- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The sight was sickening. So was the sound. CRACK!

Left-hander Dave Dravecky of the San Francisco Giants lay writhing on the ground near the mound at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium as the crowd of 24,490 grew deathly silent. His cancer-weakened left arm had snapped as he delivered his 69th pitch of the night to the Expos’ Tim Raines in the sixth inning.

“It’s broke! It’s broke!” Dravecky moaned as players from both teams rushed to his side. Later he would add, “I never felt that kind of pain in my life. You could hear the popping noise all over the stadium. It felt like my arm was coming off.”

Which, in effect, it was. Dravecky endured a series of operations to try to save his arm and shoulder but to no avail. Two years later, both were amputated.

Although injuries are a part of any sport, this was the most gruesome imaginable; it ranked alongside other horrible on-field moments like Cleveland Indians ace Herb Score being hit in the eye by a line drive in 1957 and Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann having his leg broken on a vicious tackle in 1985.

Yet there was an added touch of tragedy to Dravecky’s downfall on Aug. 15, 1989, because it happened just five days after his greatest triumph. He ended his career with a 64-57 record and 3.13 ERA in eight seasons as both a starter and reliever with the San Diego Padres and Giants.

Dravecky first underwent surgery in October 1988 to remove a cancerous tumor and 50 percent of the deltoid muscle in the upper part of his pitching arm. Doctors told him at first that he would never pitch again and later that the arm could shatter if he did.

“Dave, it looks like Jaws took a bite out of you,” teammate and close friend Kevin Mitchell told Dravecky when he spotted the repaired limb.

No matter, because Dravecky was incredibly determined, courageous or foolhardy - pick your own word. After months of agonizing rehabilitation and a minor league stint, he thought he was ready to help the Giants in their ultimately successful pennant drive.

An awed and appreciative crowd of 34,810 at Candlestick Park nearly went bonkers Aug. 10. He got a standing ovation after each of his eight innings as he allowed only four hits in a 4-3 victory.

“I didn’t really manage that game,” Giants skipper Roger Craig said afterward. “I just sat there in awe.”

When the game ended, catcher Terry Kennedy told Dravecky to take a bow.

“So I did and then went back to the dugout, but the fans wouldn’t stop,” Dravecky said. “It was the most amazing, fun time I ever had playing baseball.”

The euphoria lasted less than a week, until his next start against the Expos.

“I went through the first three innings without giving up a hit,” Dravecky told Baseball Digest 15 years later. “My stuff wasn’t as good as it was against the Reds, but I was moving the ball around. … My arm felt a little funny in the dugout [after the fifth inning]. There was a tingling sensation.”

Talk about bad omens - and sheer guts. As he was taken from the field on a stretcher, he told Craig, “Win this game - I want this win.” And the Giants did win it for him 3-2.

Dravecky had surgery once more and returned to the team as a spectator. But during the pennant-clinching celebration in late September the arm was broken again as players piled upon players. X-rays revealed the cancer had returned, and he underwent radiation and other treatments that ultimately cured the disease.

As far as we know, Dravecky never complained about the misfortune that ended his baseball career at 33. Instead he relied on his deep faith and set out to help others.

In August 1991, two months after the amputation, Dravecky and his wife, Jan, started Outreach of Hope, a Denver-based organization that seeks to ease the emotional pain for victims of cancer, amputation or other serious illnesses.

Dravecky himself returned to an active lifestyle. He learned to write with his right hand, ride a motorcycle and hunt and fish. He has never wasted time feeling sorry for himself.

And recently Dravecky, now 53, got off a pretty good one-liner in a interview with Sports Illustrated.

“I’m still madly in love with my bride [of 30 years],” he said. “She’s the wind beneath my wing - singular.”

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