Sports

Karl Lindholm: ‘I was sure he had been shot’; baseball and high anxiety

PITCHER DAVE DRAVECKY pitched eight years in the Majors for the Padres and the Giants. His career came to an end at Stade Olympique in a game in Montreal in August 1989.

I have attended, in person, thousands of baseball games, many thousands, but one stands out in high relief: This game was the most dramatic I have witnessed in any sport ever.
As I mentioned in this space a couple months ago, my wife Brett worked for the San Francisco Giants for three-and-a-half seasons, 1983-86, when she was in graduate school — that’s over 300 games. She ran the message board in Candlestick Park, the only woman in the press box.
She came to teach at Middlebury in ’86, and our mutual interest in baseball was not incidental to our relationship. Her Giants came to Montreal twice a year. She would write to her friend, the Giants Traveling Secretary, who would leave tickets for us at “Will Call.”
We climbed in the car on warm summer afternoons, drove for a couple hours, pretty much a straight shot up 89 across the border, a right and a left, across a pont, et voilà, the Big O.
Good seats too! We sat with the extended Giant “family,” which included the literal family members of players from the Northeast. At one game, we sat near the family of Giant pitcher Billy Swift from Portland, Maine. Quite a family it was too: Billy was the 14th of 15 Swift children.
(I have always wondered if I might have been a better pitcher had my name been “Billy Swift,” not this clunky ethnic one.)
At this game, Aug. 15, 1989, my 10-year-old daughter Jane was with us along with Craig Hanson, the 9-year-old son of family friends (Craig is now and has been for the past 14 years the baseball coach at Dickinson College and was profiled by Andy Kirkaldy in last week’s Independent).
This night, we were seated just behind a row of Manwarings, the family of 23-year-old Giants catcher Kirt Manwaring, from Horseheads, N.Y. (near Elmira). Kirt was a backup that year to starter Terry Kennedy (who a few years later, 1994, managed our own Vermont Expos).
The bi-cultural flavor of games in Montreal was a source of real enjoyment. As soon as I got to my seat, I bought a chien chaud. With great flourishes, the PA announcer read the names of the players coming to bat by position: le lanceur, the pitcher; les voltigeurs, outfielders. Andres Galarraga, the popular Venezuelan, was the le Grand Chat.
There was special interest in this game. Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky was making only his second start of the season. The previous fall, October 1988, surgeons had removed a cancerous tumor and some of the muscle from his left arm. While his doctors urged caution, Dravecky had undertaken a determined effort to return to pitching and was playing in the minors by mid-summer.
In his first start, on Aug. 10, Dravecky had pitched eight strong innings (a shutout for the first seven) in Candlestick Park, defeating the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3. He was poised for an inspirational comeback.
Against the Expos, he cruised through five scoreless innings. The Giants were up 3-0 when the Expos came to bat in the fateful bottom of the sixth.
Light-hitting Expo second baseman Domasio Garcia led off with a homer (he only hit three all year). Dravecky then hit the next batter, Galarraga, sending him to first.
On the next pitch, the first pitch to Expos Hall of Famer Tim Raines, the sound of a pop or crack could be heard throughout the stadium. Dravecky let out a scream and fell to the ground, writhing in pain. His teammates raced in from their positions to the mound, first baseman Will Clark getting there first.
The 25,000 fans in attendance stood in mute attention, utter silence. I was sure, at first, that Dravecky had been shot. That seemed to me the best explanation for what I had just witnessed.
Dravecky was attended to on the field for what seemed an eternity, then was taken off on a stretcher to a polite sustained applause from the crowd. The Giants’ relief pitcher Jeff Brantley came on and was given all the time he needed to warm up. We sat there in silence.
The game resumed to no crowd noise at all, none in the immediate aftermath of the injury, or for that matter, little or none for the rest of the game. The mood throughout was somber.
Raines hit a long fly to left to score Galarraga, who had raced to third base in the confusion, to make it 3-2 Giants, before Brantley retired the next two Expo batters.
My sense was that even the most partisan Expo fans were quietly rooting for a Giants win. It seemed fitting. The air was thick with tension. Brantley did his job, pitching three scoreless, hitless innings, then gave way in the ninth to Giants closer Steve Bedrosian.
In the bottom of the ninth, with one out, Bedrosian gave up a single to Tim Wallach. Pinch runner Rex Hudler then attempted a steal of second — and Manwaring, who had been inserted for defensive purposes, threw the ball into center field, Hudler taking third. There was agony among the Manwaring clan in front of us.
With the tying run on third, Bedrosian managed to get the next two outs on full 3-2 counts.
Game over: Giants win, 3-2. We could all exhale.
The teams filed solemnly off the field, again to polite applause from the fans. There was none of that familiar echoing din of massed fans merging onto the stadium concourses and heading for the exits and the parking lots and into the night — and, for us, the drive home.
Reports the next day revealed that Dravecky had broken the humerus bone in his left arm throwing that pitch. He never threw another one, and in June 1991 his arm and shoulder were amputated, preventing further spread of the cancer.
He lives today in California at age 65. His post-baseball career has been as an inspirational speaker and “community ambassador” for the Giants.
About that game, my daughter Jane remembers “how scary and unnerving it was to see the pitcher go down in the middle of the game. Especially as a kid. And I remember the stadium going very, very quiet.”
Craig Hanson also has a keen recollection more than 30 years later: “What I remember most is the eerie silence following the injury. I knew that something was seriously wrong.
“I also remember coming home to a very worried mother who had seen a trailer for the late local news citing a tragedy at Olympic Stadium.
“She was relieved that the roof hadn’t collapsed and we were safe.”
Editor’s note: See a video of Dravecky’s final pitch with this story online at addisonindependent.com.
Karl Lindholm, Ph.D., is the Emeritus Dean of Advising/Assistant Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College. Email him at Lindholm@middlebury.edu.

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