, figuring out whether I should refer to the earthquake in my game story, or make it a separate story after the game. In the meantime, esteemed Chicago baseball writer Phil Rogers wanted in the worst way to get the heck out of the place and proceeded to scramble away from his assigned seat — running on the top of the table, knocking everthing in his path out of the way. It was not one of his moments of glory.

I looked up and saw the light standards swaying. I looked down and the players were coming out of their respective dugouts, trying to figure it all out, looking for their families.

It was still dusk and no one was sure about the immediate impact on Game 3 — or beyond. When the shaking stopped, the fans cheared. I found that hard to believe. At first, we heard the start of the game would be delayed. But reports from the outside started coming in and  indicated that there had been some severe damage. Without electricty, we had no idea how bad it really was. Much later, I saw video of the Bay Bride and two-story viaduct in Oakland as to how much damage there was. The first thing that popped in my mind was that we had driven over that road just two hours earlier. What if the earthquake had happened about two hours earlier? It was a sobering thought, for sure.

Dusk turned to in darkness and the media was instructed by MLB officials to leave the ballpark.

We couldn’t write our stories because there was no electricity. We couldn’t dictate anything because there was no phone service. This was before cellphones.

So, out in the dark we went. Post-Intelligencer columnist John Owen had taken a cab to Candlestick that afternoon and had no way to get back to his hotel, so he, LaRue and I went to my rented car and inched our way out of the still-crowded parking lot. We drove away — not sure how we were going to get back to Alameda, located on the other side of the Bay Bridge, which obviously was closed and even less sure how we would write our stories and get them to our respective newspapers.

As we left a darkened Candlestick, we took 101 towards the City, discovering along the way that there were no lights anywhere. While I drove, LaRue was in the front seat writing his story and Owen was in the backseat writing his column. The inside dome light wasn’t the greatest, but it worked.

Thankfully, I had lived in San Jose for many years and realized that the best way to reach Alameda was to take 280 south from San Francisco to San Jose and then take the Nimitz Freeway north to Oakland.

As I drove south, we kept waiting to see some lights. And waiting. And Waiting. Finally, when we arrived in Palo Alto, there was light. So I drove to the nearest pay phone. Luckily, John had a penlight flashlight that was powerful enough for him to see his copy and read it over the phone to a P-I copy clerk, who typed the column. It must have been around 8 p.m. at the time. LaRue then dictated his story to his office in Tacoma. Meanwhile, I was in the car writing my own story.

Fortunately, the little flashlight had enough power remaining for me to dictate my story as well.

Mission accomplished, we climbed back into the car, drove to San Jose and on up to Alameda, arriving at around midnight. The good doctor was waiting for us, though not sure where we were or when (or if) we could get back.

The three scribes spent the night in Alameda and John returned to SF the next day via BART, which amazingly had not been damaged by the quake.

I remained in the Bay Area for several days, covering daily news briefings in San Franciso by then-Commission Fay Vincent, and writing “news” stories about the devastating quake that killed more than 60 people and injured more than 3,500 more.

Let me tell you, riding BART underwater was no picnic — especially the first time.

After a few days, I returned to Seattle and waited for the Fall Classic to resume. It finally did and I returned to cover the final two games and this was one Series when people were satisfied that it lasted only four games.

Including me. Even 20 years later.

— Jim Street

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