American baseball player
Fate has been both kind and cruel to baseball's Dave Dravecky. First he was gifted with a talent for pitching that led him to the major leagues and two All-Star games. Then that same gift was cruelly taken away as cancer destroyed Dravecky's left arm—his throwing arm. But Dravecky, whose Christian faith led him through the hard times, has devoted his post-baseball life to helping others who have faced the ravages of cancer and amputation.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Dravecky "seemed like the ultimate, all-American, clean-cut athlete," according to an essay for Contemporary Heroes and Heroines. He graduated from his hometown Youngstown State University, then was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates to play Double-A ball, honing his game in such towns as Buffalo, New York, and Amarillo, Texas. Called to the majors in 1982, Dravecky took the mound for the San Diego Padres, serving as both starting and relief pitcher. The left-hander reached an early peak; in 1984, Dravecky threw more than ten scoreless innings of relief in postseason play, first in the National League playoffs versus the Chicago Cubs, and then during the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
Getting the Bad News
Traded to the San Francisco Giants in 1987, Dravecky continued to show the form that won him acclaim. He again pitched in the postseason and went on to gain a shutout during the Giants' opening day in 1988. But something was amiss with Dravecky's left arm. He initially experienced stiffness in his shoulder, which led to a three-week stint on the disabled list. Doctors detected a
lump, but told Dravecky that it was only a harmless cyst. But the pitcher suspected a deeper problem.
Dravecky and his wife, Jan, left San Francisco in September 1988, returning home to Ohio where he could have more tests done. According to a Newsmakers essay, "he and his wife were waiting for the news when they heard the doctors discussing his case through an open door. The diagnosis of cancer was almost certain, and major surgery was inevitable. The Draveckys heard the worst before the doctors could break it to them gently." A biopsy had revealed a rare form of cancer known as a desmoid tumor. The malignancy was positioned on Dravecky's left deltoid muscle, a crucial muscle that allows pitchers to wind up and extend the arm during a throw. To save Dravecky's arm—and his life—the tumor would have to be removed, along with a large portion of the patient's arm.
On October 7, 1988—the Dravecky's wedding anniversary—Dave Dravecky underwent surgery at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic. Doctors removed the tumor and most of the deltoid muscle that surrounded it. To combat the cancer's return, the doctors froze Dravecky's upper arm bone where the tumor had been, leaving a fist-sized pit in the front of his upper arm. From the beginning, Dravecky had been advised that he would never pitch again. But he had other plans.
A Brief, Bright Comeback
Sessions of painful physical therapy followed as Dravecky learned a new way to maneuver his left arm. "I started tossing a football in January, picked up my first baseball in March, and by June I was able to throw batting practice" at San Francisco's Candlestick Park, noted Dravecky in a People interview with Liz MacNeil. "I had very little velocity, but just being able to throw from the mound to home plate was a thrill." Dravecky returned to the minors, throwing innings for the Phoenix Firebirds, augmenting his recovery with running and weight training to build strength and stamina. Finally in the summer of 1989 Dravecky was called back to the Giants.
The publicity surrounding the pitcher's return to the big leagues came to a head when Dravecky stepped to the mound on August 10, to riotous ovations by the crowd. He had not pitched a big-league game in fourteen months. More than two hours later he had made his mark with a 4-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Dravecky had hurled five strikeouts and only one walk. According to Craig Neff's Sports Illustrated report, Dravecky's throws reached speeds of 88 miles per hour. When a relief pitcher was put in during the eighth inning, the crowd of 34,810 called Dravecky back for one of his many standing ovations. "I've been in five World Series," Giants manager Roger Craig told the Los Angeles Times, "and this is my biggest thrill. I've never been involved with something like this."
The thrill felt by Craig and baseball fans was short-lived, however. In his second comeback game, on August 15, 1989, Dravecky was pitching in Montreal against the Expos. During the sixth inning, he wound up to hurl a fastball to batter Tim Raines. As Dravecky released the ball, a loud crack emanated—a sound so sharp it was heard in the stands. The next image was of Dravecky collapsing on the mound. The pitch had broken his left humerus bone. "My immediate reaction was to grab my arm because I thought it had left my body," Dravecky recalled in the People article.
Dravecky again faced a long and painful rehabilitation. But this time recovery didn't make itself apparent. The former All-Star suffered strep and staph infections; meanwhile, his once-golden left arm had become "a nuisance," as Dravecky told Sports Illustrated contributor William Nack. "A pest. It became 'The Thing.' It got to the point where the only thing I could use it for was to put my socks on." The final blow came in May 1990, when the simple act of putting his left hand down for balance caused another blow to his humerus. The cancer had returned.
