Profile by BCB reader rlpete (with additions by Al)
If someone were to have been named "Mr. Cub" for the 1940's, that player would undoubtedly be Phil Cavarretta. A native Chicagoan, Cavarretta played for the Cubs for 20 seasons, a team record. He appeared in the last Cubs' last 3 World Series and won the National League MVP award in 1945 with an outstanding batting line of .355/.449/.500 (leading the league in both BA and OBA). While primarily a first baseman, Cavarretta never had the prototypical power expected at that position rather it was his longevity and batting eye that carried him to this position, number 11 on the Top 100 Cubs.
Philip Joseph Cavarretta was born on July 19, 1916 in Chicago. While attending Lane Tech High School on the North Side, he was a local sensation as both a pitcher and hitter. Among his feats at Lane, were a no-hitter and 8 one-hitters; he also pitched his American Legion team to a national championship in 1933.
Prior to graduation at age 17, Phil signed with the Cubs; upon graduation he was assigned to the Cubs' minor league team at Peoria, making a splash in his very first professional game on May 17, 1934 -- homering in his first at-bat and hitting for the cycle. In September, the Cubs called him up and on September 16th, he made his major league debut against the Dodgers in Brooklyn, only 18 years old. On September 26, 1934, Cavarretta made his Wrigley Field debut and got his first hit, a home run, in a 1-0 Cubs win over Cincinnati.
Before the 1935 season, Cubs' player-manager Charlie Grimm decided to focus on managing and inserted the rookie Cavarretta as the regular first baseman. Phil responded with an excellent rookie campaign hitting .275 with 8 homeruns in 146 games. 1935 was also the year that a pair of 20-game winners, Lon Warneke and Bill Lee, led the Cubs to the World Series. Cavarretta struggled in the series, hitting .125 as the Cubs lost to the Tigers 4-2.
In 1936, Phil struggled as his OBP and slugging declined, to .306 and .376 respectively in spite of a decent .273 average. After the 1936 season, the Cubs acquired first baseman Ripper Collins from the Cardinals and as a result, in 1937 Cavarretta moved to a part-time role switching between first base and the outfield. 1938 was an especially bad year as Phil hit .239 in 268 AB's. The Cubs however once again made it to the World Series. This time, Cavarretta hit well as he batted .462 but the Cubs lost to the Yankees 4-0.
Unfortunately, 1939 was even a worse year as on May 8, he broke his ankle and only appeared in 22 games for the year. 1940 was a repeat as another broken ankle limited him to 65 games. In 1941, a healthy Cavarretta put up a solid season with a .286 average, .384 OBP and .413 slugging in 346 AB's. Due to an ear problem, Phil was exempt from war service and while many other stars left for war service, Phil remained and put up his best seasons from 1942 through 1945. Between 1942 and 1944 as a regular starter, Phil's average climbed from .270 to .291 to .321, likewise the OBP climbed from .365 to .382 to .390. In 1944, he also had a career high 15 triples and his 197 hits tied him for league lead.
1945 was a very good year for Cavarretta and the Cubs. Phil put up career highs in BA (.355), OBP (.449), slugging (.500) and RBI's (97). He also easily won the league MVP by over 100 points, in leading the Cubs, along with Andy Pafko and pitchers Hank Borowy and Hank Wyse, to their last World Series appearance, meeting the Tigers. Once again Cavarretta had a solid series hitting .423 but the Cubs once again lost the series, this time 4 games to 3.
With the National League back to full strength in 1946, Cavaretta put up solid years in 1946 and 1947 with .294 and .314 averages and .401 and .391 OBP. However, with young first baseman Eddie Waitkus back from military service, Phil once again shuttled between first base and the outfield during these years. By 1948 and 1949, Phil's days as a full time starter were over but he did put up solid years with .278 and .294 respectively. By 1950, he was strictly part-time with a .273 average in 256 AB's. In all, he played 1254 games at first base, and 538 games as an outfielder, playing all three outfield positions.
1951 brought a new chapter to Cavarretta's time with the Cubs. On July 21, 1951, Cubs' manager Frankie Frisch resigned and was replaced by Cavarretta, who was team captain. The '51 Cubs were a bad team and didn't improve under Cavarretta's leadership (27-47), finishing last. Phil did bat .311 in 206 at-bats but his playing career was essentially over. In 1952, the Cubs did improve finishing in 5th place with a 77-77 mark, the only time between 1946 and 1963 that they did not have a losing record. That didn't last very long -- in 1953, the team regressed, falling to 7th place with a 65-89 record. On March 29, 1954, during a spring training meeting with club owner P. K. Wrigley, Cavarretta commented that he did not believe the Cubs could compete in 1954. Wrigley, not pleased with the comments, decided to fire Phil and replace him with his long-time teammate and current minor league manager Stan Hack, and offered Phil a minor league managing slot. Cavarretta quit instead of taking the Los Angeles minor league assignment and ended his association with Cubs after 20 years. He was the first manager ever replaced during spring training. Incidentally, Phil was right: the 1954 team couldn't compete -- they finished with a 64-90 record, their fourth 90+ loss season since 1948.
After leaving the Cubs, Phil signed with the cross-town Chicago White Sox in May 1954 as a utility man. He batted .316 in 158 AB's for the Sox in 1954. As the 1955 season started, Cavarretta was once again a member of the Sox as a utility player. However, he had only four at-bats, and was released on May 9th, ending his major league career. He remained in baseball as a coach, scout and manager well into the 1970's, coaching for the Tigers in the 1960's, and working as a minor league batting instructor for the Mets in the 1970's. Phil is currently retired and living in Florida, the second-oldest former Cub after Lonny Frey; he is also one of only six living former players who played while Babe Ruth was also an active player (Frey, Bill Werber, Rollie Stiles, Sol Carter and Milt Bocek are the others; Cavarretta played against him when Ruth was a Boston Brave in 1935).
Cavarretta ranks in the top ten in many categories on the Cubs all-time lists: sixth in games played (1953), tenth in AB's (6592), tenth in runs (968), tenth in hits (1927), tenth in RBI's (896) and seventh in BB's (794). His .371 OBA ranks thirteenth -- not bad for a city kid from Lane Tech.