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Inside Candlestick Park on the Night the Earth Shook

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Players and fans evacuate Candlestick Park after Loma Prieta earthquake before Game 3 between San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. (Richard Mackson/Getty Images)
Players and fans evacuate Candlestick Park after Loma Prieta earthquake before Game 3 between San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. (Richard Mackson/Getty Images)

I remember October 17th, 1989 as unusually warm.

Perfect ballgame weather, even at notoriously cold and windy Candlestick Park. I was a 31-year-old deputy press secretary to Mayor Art Agnos, who helped me score a ticket to Game 3 of the World Series.

Just before game time, a little after 5 pm, I was in line for a hot dog at the ‘Stick, standing next to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Mark Barabak (who now works for the L.A. Times) and a fan who was visiting from Maryland. The stadium started to shake and rumble and we instantly knew it was an earthquake.

The power went off, but I confidently told the Marylander “it’s probably about a 4.5 quake. Nothing to worry about.”

There was no panic – actually the shaker for the most part excited most people at the park. I stayed in line, got my hot dog and returned to my seat.


In that pre-smart phone era, news traveled slowly. As I enjoyed my hotdog, radios in the stands tuned to KCBS and KGO began reporting that the Bay Bridge had “collapsed.” I remember that was the word they used -- collapsed. That certainly got my attention.

A few minutes later, as a group of officials conferred on the diamond, a large black helicopter landed in the outfield. I saw my boss, Mayor Agnos, get into the helicopter. At that point, I figured I was in for a very long night.

The game was cancelled, and the fans calmly left Candlestick. I boarded a bus headed back to Civic Center. The 101 freeway was eerily empty. As the sun went down, it became clear that the city was without power. The Muni bus loaded with fans headed up S. Van Ness Avenue, where traffic signals were out and drivers were uncommonly courteous.

I went to City Hall, which was closed, then walked a few blocks to the City’s Emergency Command Center on Turk Street – which we quickly learned was cramped, out-dated and completely inadequate. Just like Candlestick Park.

With international media in town for the World Series, images of a couple burning buildings in the Marina sent the mistaken signal that the entire city was ablaze. While that wasn’t true, as I drove through the Marina with the mayor that night we saw stunning damage. Streets were deformed with asphalt buckled up into V-shaped peaks. Hundreds of homes were in some form of collapse. Who knew the whole neighborhood had been built on landfill?

L to R: Scott Shafer, Mayor Art Agnos, Sen. Alan Cranston, state Sen. Milton Marks In 1989. (Courtesy of the City of San Francisco)
L to R: Scott Shafer, Mayor Art Agnos, U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston, State Sen. Milton Marks In 1989. (Courtesy: City of San Francisco)

In the coming days there was great debate about whether to delay or cancel the World Series. (With the Giants down two games to none, it already seemed pretty hopeless.) Despite some frightening moments for fans in some of the stands, Candlestick had escaped with minor damage and the Series resumed. The A’s put the Giants out of their misery by winning the final two games to sweep the series.

Three weeks later, voters narrowly rejected a ballot measure to build a new Giants ballpark in Mission Bay – the  site of AT&T Park, which voters approved a decade later.

As Candlestick awaits the wrecking ball (or whatever form of demolition it faces) next year, the city can take pride that despite the ‘Stick’s many, many shortcomings, its strength and durability prevented what could have been a horrific disaster that October evening in 1989.


On tonight’s broadcast of KQED NEWSROOM, viewers get an inside look at Candlestick Park and Scott Shafer sits down sports columnist Glenn Dickey to recount the stadium’s rich history. KQED NEWSROOM is a weekly news magazine program on television, radio and online. Watch Fridays at 8 p.m. on KQED Public Television 9, listen on Sundays at 6 p.m. on KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM and watch on demand here.

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