Obituary: Adrian Devine (1951-2020)

RIP to Adrian Devine, a relief pitcher for the Braves and Rangers in the 1970s. He died on June 27 at the age of 68, after a long battle with cancer. Devine played for the Atlanta Braves (1973, 1975-76, 1978-79) and Texas Rangers (1977, 1980).

According to Devine’s daughter, Renee Rafanelli, Devine first was diagnosed with tongue cancer about 15 years ago. The cancer went into remission until earlier this year, and it spread to his brain and then his lungs. After consulting with his doctors, he came back to his home in Gwinnett County, Ga., for hospice care. Devine’s friends and neighbors built a garden for him to enjoy in his final month. The garden was created with the help of friends, neighbors, former teammates, his coworkers from Creekland Middle School and several area landscaping and nursery companies.

Devine was no longer able to speak, but he wrote a thank-you letter that his daughter read. “As I want for my final day I’m overwhelmed by the acts of kindness,” he wrote. “This is my funeral — cards, letters, gifts, flowers and more flowers, kind words, flowers.”

Paul Adrian Devine was born in Galveston, Texas, on December 2, 1951. His father, Paul “Chop” Devine, played professional baseball in the West Texas-Mexico League and played semi-pro and American Legion ball as well. He attended Ball High School and played baseball and basketball — unsurprisingly, considering he would reach a height of 6’4″. In his senior year, he helped pitch his team to a tie for the zone’s championship. He had a 9-2 record and 0.87 ERA, striking out 134 batters in 88 innings. He was scouted by the Braves’ Al LaMacchia and drafted by Atlanta in the Second Round of the 1970 amateur draft.

Devine’s first pro season in 1970 was rather forgettable, as he won 5, lost 6 and had an ERA of 5.18 for the Magic Valley Cowboys of Twin Falls, Idaho. He pitched better in 1971 with Greenwood of the Class-A Western Carolinas League, but a sore arm limited him to 8 appearances, including 7 starts, and 30 innings of work.Devine worked out with the Braves at their 1972 training camp, and impressed enough that he was considered for a potential call-up if the Braves’ young starters struggled. As it happened, he spent the entire season with the AA Savannah Braves. On the bright side, he worked 130 innings in 25 appearances and won 12 games, relieving any concerns about his arm.

Devine started 1973 in AAA Richmond and had a 2-7 record when he was brought to the major leagues for the first time. He was recalled when outfielder Oscar Brown went on the disabled list and made his MLB debut in a start against the Giants on June 27. He gave up 5 earned runs in 5 innings, including the first of two home runs by Dave Rader on the day. He didn’t make another start that year but came out of the bullpen 23 times for the Braves. He picked up 4 saves and won his first game on July 28, after throwing 2 scoreless innings against the Astros. He finished the year with a 2-3 record, a 6.40 ERA and a stiff arm that limited him to just two appearances in the month of September.

Welcome to the majors. Adrian Devine, in his first MLB game, watches San Francisco’s Dave Rader trot around the bases after a home run. Source: The Charlotte Observer, June 28, 1973

Devine barely pitched in 1974, making 4 starts for Richmond and allowing 14 runs in 14 innings. An offseason of rest didn’t help his arm at all, and doctors supposedly told him to give up on baseball and go back to school. The problem was that he had a college scholarship plan with the Braves, and if he retired, the scholarship would be lost. A future edition of the Atlanta Braves media guide (via Sports Illustrated), continued the story: “However, Devine submitted to surgery and decided to give baseball one more try in spring training in 1975. His arm suddenly came back to life and he’s been an excellent pitcher ever since.”

The problem was, according to a couple newspaper reports, that his right shoulder kept popping out of its socket, causing severe tissue damage. The Braves brought him along slowly after he had recovered from surgery, putting him on pitch counts in Richmond in 1975. He won 10 games and threw 6 complete games (so much for pitch counts in the 1970s) and rejoined the Braves that September. He was rocked in his first start but rebounded with a win in 6 shutout innings against the Astros on September 9. He appeared in 3 more games out of the pen and finished 1975 with a 1-0 record and 4.41 ERA. After that, Devine wouldn’t return to the minor leagues until his days in the big leagues were over.

Devine made a few spot starts in his career, but he mostly pitched in relief and became a very effective stopper for the Braves in 1976. His 73 relief innings were second-most on the Braves relief corps. (Bruce Dal Canton threw a third of an inning more.) His 5 victories were more than any Braves reliever and a couple of their starters, too. Devine’s 9 saves led the team. Most importantly, his arm felt great.

“It made me appreciate my job and baseball,” Devine said of his injury woes. “I always said I could do without it, and I can, but you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” The long layoff also inspired Devine to perfect a changeup, since he realized he wouldn’t always have his fastball. The addition of an extra pitch helped put him in the big leagues for good.

In the offseason, the Braves began pursuing former MVP Jeff Burroughs of the Texas Rangers. They finally got him on December 9 with a trade package that included Devine, outfielders Ken Henderson and Dave May, pitchers Roger Moret and Carl Morton, and $250,000 cash. According to Ranger general manager Eddie Robinson, Devine was the key piece in the deal. Robinson was the Braves GM when Devine first reached the majors, and he said there would be no deal without him. “Just ask any scout about Adrian. I think 99 percent of them will say he’s a helluva prospect,” Robinson remarked.

Source: Tallahassee Democrat, August 17, 1976.

Devine, for his part, was sad to leave the Braves and didn’t know any American League hitters, but he was glad to be close to his parents, who still lived in Galveston. He came to love Arlington, and he had a wonderful season for the Rangers in 1977.

