Bob Feller grew-up in Iowa and was a local pitching sensation during the hard Depression years of the 1930s. Feller was signed by the Cleveland Indians when he was only 16, and he was brought up to the majors at the age of 17, in 1936. He would remain with the Indians his entire career—21 seasons—a remarkable achievement in and of itself.
But he also was a great pitcher. He won 266 games, compiled a 3.25 lifetime Earned Run Average, was an 8-time All-Star, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962 in his first year of eligibility. He played on two pennant winning teams in 1948 and 1954, and won a World Series ring in 1948.
Like so many of his generation, Feller gave the best years of his career to the service of our nation during World War II. Given his performance during the full seasons he played immediately before and after his three-year tour of duty (in 1941 he was 25-13, and in 1946 he was 26-15), there is little doubt that he would have been a 300-game winner but for his sacrifice. Instead, he signed up to serve in the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he received 8 battle stars during his 44 months of active duty in the Pacific theater.
From the reports of those who knew him, Feller remained a committed and beloved member of the Cleveland community after he left Baseball, and was revered as a gentleman to all those who knew him. He passed away recently at the age of 92 at a hospice near his Cleveland home.
Phil Cavarretta, like Feller, was a teenage phenomenon, who grew up in Chicago and played for Lane Tech High School, which has been famous for producing good baseball teams for decades. Cavarretta didn’t leave Chicago to play Baseball: he joined the Cubs at the age of 17 in 1934, and he remained with the team for 20 seasons. After three years of being a player-manager for the Cubs (1951-53), he played the last 77 games of his career for the White Sox. He passed away in Florida this week at the age of 94.
Cavarretta was a very good player at First-base and Left Field. He compiled a lifetime batting average and on-base-percentage of .293 and .372, respectively. He played on 3 National League pennant-winning teams, was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1945 with a .355 batting average and .449 on-base-percentage, and was a multi-year All-Star. Unfortunately, Cavarretta, like Gil Hodges, had a remarkable career as a player and manager but was never granted proper recognition with an induction to the Hall of Fame.
Although Cavarretta played most of his career in the National League paralleling the career of Feller, they crossed paths during the 1954 American League pennant race, when the White Sox finished the season in third place behind the Indians. Cavarretta would play his last full season that year, platooning at First-base and in Left Field, and would hit .316 with a .417 on-base-percentage—while Feller would post a 13-3 record and 3.09 ERA for an Indian team that posted one of the 6 best records of the last 110 years (111 wins).
Ron Santo, like Cavarretta, was a lifetime Cub and White Sox player (14 seasons with the Cubs, one season with the White Sox), and he, too, has been passed over for the Hall of Fame. He passed away this month after long bouts with cancer and diabetes.
Santo was arguably the best third-baseman in the National League during the 1960s and early 1970s. He played on the great Cub infield of the late 1960s, which, in 1969, placed all four infielders (Ernie Banks, Glen Beckert, Don Kessinger, and Santo), and the catcher (Randy Hundley), on the National League All-Star squad, with Santo starting at Third. He was an All-Star 9 of his 14 National League Seasons. Most importantly, for a generation of kids who grew up in the Chicago area, he was the heart-and-soul of a team that included Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, and Leo Durocher.
Santo stayed in Chicago after retirement. He fought his diabetes and lost both legs to the disease. He became the radio voice for the Cubs for two decades before losing his battle with cancer. Through all of his battles, he kept his charm and his sense of humor, and became an inspiration to a whole new generation of young boys—as a well as a continued inspiration to us older boys.
Each of these men personifies what Baseball (and much of life) is all about—hope, perseverance, redemption, and renewal. In our minds eye, they will always be the young men who held our summer hopes in their hands, and who, through summer after summer of wins and losses, really never let us down. To each of them—thank you for all of those wonderful summers, and may you rest in peace.
To the rest of you, enjoy the holidays—and keep hoping and persevering.