Aug 15, 2013, 11:44 AM PST
“I was cruising, back in the saddle. We were winning and I’m feeling great. All of a sudden I go out in the sixth inning, rear back to throw a fastball to Tim Raines and my left arm snaps in half. My career was over.” — Dave Dravecky.
The image of Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky’s arm snapping as he delivered his final pitch will never leave the memory of the fans watching. They didn’t have to deal with the aftermath, like Dravecky.
On this day 24 years ago, Dravecky took the mound for the final time. He had done the impossible. He overcame cancer in his left arm, between the elbow and shoulder, to return to the pitcher’s mound. After surgery to remove a tumor in his deltoid muscle in 1988, he spent over a year rehabbing and recovering, determined to get back on the mound.
“Doctors were telling me, short of a miracle, I’d never pitch again,” said Dravecky, in an exclusive interview with SFG Productions that was shared with Field of Teams. “That was a very difficult time, scary time.”
Dravecky somehow found a way to overcome the odds. He took the mound for the Giants on Aug. 10, 1989 in San Francisco and fired eight innings of three-run ball to defeat the Reds. It looked like the Giants were about to get a massive lift heading into the stretch drive.
“As much as it was an emotional roller-coaster, all of a sudden, 10 months later, on that beautiful day, Aug. 10, 1989, I’m standing on the mound and I’m going ‘Wow, this is amazing. God, thank you.’ I’ve got another opportunity to play this kids game that I love so much,” Dravecky said.
He didn’t know his next start would be his last.
Through five innings in Montreal, Dravecky held the Expos to just two runs before he delivered the last pitch of his career to Tim Raines in the sixth inning. He threw the ball and his left arm snapped. The players in the Giants dugout could actually hear the bone breaking. Dravecky fell to the ground in a heap as his frightened teammates rushed to his side. With his career and possibly his life hanging in the balance, Dravecky told Giants manager Roger Craig, “We’ve got to win this thing.”
The Giants won 3-2 and Dravecky got the win. But the worst of his problems were just beginning. In 1991, doctors delivered the heartbreaking news that Dravecky’s cancer had returned. The only way they could save him was to remove the arm. Clinical depression set in.
“The loss of an arm, the loss of a career. What am I gonna do with the next part of my life?” Dravecky wondered. “When I went through clinical depression… I mean, we were in counseling for 30 months. Thirty months. The first 18 months of our counseling was just dealing with this whole identity crisis.”
Dravecky had to cope with the loss of everything he worked so hard to achieve. Formerly a lefty, he had to learn how to live his life doing everything right-handed. He had to find a new version of himself. He was lost. He had to learn how to deal with his anger issues, admit he had a problem, put away his pride and ask for help.
He had to embrace the very thing he hated — his weakness.
“As a matter of fact, weakness is a good thing,” Dravecky said. “By admitting my weaknesses it was then that I was able to find strength through others who came into my life and encouraged me. The number one person being my wife, Jan.”
Twenty four long years later, the Giants are in Washington, D.C. playing the Nationals — who used to be the Expos. On this day 24 years ago, Dravecky was forced to live as a different version of himself. Now, he is committed to helping others that are dealing with tough times. He is happy with who he is, and he can sign autographs perfectly fine with his right arm.
“At the end of the day when you get right down to the bottom of it, it’s not what you do that matters much, it’s who you are,” Dravecky told SFG Productions. “I want people to remember me for who I am and not what I did. Although, it is nice to think that I had a 3.13 ERA. Not bad at all and in this day and age, might even bring a pretty good contract.”
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