Countdown to Opening Day: 3 Days – Phil Cavarretta, a man for the ages


Mar 14, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; General view of Cubs Park during the fifth inning as the Chicago Cubs play a spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Three days to Opening Day and as the numbers get smaller, it seems the number of players who have worn each number also shrink at the same pace. The number three has only been worn by a player for more than two years once since 1935 – and that was Gene Glynn from 2000-2002. With all due respect, who in the world is Gene Glynn?

The last time the Cubs played in a World Series, their first baseman Phil Cavarretta was also their manager. He was the MVP that season, and would have been Manager of the Year at the same time if they had given out that award in 1945 – he was that good. Cavarretta was a guy who played his entire career in Chicago, all 22 seasons of it. The last two were with the White Sox and were completely unproductive leading up to his retirement in 1955.

What startled me most when I went to learn more about Cavarretta was how fragile it seemed he was. He never played every game in a season and rarely came close to it. During a five-year stretch from 1942-46 he did only miss about 14 games a season. That was certainly his prime. But to have played in parts of 22 seasons and only have played a little over 2,000 games is what screams “injury prone” to me.

A player sticks around for 22 years when he only averages 92 games a season for a couple of reasons. Either he’s very well liked and a good “clubhouse guy” or he’s just really good at his craft. Check and check. Cavarretta was both – and maybe more as a leader.

He’s the last manager to lead the Cubs to the World Series. He just happens to be the last Cubs player to homer in a World Series, as well. Reportedly, he was a simple man. A family man.  There are some tales out there about Cavarretta – and they all tell the same story.

His son once said that Cavarretta could go 0-for-4 on any given day or 4-for-4 – it didn’t matter. When he got home he was the same guy. Dad. He also understood the changing nature of the game. After going all-out for a foul pop fly in Spring Training one year, he was asked why he went so hard for a ball in an exhibition game. He simply answered, “There are other players who would like to take my job.”

That’s the kind of work ethic that can’t be falsified. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Cavarretta did. He’s not the only one, I am aware of that. He wasn’t the best player ever. He may not have been the hardest working player ever. He certainly wasn’t the most iron-willed player ever.

Cavarretta wasn’t the greatest at anything. But he was great at everything. The 2014 version of the Cubs could use a guy like that.