Walt Dropo, who played 13 seasons in the majors and won the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year award with the Boston Red Sox, has died. He was 87. He passed on Friday night.
Phil Cavarretta, the 1945 National League MVP who led the Chicago Cubs to their last World Series appearance, died Saturday. He was 94.
Dropo died Friday of natural causes, the University of Connecticut said Saturday in a statement. Dropo, who lived in Peabody, Mass., was a three-sport star at UConn in the 1940s and one of the greatest athletes in school history.
In 1950, Dropo beat out New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford to win AL Rookie of the Year honors after batting .322 with 34 home runs and a league-best 144 RBIs in 136 games. He also made his only All-Star team that year.
“Walt Dropo was one of the greatest players the Red Sox had in the post-World War II era,” said Dick Bresciani, the team’s vice president of publications and archives. “He was an outstanding gentleman and did a lot of good things for our organization in the community when his playing days were over. The Red Sox send their condolences to his family.”
A broken wrist slowed Dropo in 1951 and he was never able to match his outstanding rookie numbers. The first baseman batted .270 with 152 homers and 704 RBIs during his career. He was traded by Boston to the Detroit Tigers in 1952 and also played for the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles.
Shortly after being traded to Detroit in 1952, Dropo tied a major league record that still stands when he got hits in 12 consecutive trips to the plate. During that streak he also tied another big league mark that’s still in place when he totaled 15 hits in a four-game span.
Born on Jan. 30, 1923, Dropo was raised in a small Connecticut village and was affectionately nicknamed “The Moose from Moosup.” He played football, basketball and baseball at UConn in a career that was interrupted by three years of military service during World War II.
He graduated in 1947 as UConn’s career scoring leader in basketball, but turned down offers to play professional football and basketball to sign with the Red Sox.
He soon became Boston’s first AL Rookie of the Year, playing on a star-studded team that also included Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Mel Parnell.
“Walt Dropo was the forerunner of all the great student-athletes we have had here at UConn,” said Dee Rowe, the school’s special adviser for athletics. “Wherever he went, he had UConn on his jersey. People around the country knew of UConn because of Walt Dropo.”
More than 60 years after his college basketball career ended, Dropo still ranks second in career scoring average at UConn at 20.7 points per game.
“He was a giant of a man and very proud of his family and heritage. When he walked into a room, he had this great presence. You knew he was there and he just captured everyone,” Rowe said.
Dropo had two brothers, Milton and George, who also were star athletes at Connecticut. After graduating, the Dropo brothers were major benefactors to their alma mater and were called “The First Family of UConn Athletics,” the school said.
Dropo is survived by two daughters, Carla and Tina. His son Jeff died in 2008.
Cavarretta died at a hospice care center in Lilburn, Ga., of complications from a stroke, according to family members.
His son, Phil Cavarretta Jr., of Lilburn, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that his father suffered the stroke about a week ago. He also had been battling leukemia for several years, but that was in remission, Cavarretta Jr. said.
“If he went 0 for 4, he wouldn’t bring that home,” Cavarretta Jr. said. “He would enjoy his family, then he went about his business the next day.”
A first baseman and outfielder who went to high school just a mile from Wrigley Field, Cavarretta signed with the Cubs at age 17 and broke into the major leagues in 1934. He spent the first 20 of his 22 seasons with the Cubs before moving across town to play 77 games for the White Sox.
The three-time All-Star led the NL with a .355 batting average and a .449 on-base percentage in 1945, when the Cubs lost to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Cavarretta was one of the last living members of that team. The Cubs have not won a pennant since and their last World Series championship came in 1908.
In a statement released Saturday night, the Cubs called Cavarretta “a local hero and a tremendous player.”
“His 1945 MVP season continues to rank as one of the finest in Cubs lore,” the statement said. “The Cubs extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Cavarretta’s family and his many friends.”
Cavarretta played in three World Series (1935, ’38 and ’45). He batted .423 with a home run and five RBIs in the 1945 Series, which went seven games. He also went 6 for 13 (.462) in the 1938 World Series, when the Cubs were swept in four games by Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and the New York Yankees.
Cavarretta Jr. recalled hearing a story about his father crashing into the wall to catch a fly ball during a spring training game late in his career. When a writer asked him why he gave so much effort in an exhibition, Cavarretta responded: “Well, there are other players who are maybe trying to take my job,” his son said.
“He came from an era where they all played hard, but he was a player who gave even more,” Cavarretta Jr. said.
Cavarretta finished with a .293 batting average, 95 home runs and 920 RBIs in more than 2,000 big league games. He was the second major figure in Cubs history to die in a little more than two weeks. Longtime third baseman and broadcaster Ron Santo died earlier this month of complications from bladder cancer.
Besides his son, Cavarretta is survived by his wife, Lorayne; daughters Diana, Patti, Cheryl and Lori; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Cavarretta Jr. said.
One grandson, Jeffrey Brown, of Lubbock, Texas, told the AP that he was one of several family members who grew up as baseball players largely because of Cavarretta.
“We’re full of sorrow, but he lived a full, wonderful life,” Brown said.