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Earthquake jolts California, puts Series on hold

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 1999


It was going to be a World Series that, frankly, would draw most attention from northern California while the rest of the nation observed less passionately the neighborhood fight between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

Then the neighborhood started to shake.

At 5:04 p.m. PDT, about a half-hour before Game 3, an earthquake jolted Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

"I felt everything shaking so I made a mad dash for the middle of the field," Giants infielder Ken Oberkfell said.

Devil Rays designated hitter Jose Canseco, then an outfielder for the Athletics, was standing with his wife when the tremor hit.

"I got real dizzy and sick. I was scared," he said. "First I thought it was one of my migraines. When something like this happens, you realize how small a part of life baseball really is."

ABC was doing its pregame show when announcer Al Michaels said: "There's an earth . . ." and then there was nothing but static and the picture vanished.

Light towers swayed, the ground buckled and cracks tore through the stadium's concrete walls. Most fans left the stadium, some calmly, others in a rush, some carrying chunks of the stadium as mementos. Others held their ground, chanting, "Let's play ball," and still others stood 10 deep at concession stands to buy beer and souvenirs.

The following day, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent decreed that the World Series would be resumed in San Francisco when the stadium was deemed to be safe. All but four of the Giants and Athletics said they felt the World Series should go on. "If you listen to the news accounts, they make it sound like the Bay cracked open and everything slid in," San Francisco pitcher Mike LaCoss said. "Yeah, there've been some deaths and some losses. But you have to pick up the pieces and start over again."

Mark McGwire, then Oakland's first baseman, didn't quite agree. "We'll play the game, but it won't be the same," he said. "Nobody wants to play it now. I wouldn't play if they asked me, today. We're not in the mood to play baseball."

Ultimately the death toll was 66. While other parts of the city were devastated by the quake (it caused a mile-long span of a double-decker highway and a portion of the San Francisco Bay Bridge to collapse and destroyed highways and buildings), Candlestick survived. There were no major injuries among the nearly 60,000 fans who had packed the stadium.

Play resumed 11 days after the quake, the longest gap during a World Series since 1911 when rain delayed play for a week -- coincidentally -- between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics.

"Everyone I talk to is happy we're playing," Vincent said. "I don't think baseball intended to be a healing product. But it helps symbolize that San Francisco, Oakland, the bay area is in good shape. They're recovering, they're able to have the World Series continue. I sense Americans want to go forward with their lives. We cannot mourn forever."

Oakland, which had won the first two games, won the next two as well to sweep. -- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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