The 1951 Cubs weren’t very good; they finished last in the eight-team National League with 92 losses, which at the time was second-most in franchise history.
They made things worse by panicking and trading popular and productive outfielder Andy Pafko for a bag of magic beans (not really, but the magic beans would probably have been a better return than the players the Cubs received), and Pafko went on to play in three World Series for the Dodgers and Braves.
80 games into the season, GM Wid Matthews fired manager Frankie Frisch and replaced him with longtime Cubs first baseman Phil Cavarretta, who became the team’s first player-manager since Gabby Hartnett in 1940. (Cavarretta is also the Cubs’ last player-manager.)
Ten games into Cavarretta’s managerial tenure, he didn’t start the second game of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field against the Phillies. In the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded, two out and the game tied 4-4, Cavarretta sent himself up to pinch hit for pitcher Dutch Leonard.
Boom! Cavvy, who was not really a power hitter (95 career homers in 6,754 at-bats), hit a grand slam off future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. The Cubs won the game 8-4 and swept the doubleheader, one of the few highlights they had in that awful season. Tribune writer Irving Vaughn summed it up this way:
The venerable Phil Cavarretta, Cubs manager pro tem, personally raked in the blue chips for his boys yesterday, thus enabling them to clout the Phillies, 5 to 4 and 8 to 6, in a double header before 25,840 Wrigley field customers.
The boss man drove in three runs in the first game, and then climbed to the pinnacle as a pinch batter in the second game by exploding a grand slam homer to round out a six run seventh inning.
They don’t write ‘em like that anymore, that’s for sure. (Spelling and capitalization as in the original.)
Roberts held the career record for home runs allowed by a pitcher (505) until Jamie Moyer broke it in 2010. Of the top 10 pitchers in homers allowed, seven of them are in the Hall of Fame. As the saying goes: You have to be good to do that.
If only there had been videotape in 1951. I’d have loved to hear Jack Brickhouse’s call of that grand slam.