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On August 10th, 1989 twenty years ago today, San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky took the mound against the Cincinnati Reds at Candlestick Park for the first time in over a year.
Typically when your out for over a year it's because of Tommy John surgery, but that's not what Dravecky was attempting to comeback from.
The previous year Dravecky had been diagnosed with cancer in his left throwing arm. The cancer itself was not life threatening, but if something was not done soon, it could be.
Doctors had to virtually cut off his deltoid muscle, and freeze his humerus bone in order to prevent the cancer from spreading to the rest of his body.
It appeared at the time Dravecky's career was over, but there was something much bigger at stake then his major league career.
Dravecky himself was a journeyman. A pitcher with decent stuff, but one also had a rubber arm. For most of his career Dravecky had pitched for the San Diego Padres, who used Dravecky in virtually every role imaginable, from starter to long reliever to closer. He was effective in nearly all of them, and even made the all-star team in 1983.
Right around the trade deadline in 1987, the Padres traded Dravecky along with future MVP winner Kevin Mitchell to the San Francisco Giants. Dravecky would help lead the Giants to the postseason, and was virtually unhittable in the playoffs. In 15 innings of work Dravecky had an ERA of under one, however it would not be enough, as the Giants would fall to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in one of the most forgotten great playoff series in history.
The next year Dravecky seemed to settle in well behind Rick Reuschel in San Francisco's rotation, but after it was discovered Dravecky had cancer, his career appeared to be over, yet after months of rehab, miraculously Dravecky was back on the mound to face the Cincinnati Reds on this day 20 years ago.
Dravecky would pitch well in eight innings, good enough to earn a win.
His next start would be five days later in Montreal. In the fifth inning his humerus bone snapped. It was later discovered that the cancer had returned, eventually forcing his arm to be amputated, and Dave Dravecky's career was over.
Dravecky would be honored with numerous awards that season, including both the Hutch award, and the Willie Mac award for his courageous comeback, but unlike Lance Armstrong, Dravecky was never able to regain his old form, save for one brief moment on August 10th, 1989.
His story remains one of the most inspirational, and saddening in sports history. A true testament to the human will to survive, and the struggle against this disease which we know so little about, which wins out in the end all too often. A bittersweet story to say the least.
Currently Dravecky works as a motivational speaker, and still makes occasional public appearances with the Giants.