Your Toast is burnt, your kid has chicken pox, and there's a $65 parking ticket stuck under the bent windshield wiper on your 1974 Gremlin. You think you're plagued by bad luck? Think again. Pirates righthander Jose Silva can tell you the true meaning of unlucky.
On Nov. 19, 1994, Silva, then an up-and-coming Blue Jays prospect, was driving less than a mile from his house in San Diego when he lost control of his car and slammed into a wooden fence. A two-by-four shattered the windshield and struck him square in the face, fracturing his nose, his jaw and the orbital bones around both eyes. "I don't remember a thing about it," says Silva. "The doctor told me he thought I'd die."
Silva spent a month in San Diego's Mercy Hospital. A tube was inserted into his throat and plates into his right cheek, and his jaw was wired shut. "The worst day was Dec. 19—my birthday," says Silva, now 26. "My friends came to my house for a party, and they were all eating pizza, my favorite food in the world. All I could do was drink a horrible health juice."
Through intense physical therapy, Silva battled back to attend spring training in 1995. The Blue Jays, worried about a strained hip flexor in his left leg, had him fitted with a knee brace. While following through on his delivery, Silva's arm would rub against the brace, which caused nerve damage in his elbow. "All of a sudden I couldn't throw," says Silva. "Everyone thinks I was out that year recovering from the accident. Not true."
Silva underwent elbow surgery and pitched in just three games that year, all with Double A Knoxville. Meanwhile, his father, Jose, died of leukemia. In addition Silva had to have surgery on his nose, through which—ever since the car accident—he had been unable to breathe.
Silva went 2-3 with a 4.91 ERA in 1996 with Knoxville while twice spending time on the DL with bone spurs in his right elbow that he says he developed while learning to throw a slider. On Sept. 3, however, he was called up by the Blue Jays and pitched in two games for them. That November he was traded to the Pirates.
The move to Pittsburgh was a fresh start, although Silva did have to miss two weeks of spring training because of a crick in his neck. The cause? "I turned my head to shut off my alarm clock," he says, "and my neck started to hurt." Still, Silva pitched in a career-high 11 games and the next season emerged as the Pittsburgh ace, opening 6-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his first 14 starts. In a game in Philadelphia on June 16, however, he squared to bunt and a Tyler Green fastball broke his right arm. He didn't return to action until September and finished 6-7.
Last year, while pitching in a spring training game, Silva took a one-hopper off his cheek. Luckily, the steel plate in his face prevented any shattering of the bones. Later in the season he had another car accident when a car swerved in front of him, but he was unhurt.
Through Sunday, Silva was 8-7 with a 4.84 ERA for the Pirates, but in spring training it looked as if he might be in for another long year. He was attempting to bunt when the ball skipped off his bat and hit him in the right eye. Blood was everywhere. Four Pittsburgh medical staffers rushed toward him, one shouting, "Jose is hurt again!" Silva, a happy-go-lucky teddy bear who considers himself "blessed" to play baseball for a living, hardly flinched. After all, he'd heard it all before.