Handshakes and headshakes: Champion A’s meet 30 years later

© D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

OAKLAND — There were handshakes and, thinking about how quickly 30 years had gone, headshakes. There were joyful words about those who returned, guys you know like Eck, Carney, and Rickey, and mournful talk about those who had passed on, guys you knew like Hendu, Bob Welch and Tony Phillips.

Dave Stewart wondered good-naturedly whether he would fit into his old jersey (he did, if with a tug or two). Rickey Henderson wondered whether skills like bunting and base running would ever again become important.

The Oakland Athletics of 1989, many of them at least, returned Sunday to celebrate their triumph in the most tumultuous World Series ever, the one dissected by the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck only minutes before the start of the third game — which then wouldn’t be played for days.

A reunion. A reminder. Of course against the Giants, the rivals from across the Bay, the team the A’s swept in that ’89 Series, the last won by Oakland.

“It doesn’t feel like 30 years,” said Stewart, “but then I look in the mirror. I remember how well we played. I remember Dave Henderson having a huge series (two home runs, two doubles and four RBI). Mike Moore did an outstanding job for us on the mound. Dennis Eckersley got the final out.”

He took a throw from Phillips, the first baseman, the basic play that teams often use on the first day of spring training. But this wasn’t spring, it was October, and Al Michaels was doing the play-by-play.

Stewart, 62, who does A’s post-game commentary for NBC Bay Area, was born in Oakland, went to St. Elizabeth’s High, used to ride his bike to the Union 76 station at 66th and San Leandro down the block from the Coliseum and then climb the old fence and into the right field bleachers, hiding until the game started. His big thrill was meeting Reggie Jackson.

Carney Lansford, third baseman on that A’s Series team, grew up in Santa Clara — not long ago, he attended a reunion for another World Series champ, the San Jose squad that took the 1969 Little League World Series.

Rickey Henderson was from Oakland, Eckersley from Fremont. The A’s were stocked with kids from the East Bay, although until the Athletics moved to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968, when Eck was 15, he was a fan of the Giants, the team he would help defeat.

“To get the ball in your hand for the last out of a World Series,” said Eckersley, recalling the game’s ending, “is a big deal, especially after what we went through the year before.”

That’s when Kirk Gibson hobbled out of the dugout in the bottom of the ninth in Game One of the ’88 Series, hit a backdoor slider from Eck into the right field bleachers at Dodger Stadium and, as announcer Jack Buck shouted “I don’t believe it” into his microphone, arm-pumped and limped his way around the bases. L.A. would win the game and the Series, 4-1.

“We were ahead of our time,” quipped Eckersley, who now does TV commentary for the Boston Red Sox.

Tony LaRussa managed the ’89s A’s, as well as the ’88 and ’90 teams, both of which lost in the Series. “The Giants were a really good club,” said LaRussa of the other team in ’89. “Their pitching was a little beat up. But we were a very talented team and really motivated.”

A team put together by general manager Sandy Alderson, who, healthy after cancer treatment, came to the Coliseum with his usual sense of humor. On TV Saturday, noting the all-white A’s uniforms for Players’ Weekend (the Giants were dressed in black), Alderson joked, “These A’s uniforms look like the Diamondbacks playing in 15 different cities.”

Former A’s executive Walter Haas Jr., better known as Wally, was with Alderson across the Bay at Candlestick when the quake hit.

“The owners’ seats were down behind the dugouts,” said Haas, “but Sandy and I like to be away from people, so we could talk and, if needed, swear a little. The Giants put us in a box way out in left field. We could see (Giants left fielder) Kevin Mitchell and I don’t know what else. Then everything starts shaking. I thought the whole place was going to go.”

Candlestick cracked in a few places but held together. Ten days later, Game 3 would be played. “We had to go to the league for tickets,” said Haas. “We were put in some sort of Giants season ticket holder section. We had to pretend. We weren’t real happy.”

Until the Series was finished.