April 20, 2011
On April 20th, 1920, Phillies right fielder Cactus Gavvy Cravath hit his 119th and final home run. Cravath is the answer to the great trivia question, “Who held the Major League baseball record before Babe Ruth broke it*?” Born with the name Clifford, he got the nickname “Gavvy” when he hit a ball that killed a seagull (“gaviota” in Spanish.) When he started his career in Boston, he was known for his lack of speed. He once said, “They call me wooden shoes and piano legs and a few other pet names. I do not claim to be the fastest man in the world, but I can get around the bases with a fair wind and all sails set. And so long as I am busting the old apple on the seam, I am not worrying a great deal about my legs.”
Yep, old Gavvy knew how to bust the apple on the seam. (I’m gonna be yelling that at the ballpark today, “Come on, boys, hit that old apple on the seam!”) After bumbling around the league, he finally caught on with the Phillies, thanks in no small part to the short right field fence. The opposite-field hitting right hander hit 92 of his 119 career dingers at the Baker Bowl.
He was acknowledged by Jeopardy champion Tom Walsh in 2004. After Ken Jennings crushed Walsh’s record of 7 straight victories on Jeopardy, Walsh told the Washington Post,
“I feel like ‘Cactus Gavvy’ Cravath,” Walsh says. “Do you know who that is?”
“Right,” he says. “Nobody does. He’s the guy who had the home run record before Babe Ruth came along.”
Well, we here at Philly Sports History know who Cactus Gavvy Cravath is. Happy Anniversary Gavvy!
*If you want to get technical, Gavvy did not in fact hold the record, but he held the “modern day” (aka 20th century) record.