Life Goes On
After a series of operations and radiation treatments, Dravecky after ten months came to the conclusion that there was only one viable option left. On June 18, 1991, Dravecky's left arm and shoulder were amputated. "I felt like I lost a real good buddy," the pitcher told Nack. "You know, this friend that has been attached to me all those years; that allowed me to do something that I enjoyed more than just about anything on this earth … that friend is gone." What remained was "phantom pain," a medical phenomenon that causes an amputee to feel pain where a limb has been removed. "It burns," he explained to Nack. "Very hot and painful. A constant burn. Not a throb, but a burning in the fingers and the palm, like someone is taking a match and sticking it right at the end of my fingertips."
Still, the amputation gave Dravecky a new chance for life. As he recovered, he found joy in being able to get a full night's sleep, or to play with his children without fear of further injury. Throughout the entire ordeal, Dravecky and his family have relied on their devout Christianity to help both Dave and Jan deal with severe depression. Dravecky spoke frankly about his life in his book When You Can't Come Back: A Story of Courage and Grace. "I used to feel [my condition] was tragic," wrote the onetime pitcher. "I used to be preoccupied with my own needs; now I am learning compassion for others. I used to depend on myself; now I lean more on God." In his retirement from baseball, Dravecky wasn't forgotten by his fans. Pitching "righty," he threw out the first ceremonial ball at a 1998 Giants game.
|SDP: San Diego Padres. SFG: San Francisco Giants.|
Dave Dravecky is one of 7.4 million cancer survivors in the United States. In 1991 he and his wife, Jan, founded Outreach of Hope (formerly the Dave Dravecky Foundation), a nonprofit organization that provides support to cancer patients and their families, as well as others facing adversity. An author affiliated with the Christian publisher Zondervan, Dravecky is also a professional speaker, touching on points inspirational, motivational, and evangelical.
"If you can't admire Dave Dravecky," Giants teammate Terry Kennedy told the San Francisco Herald during the pitcher's 1989 comeback attempt, "then something is wrong with you. He's an example for people who have cancer especially, and for people who have major afflictions in general. It's something that he can throw a ball at all. This is a guy who wasn't supposed to be able to comb his hair."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Online: http://www.outreachofhope.com.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY DRAVECKY:
Comeback, Zondervan, 1990.
When You Can't Come Back: A Story of Courage and Grace, Cahners, 1992.
|1956||Born February 14, in Youngstown, Ohio|
|1978||Drafted by Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1982||Made professional debut with San Diego Padres|
|1987||Traded to San Francisco Giants|
|1988||Named starting pitcher for Giants opening day|
|1988||Discovered malignant growth on left shoulder|
|1988||Cancerous tumor removed in operation, October 7|
|1989||Returns to baseball, August 10|
|1989||Pitching arm breaks in second comeback game|
|1989||Ends baseball career|
|1990||Becomes a motivational speaker and author|
|1991||Left arm and shoulder amputated|
|1991||Founds Outreach of Hope Ministries|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1978||Graduated Youngstown State University|
|1984||Pitched in National League playoffs and World Series|
|1987||Tied the record for fewest hits given up in a playoff game|
|1989||Won Willie McCovey Award|
|1990||Won American Cancer Society's Courage Award|
|1991||"Dave Dravecky Day" at Candlestick Park, San Francisco|
|1998||Threw out first pitch for Giants game versus Montreal Expos|
|1998||Given Lou Gehrig Ironman Award|
|1999||Named to Giants' Team of the Decade for 1980s.|
(With C. W. Neal) The Worth of a Man. Zondervan, 1996.
Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Book III. Detroit: Gale, 1998.
Dravecky, Dave. Comeback. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990.
Dravecky, Dave. Dave Dravecky. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.
Dravecky, Dave. When You Can't Come Back: A Story of Courage and Grace. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.
Dravecky, Dave, and C. W. Neal The Worth of a Man. Zondervan, 1996.
Gire, Judy. A Boy and His Baseball: The Dave Dravecky Story. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.
Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale, 1992.
Jaffe, Michael. "Recovering." Sports Illustrated. (July 1, 1991): 11.
Los Angeles Times. (August 11, 1989).
McNeil, Liz. "After a Courageous Comeback, a Star Pitcher Breaks His Arm but Keeps His Faith Intact." People (September 11, 1989): 69.
Nack, William. "'Let's Make the Best of It.'" Sports Illustrated. (July 22, 1991): 34.
Neff, Craig. "A Broken Comeback." Sports Illustrated. (August 28, 1989).
Neff, Craig. "Armed with a Miracle." Sports Illustrated. (August 21, 1989): 18.
San Francisco Herald. (August 17, 1989).
Zoller, Harriet. "Pitcher Dave Dravecky Captures Courage Award." Cancer News. (Summer, 1990): 4.
Sketch by Susan Salter
Salter, Susan. "Dravecky, Dave." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (September 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900148.html
Salter, Susan. "Dravecky, Dave." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Retrieved September 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900148.html