And Then There Were Three
Phil Cavaretta (1916-2010) died of complications from a stroke on Saturday. Based on an Associated Press story that appeared on ESPN Chicago, Cavaretta also had been battling leukemia for several years but that disease was in remission according to his son Phil Jr. The elder Cavaretta was 94.
Cavaretta was signed by the Chicago Cubs at the age of 17 in 1934 and made his major-league debut that same year, playing seven games in September and going 8-for-21, including a homer in his first start to account for the only run of the contest. He broke his ankle in 1939 and 1940 but bounced back and was named the National League MVP in 1945 when he topped the league in AVG (.355) and OBP (.449) while leading the Cubs to the World Series.
The first baseman/outfielder served as the team's player-manager from 1951-53. After being fired by his hometown Cubs, he signed with the White Sox in May 1954 and played parts of two seasons on the South Side of Chicago before being released in May 1955. After his playing career was over, Cavaretta managed in the minors, coached and scouted for the Detroit Tigers, and wound up his baseball career as a batting instructor for the New York Mets' organization.
Cavaretta was the last surviving player from his debut season in 1934. Buddy Lewis of the Senators is now the only survivor from the 1935 season. As reported by Peter Ridges on SABR-L, Cavaretta was the only man alive who had appeared in a World Series in the 1930s. According to Who's Alive and Who's Dead, he was the 13th-oldest former major leaguer when he passed away.
In addition, Cavaretta was one of the last four living players mentioned in David Frishberg's 1969 classic Van Lingle Mungo. He is survived by Eddie Joost (born 1916), Johnny Pesky (1919), and Eddie Basinski (1922). A photo in the music video linked in the opening sentence of the paragraph would suggest that John Antonelli, a major-league pitcher from 1948-61, is also a survivor. I don't mean to imply that the lefthander is not alive today, but he was generally known as Johnny. The John Antonelli referred to in the song is more likely the infielder who played for the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies in 1944-45.
Joost turned 94 last June. With Cavaretta's death, he becomes the 13th-oldest living player. He also is the only surviving member of the Cincinnati Reds team that won the 1940 World Series. Eddie had a fascinating career. The Baseball Library carries the following biography:
Joost became the Reds' regular shortstop in 1941 and committed 45 errors. After his 45 errors in '42 led the league, he was traded to the Braves. There, Joost suffered further ignominy in 1943, setting a record by hitting just .185, the lowest batting average ever for a player with 400 or more at-bats. He then retired voluntarily but gained a second life with the Athletics beginning in 1947. Though his hitting improved, he found a better way to reach base: walking. From 1947 through 1952, he walked more than 100 times a season, twice gaining more walks than hits. He was an All-Star in 1949 (reaching highs of 23 HR and 81 RBI), and again in '52, after having led AL shortstops in putouts four times to tie the league record. Joost was the A's manager in 1954 but led his untalented crew to a last-place finish.
Frishberg, an American composer, jazz pianist, and vocalist, will turn 78 next March. He immortalized 37 different ballplayers in his baseball hit, including Van Lingle Mungo four times (plus an extra Van Lingle for good measure) and five others twice.
Here are the lyrics to Van Lingle Mungo, a three-time All-Star pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s.
Following Johnny Sain's death in November 2006, Maxwell Kates wrote a guest column for Baseball Analysts, simply titled "Van Lingle Mungo." It highlights Sain, Van Lingle Mungo, and the other 35 players mentioned in the song.
Rest in peace, Phil Cavaretta. Long live Eddie Joost, Johnny Pesky, Eddie Basinski, Dave Frishberg, and the song Van Lingle Mungo.