By Father Gabe Costa
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Who was Cactus Gavvy Cravath? Mr. Thomas Loudenslager is this week’s guest blogger for By The Numbers. He takes a look at this forgotten slugger who, in some sense, was a precursor to the one and only Babe Ruth.
Thomas Loudenslager: If someone has heard of baseball, they probably know the name of who Babe Ruth; Ruth held both the record for most homeruns in a season and most in a career. It is less likely, however, that someone would know who held the titles before him. That man was Clifford Carlton Cravath also known by Cactus Gavvy Cravath. Cravath held a career record of 119 HR and the “modern” National League record of 24 homeruns in a regular season.
Clifford Carlton Cravath was born in Poway, California in 1881. He was given the nickname Cactus because he was said to have a “prickly personality.” The more interesting nickname of his was Gavvy, which comes from the Spanish word for seagull, gaviota. Supposedly, while playing for a West Coast team, Cravath hit and killed a seagull in flight. Spanish fans chanted “Gaviota”, which was mistaken for Gavvy. By the way, Cravath did not enjoy the nickname and never used it in signatures.
Cravath originally did not fare well in the major leagues, failing with the Red Sox, the White Sox and the Senators. Strict trading rules with the minors had made it almost impossible to move back up to the major leagues after his first attempt. As luck would have it, though, an error in a telegram omitted the word “not” in a message a message about trading Cravath. In 1912 Cravath was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies for $9,000.
Cravath resulted in being an excellent purchase for the Phillies. Cravath began his career with the Phillies by leading the National League with an RBI total of 128. Even more impressive was that his RBI was 35 more than the runner up that season, Heinie Zimmerman. This RBI record was left unbroken until Rogers Hornsby surpassed it with 152 in 1922.
Cravath continued to rewrite the record book by breaking the National Leagues homerun record with 24 home runs in 1915. Two dozen homeruns in a season was incredible for the Dead Ball era; Cravath had not only out homered every player that season, but also out homered 12 of the 15 team’s collective homerun scores. Again, a precursor to Ruth.
Overall Cravath earned 6 season homerun records during his career, a national record for RBI and a career homerun record. Sportswriter Robert W. Maxwell stated that “Gavvy is the greatest home run-clouter in the history of baseball and has piled up a record that might never be equaled.”
In 1919, Cravath served as a playing manager for the Phillies, and he ended his Major League career as a player in 1920. He stayed in baseball for two more years, one as the manager of a Pacific Coast League team and one as a scout.
Cravath’s records did not last long and in 1921. While playing in the American League, Babe Ruth surpassed Cravath’s career homerun record total. And Cravath’s record did not last very long in the National League either; Cy Williams broke the National League homerun record in 1923.
Cravath eventually moved to Orange County, California and became a Justice of the Peace. He died in Laguna Beach, California in 1963.
Cactus Gavvy Cravath’s name may not be the most recognizable in baseball annals, but he will always be the man that Babe Ruth had to beat to be the best.
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