Claim to fame: Cavarretta, who died Saturday at 94, was Mr. Cub before Ernie Banks, debuting in 1934 at 18 and playing 20 years at Wrigley Field before spending his final two seasons with the White Sox. Along the way, the first baseman made three All Star teams, hit .293 lifetime, and was National League MVP in 1945 when he hit a circuit-best .355 and led the Cubs to the World Series. Interestingly, at the time of his death, Cavarretta was the last man to have played in a game with Babe Ruth, which occurred May 21, 1935 when a bloated Bambino hit his 711th home run to help the Boston Braves to a 4-1 victory.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Cavarretta was on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot for Cooperstown 12 years, peaking at 35.6 percent of the vote his final year, 1975. He can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee, through its Pre-Integration Era subcommittee for players who made their largest impact between 1871 and 1946. The subcommittee will next vote in two years, with any inductions slated for the summer of 2013.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Year in, year out, Cavarretta was good for about a .280 or .290 batting average and, when he was healthy and starting, upwards of 150 hits, and 80 or 90 runs batted in, with light power numbers and outstanding on-base percentages for his era. This may not place him close to Cooperstown, though he’d be a first ballot inductee for the Hall of Very Good or Hall of Very Interesting. Cavarretta had a career and life worth remembering even if his stats place him distantly behind a number of non-enshrined first basemen like Dick Allen, Will Clark, and Mark McGwire, among others. Cavarretta’s grandson Jeffrey Brown told the Associated Press, “We’re full of sorrow, but he lived a full, wonderful life.”
Born July 19, 1916 in Chicago, Cavarretta might have been the baseball equivalent of Kevin Bacon– he connects to a lot of people. Without checking, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cavarretta played with or against more Hall of Famers than any player. Because he played so long and in the years he did, 1934 to 1955, Cavarretta crossed paths with everyone from Ruth to Jackie Robinson to Willie Mays, and by virtue of his time in the American League at the end, Bob Feller, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams. Cavarretta faced Hank Greenberg, both in the 1945 World Series where he hit .423 and in 1947 when Greenberg was closing out his career with the Pirates.
Cavarretta even played a game of ping pong against actress Betty Grable in 1935 at spring training on Catalina, telling an interviewer in 2007, “And you know what, she was pretty good! I had to really concentrate to beat her, so all the guys wouldn’t get on me. But I was tricky when I played — I’d put a little slice on the ball, give it some ‘English’ — it was the only way I could stay close to her! But that was the last time I saw her.”
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.
Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, John Smoltz, Keith Hernandez, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark