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Giants' Dravecky describes cancer battle for Rotarians

During a Rotary Club of Los Altos meeting Jan. 23, former San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky recalled how his bout with cancer ended his Major League Baseball career and cost him his left arm.

Dravecky said he was “on top of the world” until 1988, when he felt a lump in his pitching arm. He needed surgery to remove a tumor in his deltoid muscle, and doctors warned he would never pitch again.

Dave Drevecky
Charles Lindauer/Rotary Club of Los Altos
Former Giants pitching great Dave Dravecky addresses members of the Rotary Club of Los Altos at their Jan. 23 meeting.

“That was a very difficult, scary time,” Dravecky told Rotarians, noting that he appreciated the Giants’ way of caring so deeply for him. “My faith is an important part of my story.”

His wife, Jan, and his Christian faith helped him through his recuperation period. After undergoing rehabilitation for more than a year, he returned to Major League action with the Giants in 1989 – the year they won the National League pennant. But he broke his arm again that year, ending his career. Worse yet, in 1991 doctors confirmed his cancer had returned. To save his life, Dravecky opted to have his left arm and shoulder amputated.

Before cancer struck, Dravecky had a successful run as a pitcher. The lefty compiled a career 64-57 record with a 3.13 ERA with the Giants and San Diego Padres before that.

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Dravecky in 1978 in the 21st round. He started out earning $500 a month.

“I stunk in my first year with the Pirates,” he said, but the team’s faith in him fired up his confidence.

He said he enjoyed the bus rides with his teammates and the small coaching staff, reminiscing that “it was even fun when the bus broke down.”

After losing his pitching arm, Dravecky fell into a clinical depression, leaving him a “very angry man.” He admitted to being verbally abusive to his family. But Jan stuck by him. Together they faced lengthy anger counseling. Now, he said, after 41 years together, they are “more in love than ever.” These days, Dravecky makes the rounds as a motivational speaker.

Dravecky’s longtime friend Mario Alioto, executive vice president of the Giants’ business operations, invited him to become the Community Ambassador for the team.

“Being a Giant is amazing,” said Dravecky, who has served 10 years in that role.

With fans’ support and encouragement, he was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, which he said “means so much” to him and his family.

Tony Savicke, vice president of the local Hall of Fame, accompanied Dravecky and Alioto to the Rotary Club speaking engagement.

The next time you enjoy a bobblehead, Alioto said in closing, “remember that Dave Dravecky invented them!”

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.

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