The San Diego Padres are currently down in Peoria, Arizona in Spring Training preparing for their 50th anniversary season. In recognition of this milestone, we’ve already taken a look back at the team’s National League championship seasons in 1984 (see here) and 1998 (see here). Last week, I posted my player selections for the San Diego Padres’ 50th Anniversary All-Time Team (see here).
At this point, how about if I just put my keyboard on ice and wait for Opening Day, March 28th, when the Padres will host the San Francisco Giants to open what will hopefully be a winning season now that free-agent slugger, Manny Machado, is on the roster? Well, on second thought, I do have another important post about the Padres that needs to be told that actually involves spirituality.
I have a special fondness for the 1984 Padres team. After fifteen very lean years, the collection of wily vets and young players assembled by GM “Trader Jack” McKeon came out of Spring Training like gangbusters and never looked back, eventually winning the 1984 NL Pennant. I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in 1983, so I was very interested when I found out that three of the pitchers on the ’84 team; Eric Show (rhymes with “cow”), Dave Dravecky, and Mark Thurmond, were all born-again Christians and hung out together. While their teammates went out barhopping when the Padres were on the road, the trio would stay behind in one of their hotel rooms and have fellowship together with God’s Word and prayer.
But the three also caused quite a bit of controversy for the team. Show was very interested in conservative national politics and had joined the John Birch Society (JBS). If you’re younger than fifty, there’s a good chance you may have never heard of the organization. The JBS was a radical conservative group founded in 1958 that believed America was being undermined by a national and worldwide communist conspiracy. As just one example, they linked the civil rights movement directly to the Kremlin in Moscow and argued that it was the inviolable right of each state to determine its own racial/segregation policies. As a result, the general public equated the society with the Ku Klux Klan and the “Red Scare” hysteria of the 1940s and 50s. By 1984, the JBS was already beginning to fade into obscurity, but Show talked Dravecky and Thurmond into joining the organization and the three would regularly regale their teammates with tales of how the U.S. was being betrayed by its political leaders. Show revealed the extremity of his politics when he told everyone who would listen that even President Ronald Reagan was too liberal for his liking. Huh?
The political debates stayed within the teams’ clubhouse until June 15, 1984 when Show, Dravecky, and Thurmond manned the John Birch Society information booth at the Del Mar Fair twenty miles outside San Diego dressed in their Padres uniforms. The resulting media feeding frenzy threatened to sidetrack the Padres’ quest for the NL pennant. When reporters asked the African-American players on the Padres what they thought about their teammates’ affiliation with the JBS, they replied that they certainly didn’t like the society, but felt the three were not personally racist. Padres management clamped down and ordered Show, Dravecky, and Thurmond to keep their politics to themselves.
Mark Thurmond was subsequently traded to Detroit during the 1986 season and quit the JBS in the early 90s. He has declined to talk about his former political activism and leads a quiet life in Texas.
Dave Dravecky was traded to San Francisco in 1987. Cancer was subsequently found in the shoulder of his pitching arm in 1988, and the surgery to remove the tumor forced him out of baseball. But Dravecky was determined to return to the sport he loved and followed an aggressive rehabilitation program. He caught the attention of the entire nation when he made his improbable comeback on August 10, 1989, but suffered a dramatic arm break while pitching in his next start. Shortly afterward, X-Rays determined the cancer had returned. After subsequent treatments proved unsuccessful, his left arm and shoulder were amputated in 1991 as a life-saving measure. Praise God, Dravecky has used his public platform to witness on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! I’m looking forward to reviewing Dravecky’s book, “Comeback” (1990), which I borrowed from our local library. Like Thurmond, Dravecky also left the John Birch Society at some point.
Eric Show played for the Padres until 1990 and amassed more wins – 100 – than any other pitcher in team history. But Eric missed his two good friends and Christian brothers (Dravecky had been his roommate on the road) and became increasingly alienated inside and outside the locker room. A couple of rather infamous on-field incidents badly shook Show’s confidence.* At the time the team released him, Show was in a downward spiral of drug addiction. Ironically, Eric Show had become a poster boy for the moral decay he had railed against as a John Bircher. He began by using methamphetamine to give him an “edge” while playing and “graduated” to cocaine. In 1994, separated from his wife because of his drug addiction, Show died in a rehab center after ingesting a “speedball” (a mixture of cocaine and heroine). Dravecky gave the eulogy at Show’s funeral service, the only former teammate to attend.
What can we take away from the above? Well, I’ll venture to say that the three Christian brothers got sidetracked by the temporal. Remember 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Fame, fortune, and worldly concerns and pleasures ultimately don’t satisfy, but sometimes even believers get caught up in the whirlwind of temporal temptations and circumstances. In his eulogy, Dravecky warned that every believer can potentially lose their focus, just like Eric did. Run the race, brothers and sisters. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t quit. Finish strong for God’s glory!
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
*On Sept. 11, 1985, Show gave up the hit to Pete Rose that broke Ty Cobb’s previous long-standing record of most career hits. Show was roundly criticized, even by his teammates, for sitting down on the mound while the celebration for Rose in Cincinnati continued unabated for twenty minutes. On July 7, 1987, three days after Dravecky was traded, Show tried to brush back Chicago Cubs slugger, Andre Dawson, and hit him in the face. Brushing back hitters is part of baseball, but even Show’s teammates turned on the him over the incident.
Remembering Baseball’s Right-Wing Rotation