Rangers managers Frank Lucchesi and Billy Hunter used Devine in pretty much every possible role. He was a closer, a long relief guy, a short reliever and on two occasions a starter. In 56 games, Devine fashioned an 11-6 record with 15 saves. Two of them came on September 18, 1977, as he saved both ends of a doubleheader sweep over the Twins. He fanned 67 hitters against 31 walks in 105-2/3 innings. Lefties in particular struggled against him, hitting just .238.

Devine said that short relief was his preferred role, but he said he would go along with Hunter if his skipper wanted to use him as a starter in 1978. “I’ll do what the club wants me to do, but I’m a conservative person and I don’t like trying something new when I have had success coming out of the bullpen. I’m just like a guy who buys the same make of car until I get a lemon.”

The experiment never happened. After the season, Devine was on his way back to the Braves, who acquired him in a massive four-team deal. The purpose of the trade was for Braves owner Ted Turner to drop high-priced Willie Montanez from the payroll, and he ended up with Devine, pitcher Tommy Boggs and infielder Eddie Miller in return. The deal also included the Mets and Pirates, and when the dust settled, Texas got Al Oliver, Pittsburgh got Bert Blyleven and New York got Montanez. Turner got to save about $250,000.

The Braves had a rookie manager named Bobby Cox, and his first inclination was to use Devine as a starter to complement his ace hurlers Phil Niekro and Dick Ruthven. Devine seemed resigned to the role, commenting, “They’re paying me to pitch. My contract doesn’t say start or relieve, just pitch. I’ll give them 100 percent either way.”

Naturally, he started the 1978 season as a reliever. He picked up a win on April 10, throwing 2 perfect innings against the Padres. The Braves won 8-7 on a 2-run walkoff homer by Darrel Chaney. It was the Braves first win of the season and win No. 1 of Cox’s managerial career. He would win 2,503 more before retiring.

Devine struggled in the bullpen for most of the season, with an ERA that sometimes crept above 7. Cox had him start some games in June, and he beat the Cardinals, Padres and Dodgers in a row. He went 7 innings in each start and allowed a total of 3 earned runs in 21 innings, with 9 strikeouts. He also singled in the winning run against the Dodgers on June 26 — it was the second and last hit of his career.

Just when things were going well, Devine ran into a rough spot. He gave up 7 runs against the Giants on July 1, including the 501st home run of Willie McCovey‘s career, and then he was yanked from his next start on July 5 against the Dodgers with a strained elbow. He allowed 4 runs in one inning, with 3 walks. Devine missed about two months of the season, returning for a couple of relief appearances in September that left him with a 5-4 record with 5.92 ERA.

Devine rebounded with a fine 1979 season, in which he appeared in 40 games and ended up with a 1-2 record and 3.24 ERA. After the season, he was traded to Texas, again, with shortstop Pepe Frias in exchange for pitcher Doyle Alexander and infielder Larvell Blanks. Jeff Burroughs, who was part of the trade that kicked off Devine’s Atlanta-to-Texas-to-Atlanta-to-Texas sojourn, was supposed to be a part of that deal as well. He refused to go back to the Rangers, so the Braves sent $50,000 instead. Devine was going to be flipped to the Phillies in a trade that also would have sent Sparky Lyle and Johnny Grubb to Philadelphia in exchange for Tug McGraw and Bake McBride, but that part of the deal fell through as well.

Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 4, 1981.

Devine was thrilled to return to the Rangers. “When I heard the deal hinged on Burroughs, I was ready to go out after him with a shotgun,” he said, laughing. “But fortunately [manager] Pat [Corrales] and Eddie [Robinson] went ahead with the deal anyway.” Unfortunately, the homecoming wasn’t successful. He appeared in 13 games with a 1-1 record and 4.82 ERA. At the end of June, the team tried to demote him to AAA, but Devine had a 5-year contract that he had signed with Texas back in 1978, and he could refuse such a demotion. Corrales then tried to get him to throw with an over-the-top delivery, which Devine had used previously with the Rangers. He tried, hurt his shoulder and was lost for the season. Devine attempted to come back with the Rangers AAA team in Wichita, but he pitched poorly and was released in mid-season. That ended his professional career.

In seven seasons in the majors, Devine had a 26-22 record and 31 saves in 217 games, including 12 starts. He had a 4.21 ERA and 194 strikeouts. His pitching Wins Above Replacement was 3.1.

Devine moved to Georgia after his playing career and joined the Roswell Cardinals, a champion amateur team. The team made it to the 1982 Stan Musial World Series, held in Battle Creek, Mich. His presence on the team almost led to a disqualification, as a team from Northbrook, Ill., protested a game in which he pitched. They claimed that Devine was still a major-league player, as he was still being paid by the Rangers as part of his long-term contract. The Series authorities eventually ruled Devine was eligible to play.

Devine tried to come back to the majors, working out with Braves catcher Biff Pocoroba to stay in form. When he lost contact with other teams and his agent stopped calling him back, he turned toward completing his higher education.

While he was pitching, Devine took classes at Lander College in South Carolina, working on a degree in physical education. He completed his degree at Georgia State University. Devine ran instructional baseball camps for teenagers in the Atlanta area for a few years after his retirement from baseball. He then taught physical education at several Atlanta-area schools, including Lawrenceville Middle School and, more recently, Creekland Middle School. His son Travis, also a pitcher, was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1998 and spent four seasons in the organization.

For more information: Sports Illustrated

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