How 1989 earthquake engulfed World Series between Giants, Athletics

Thirty years ago, more than 60,000 fans at Candlestick Park awaited the start of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. Many more watched from their Bay Area homes. 

The collective affection for baseball may have saved lives. At 5:04 p.m, the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake began and lasted about 15 seconds, causing major structural damage along a wide swath of land.

If not for the imminent contest between the A’s and Giants, traffic on the collapsing Nimitz Freeway and Bay Bridge span could have been far worse, potentially increasing the amount of casualties. As is, the earthquake resulted in 63 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries around Northern California.

The odds of one of Northern California’s biggest earthquakes striking at that particular moment were incredibly long. Between 1900 and 1989, there were nine earthquakes with a magnitude above 6.0 in the region, and just one at 6.9 or above, according to official U.S. records. There has only been one World Series pitting Oakland against San Francisco.

People tuning in for Game 3 on TVs around the U.S. watched chaos unfold in real time, the pregame broadcast turning to fuzz as Al Michaels in the background could be heard exclaiming about there being an earthquake.

There was talk of canceling the rest of the World Series altogether. There was talk of playing the remaining games in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Game 3 took place 10 days later on Oct. 27.

Because one natural disaster had already shaken the series, there weren’t any chances taken for whether one happened again. Every usher at Candlestick Park was given a flashlight, and FBI agents were brought to the stadium to assist potential relief efforts, according to a New York Times report from that month.

”God forbid anything happens,” then-San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos said at the time, “but if anything happens, this will be the safest place to be.”

Had the A’s not swept and prevented the series from heading back to Oakland, there would have been several potential conflicts. A “Monday Night Football” game scheduled to be shown on ABC, the same channel offering the World Series, could have forced a rare day game for Game 5. And a Rolling Stones concert slated for the Coliseum could have chopped down the crew’s preparation window for the event, significantly upping costs.

The chance of another historic-level earthquake to occur during any MLB game, let alone a World Series game, is about zero.

But this season, baseball received its closest brush with what happened in 1989. On July 5, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit 150 miles northeast of Dodger Stadium in Ridgecrest, Calif. It could be felt in the fourth inning of a game between the Dodgers and Padres.

Unlike the aftermath of the earthquake 30 years ago, though, baseball moved on without delay. Padres left-hander Eric Lauer threw a strike as the stadium shook.

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