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What About Gavvy?
Posted Wednesday, September 22, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

Barry Bonds did it last week. He became only the third member of baseball's 700 Club and he's closing in on the Babe. It looks like he'll have to wait until next year to catch, and then pass, Ruth on the all-time home run list, but it's only a matter of time.

So the argument again rages in the sports pages, on sports radio and at internet sports portals. Who is the better baseball player, Bonds or Ruth? And, as is usually the case, everybody that is anybody has offered their two-cents on the subject.

 
 


Well not me. There are two things I know about this topic. I know what my opinion is, and I know that you really don't care what my opinion is. After all, you probably have your own – and you can make a great argument to back it up.

And if you want to discuss who is the greatest baseball player of all time, you'll have to add Mays, Aaron, Williams, DiMaggio and a dozen other players into the mix. For every stat that favors one of them, there will be a stat that supports another. That's why it's an impossible argument to win and there's really no reason for debate.

The one baseball player that never will be listed among the all-time greats is Clifford Carlton Cravath – better known as Gavvy, or Cactus Gavvy. Cravath played 11 Major League seasons, most of them with the Philadelphia Phillies, in the early 1900's.

Cactus Gavvy played his first full big league season in 1912 at the age of 31; old by today's standards, ancient at the turn of the century. That year, he batted .284 with 11 home runs and 70 RBI.

In 1913, Gavvy led the National League in home runs with 19, runs batted in with a NL record 128, slugging percentage at .568 and hits with 179. Cravath came in second to Jake Daubert of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the voting for the league's Most Valuable Player Award.

Daubert led the National League with a .350 batting average - nine points higher than Gavvy's. Cravath led the NL in every other batting statistic of any consequence. In short, Gavvy got screwed.

Cravath led the National League in home runs six times between 1913 and 1919 setting the Major League single season record in 1915 with 24. Only three players in Major League history led their respective league in home runs more than six times – Mike Schmidt, Ralph Kiner and Babe Ruth. All three are in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Cactus Gavvy Cravath is not in the Hall of Fame. In fact, the Phillies slugger never received more than two votes by the selection committee. On June 6, 1921, Babe Ruth hit a third inning home run in an 8-6 Yankees loss to the Cleveland Indians. It was the 120th of his career, making the Bambino the Major League leader in career home runs.

The record Ruth broke belonged to – you guessed it - Gavvy Cravath. Cravath retired in 1920 with 119 home runs, a meager total by Ruthian standards; two average season's work for Barry Bonds. But one heck of an accomplishment for the man known as the Home Run King of the Dead Ball Era.

For two decades at the turn of the century, baseballs were about as hard as a Motel 6 pillow. Home runs were rarer than Barry Bonds running out a grounder. The best players in the game – Hall of Famers like Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner - were slapping singles to the opposite field while Cactus Gavvy was thrilling the crowd with the long ball.

Everyone knows that Hank Aaron is the reigning Home Run King. It's clear that Barry Bonds will be the future Home Run King and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't believe that Babe Ruth was the original Home Run King.

But nobody knows who the Home Run King was before the "original" Home Run King. Well, you do, now. And who knows, that knowledge may win you a hot game of Trivial Pursuit someday. But it won't get old Gavvy into the Hall of Fame.

Next time I hear a discussion about who's the better ball player, Ruth or Bonds, I'm going to bring the conversation to a screeching halt by interjecting the same question the Hall of Fame selection committee should have to answer: "What about Gavvy?"

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