At Giants reunion, tales of flying hot dog wrappers and the quake
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Art Spander in A's, Giants, articles, baseball

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Some of the nostalgia wasn’t so sweet. “Hot dog wrappers blowing around,” Will Clark recalled about games at — where else? — Candlestick Park.

Much of it was very sweet. “Thanks to the fans who went through it,” was Clark’s next comment.

Will the Thrill, or Nuschler, the middle name by which he occasionally was referred. This was a Sunday for nostalgia, for a return to San Francisco — if not the ‘Stick — by players from the 1989 Giants, the team that took part in arguably the most infamous World Series in history.

This also was a day for Clark, whose uniform number, 22, will be retired, as announced by Giants president Larry Baer — who, in a way, was celebrating his own return to the team.

Thirty years; some guys with less hair (right, Will?). Some with more pounds (Kevin Mitchell was filling that jersey).

Backslaps and hugs. The way Mitchell and Clark embraced belied those rumors they were more rivals than teammates.

These men, now in their 50s, other than Roger Craig, the manager, 89, and Norm Sherry, the pitching coach, 88, brought their friendships and stories to Oracle Park as part of a 30th reunion.

“Would love to have played here,” said the retired pitcher Scott Garrelts, surely echoing the thoughts of others who with the Giants in the 1980s never had that opportunity.

You had to be here, or at least be involved in baseball, as player, executive, fan or journalist, to understand those up-from-nowhere Giants. So much of their existence was shaped by Candlestick and the all-too-present woe-is-us atmosphere.

In 1985, Al Rosen became general manager and Craig manager of the Giants. The culture changed. As did their record.

“Roger said let’s use Candlestick to our advantage,” recalled Garrelts, who now lives in Louisiana, “Yeah, it’s cold and nasty, but when you walk out that door to the field, why start cussing? Before Roger and Al, we struggled.”

In fact, during the reunion, Baer, who only returned July 1 from the four-month suspension imposed by baseball for a confrontation with his wife that was captured on video, mentioned that the current Giants carried Craig’s “hmm baby spirit.”

Rosen was all tradition and discipline. “Al didn’t let you get away with anything,” said Garrelts. “He didn’t care who you were. These days, there’s so much emphasis on analytics. How in the world did Willie Mays ever play?”

The reunion guest list included Kelly Downs, Ernie Riles, Atlee Hammaker, Craig Lefferts and, of course, Dusty Baker, who would go on to manage the Giants in the 2002 World Series. That went seven games, the Giants losing to the Angels.

The 1989 Series, Giants against the A’s, the “Battle of the Bay,” as it was labeled, went only four games, Oakland sweeping — but also going almost two weeks after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck a few moments before the first pitch of Game 3, shattering freeways and knocking out a section of the Bay Bridge.

“I was in the locker room watching TV,” said Garrelts, “and suddenly the room just rolled. I busted out the door to the parking lot. Nothing was moving. I came back in, went out to the field and realized there were fires in the city, and the Bay Bridge was down.”

Chris Speier knew earthquakes, if not any as intense as Loma Prieta, which had a magnitude of 7.1 or 7.2. Speier grew up in Alameda, went to UC Santa Barbara and as a shortstop joined San Francisco to start a baseball career he hopes to resume with the Giants in some capacity.

Speier on the afternoon of the quake, which hit at 5:04 pm. Oct. 17, 1989, had finished warm-ups and was talking to Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers, who were to sing the national anthem.

“We looked into the outfield,” Speier, now 69, remembers about the moments the quake hit, “and guys trying to run couldn’t run. It looked like the ocean was coming through. Huge waves of grass.

“Larry looks at me. His face is completely white. He ran out through the doors. He was done.”

The Giants were not. Thirty years later, they came back to hear cheers in a ballpark they never knew.

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