The San Francisco Giants are in the World Series. Those words always bring back memories from an earlier jaunt of theirs to the championship: the days back in 1989 when the Bay Area sent both its major league teams to the World Series. I often write about memories: what we remember, what we forget, and why. I often say that, at my age, I remember things that didn’t happen and forget things that did.
But I remember that October. Anyone who was in the Bay Area then does.
My memories of that time might surprise you, though. Not the baseball games, certainly. I couldn’t give you the scores of the 1989 series, even of the one I went to (which was, as fate would have it, Game 3). The Oakland A’s swept the Giants in four games, so it’s not worth remembering for Giants fans.
The earthquake was hard to forget, of course, and even now I remember it as an amazing coincidence of fates. A World Series between two local teams, hit by an earthquake at rush hour? You couldn’t write that in a Hollywood script, especially the part about televising it to a national audience. How many people avoided the roads and bridges that collapsed because they were in front of a television set? You’d think it would have stemmed population growth, but in reality, the state’s population grew 13.8% between 1990 and 2000.
Beyond the earthquake, though, lies a peripheral set of equally vivid and bittersweet memories. I was only at the game that day because my boss at the time, a man named Bob Billhimer, had four season tickets to Giants games. When the Giants made the playoffs, Billheimer didn’t keep the tickets for himself but rather distributed pairs among his staff. Billhimer could be gruff, barking out commands even while clenching a cigarette holder in his teeth, but I’ll always remember him for that amazing generosity.
I invited my friend John, who loved baseball (as you can see in the photo, he already had the cap and T-shirt). John and I had first become friends as fraternity brothers at Stanford. Over the years, we spent many wonderful days together, including the Bicentennial and my wedding day, when he served as one of my groomsmen. I was scared after the earthquake, not knowing what the world was going to look like beyond the stadium, but John was, as always, wonderfully serene. Almost exactly eight years later, John died at the age of 42, after a bout with melanoma. He had been by my side on the best and worst days of my life.
The earthquake hit on a Tuesday. Because the powers that be were still unsure about the safety of Candlestick Park, the following Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots was moved to Stanford Stadium. A friend who worked on campus said he could get me tickets, but having missed work for most of the week – first because of the game, and then while the building’s safety was determined – I thought it was more important to go to the office. Yes, I was that stupid.
The 49ers went on to a 14-2 season and a 55-10 Super Bowl win, still the highest number of points scored in a championship football game. You know the adage that no one sits up on their deathbed and wishes they’d spent more time at the office? I can confirm its veracity. To this day, I regret going to the office instead of to that football game.
Those are my memories of that very memorable October. I’ve lost contact with Billhimer; John’s widow Nancy moved back East; the 49ers are but a shadow of their former selves. It’s so hard to appreciate what you have when you have it, and so sad when it’s gone.
But occasionally Nancy will visit the Bay Area, and for old times’ sake, we go to a baseball game.