Monday, January 18, 2010

#19 Phil Cavarretta

Chicago's own Phil Cavarretta joined the Cubs as a local hero, and spent 22 seasons playing in front of his home town, apearing in three World Series and being named the NL's Most Valuable Player.
Born in 1916, Cavarretta attracted the attention of major league scouts early. He signed with the Cubs before even finishing high school, and in his first game with the Peoria club in 1934, he hit for the cycle. He was called up to the Cubs in September of that year, and made his debut two months after of his 18th birthday. In 1935, at 18, he became the starting first baseman for the Cubs. He was the starter for the next three years, before losing his job to more established veterans. He began to split his time between first and the outfield, and became a full-time player in 1941.
With the advent of of World War 2, Cavarretta became a star, and in 1945, he won the National League batting title with a .355 average. He lead the Cubs into the World Series, and was elected the Most Valuable Player of the National League. Although he never hit that high again, he continued to be a dangerous hitter at the plate even as a lot of the stars of the league returned from the War. In 1950, he saw his playing time diminished, and took of the Cubs as player-manager in 1951, He never got the Cubs over .500, and was released/fired in spring training of 1954. He signed with the White Sox that May and played two more years before calling it a career. He finished his 22-year career with a lifetime .293 average, and 23 hits shy of 2000.

He then went to manage in the minors, with stops in Buffalo and Reno some of the cities on his itinerary. After managing Birmingham in 1971, he left to scout for the Detroit Tigers, and became a hitting instructor for the Mets. Cavarretta died in December of 2010 at 94 years of age. He was the last surviving player to have played against Babe Ruth.

Cavarretta is one of the most popular Cubs of all-time. I guess 20 years of playing will do that, especially if you are a home-town boy. He was a young man, quickly thrust into the world of men in the major leagues. Excited to be playing with his idols, he was known for occasionally over-indulging in raviolis in his rookie years, enough to give him stomach-aches that kept him out of the line-up.

The Autograph: Cavarretta's autograph is very common, especially considering he is still going strong at 93 years of age. I remember in the early 90's, when the autograph hobby really took off, more and more players began to charge for autographs through the mail. There was one company who signed on to represent players as an agency, and collect the money through them. They had a long list of people on their roster, like Cavarretta, Marty Marion, Dom Dimaggio, and so on. Then, when a lot of Hall of Famer's were getting popped on income tax evasion for failing to report income from autograph shows, a lot of players went back to signing for free.

Phil at 91

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