Motor City Bengals celebrates the return of Comerica Park’s popular “Bark In The Park” promotion with the story of how a Detroit Tigers pitcher named Pug Cavet once dogged the Boston Red Sox.
In January 1914, the Detroit Tigers signed a 24-year-old left-handed pitcher named Tillar H. Cavet, whose nickname was “Pug.” E.A. Batchelor of the Detroit Free Press sent readers to their dictionaries when he explained that Cavet earned the moniker because of “the shape of his nose, which is decidedly retroussé.”
That’s a fancy adjective that is used to describe a nose that is turned up. Cavet, according to Batchelor, was also “a tall, rangy guy with a splendid pitching motion and a lot of smoke.” Reportedly, he was 6-foot-4 1/2, but Baseball-Reference lists him at 6-foot-3.
Cavet had previously pitched for the Tigers, but his lone appearance in 1911 didn’t go well. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning in his start against the St. Louis Browns after giving up five runs on six hits and a walk. Nobody who took the mound for either team was particularly effective that afternoon, however, nor were any of the fielders. The Tigers came out on top, 11-9, in a game that saw a combined 22 hits and seven errors from the two teams.
It was back to the minor leagues for Cavet after that. The youngster blossomed with the Mobile Sea Gulls of the (Class A) Southern Association in 1913. He ranked among the league leaders in wins (24), innings pitched (313), and strikeouts (128). It was an important season of maturation for the lefty.
Apparently, Pug had been a wild one before that, not necessarily in terms of pitching style, but lifestyle. Batchelor wrote that Cavet’s manager in Moblie, Mickey Finn, “managed to make him realize that there is something more serious in baseball than having a good time.” The scribe suggested Cavet could be a valuable addition to the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff “if he will take care of himself and view life seriously.”
Cavet made the Tigers’ 1914 Opening Day roster, but pitched sparingly early in the season. He turned in one inning of mop-up duty in April and made only three appearances in May. It may be surprising to learn that teams didn’t always travel with a full roster in those days. Cavet was part of a group of four Tigers who stayed in Detroit for a week in early May while their teammates played a string of games in Cleveland and Chicago.
The foursome, which also included a 19-year-old future Hall of Famer named Harry Heilmann, was summoned by manager Hughie Jennings to rejoin the Tigers’ caravan in New York. Cavet’s workload increased as temperatures increased, which Batchelor had forseen. In the midst of the Tigers’ grueling 30-day road trip in the cooler month of May, he wrote,
"“It wouldn’t be surprising to see Pug Cavet start a game soon. He appears to be ready and as soon as a warm day arrives, if it ever does, should be able to deliver. The big southpaw is essentially a hot-weather performer and Jennings would be foolish to ask him to work under present conditions.”"
Cavet’s first four starts, spanning May 25 and June 17, didn’t yield impressive results. In a total of 15 1/3 innings, he gave up 14 runs on 18 hits and 10 walks and only struck out three. For much of the summer, Pug toiled in the bullpen and served as a spot starter.
He picked up his first big-league win on August 2 with a complete-game performance in the Detroit Tigers’ 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees at Navin Field. Batchelor reported Cavet had “a good curveball and excellent control” that afternoon. For Detroit opponents, the dog days of August had begun.
The Day Pug Cavet Was the Biggest Dog In the Yard
The Detroit Tigers were the guests of the Boston Red Sox on August 28. Taking the mound for the home team was 22-year-old left-hander Dutch Leonard. In his second big-league season, Leonard had developed into one of the American League’s most dominant pitchers in 1914. He led the league with an astounding 0.96 ERA (24 earned runs in 224 2/3 innings).
Viewed through modern-day stats, Leonard was even more impressive. His league-leading 279 ERA+ dwarfed runner-up Walter Johnson’s 164. Dutch also topped AL hurlers with a 0.886 WHIP and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings. On this Friday afternoon at Fenway Park, Leonard was going for his 20th win of the season. It was almost a foregone conclusion that he’d get it. An uncredited reporter in the Free Press wrote:
"“The Boston fans looked for a sure victory with Leonard on the rubber, and Jennings may have thought Leonard unbeatable too, as he changed his mind about starting (Hooks) Dauss and sent Cavet to the rubber as an expected sacrifice”."
Dauss was the Tigers’ top righty in the starting rotation that season (and, to this day, is the winningest pitcher in franchise history). Two days earlier, Cavet pitched two innings of relief against the Red Sox in a 5-2 Tigers loss. He’d given up a run on two hits and a walk, but also struck out three.
Cavet, the last-minute starter, worked himself into and out of jams against the Red Sox throughout this game. With one out in the bottom of the first, he gave up a single to Everett Scott, who was forced out at second by Tris Speaker, the future Hall of Famer. Speaker stole second, but was picked off trying to steal third base. According to Boston Globe reporter T.H. Murnane, Detroit Tigers third baseman Ossie Vitt “muffed the ball,” but infield umpire Bill Dineen didn’t see it and called the runner out. It was a lucky break for Detroit.
In the bottom of the second, Duffy Lewis tagged Cavet for a leadoff single and reached second on a passed ball by Tigers veteran catcher Oscar Stanage. A single by Dick Hoblitzell put Red Sox runners on the corners. Hal Janvrin’s grounder to shortstop Donie Bush forced Hoblitzell at second, and Lewis played it safe by holding his ground. Cavet got out of the inning with a couple fly outs to strand the runner at third. He put Boston down 1-2-3 in the third inning.
The Red Sox threatened again in the fourth. Speaker reached safely on an error by Tigers second baseman Marty Kavanaugh. Lewis followed with Boston’s only extra-base hit of the day, a double that sent Speaker to third. Cavet got a big out by striking out Hoblitzell. Speaker’s attempt to steal home was thwarted when Janvrin flew out to Bobby Veach in left field. Speaker had to retreat and was stranded when Larry Gardner popped out to Bush to end the inning. Cavet rebounded in the fifth with his second 1-2-3 inning of the afternoon.
Cavet hit Scott with a pitch to open the sixth inning. Undaunted, he struck out both Speaker and Lewis. Hoblitzell then drew a walk, but Janvrin flew out left for the third out. After a quiet seventh inning for Cavet, the Tigers broke the scoreless tie in the top of the eighth. Detroit rallied for three runs, highlighted by Ty Cobb’s two-run double. “The Georgia Peach” scored the third run to give Pug a little bit more of a cushion.
Despite pitching with a lead for the first time all day, Cavet got into another tight spot in the eighth. Harry Hooper, Boston’s leadoff hitter, bunted for a base hit but was forced at second by Scott. Speaker lofted a long fly ball to left, but Veach was able to track it down and make the catch. Lewis followed with a single, his third hit of the game. That sent Scott to third. With runners on the corners once again, Hoblitzell lined out to Kavanaugh at second to let the Tigers off the hook.
Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan, who was also the team’s starting catcher, tried to shake things up in the bottom of the ninth. He sent up three pinch-hitters in the inning. Cavet hit the first one, Wally Rehg. The other two couldn’t get the job done, and Cavet was able to complete the shutout. It was the only one he ever pitched.
The Detroit Tigers topped the Red Sox, 3-0, and were able to avoid being swept in the three-game series. In the Globe, Murnane wrote that the Tigers “were lucky to get one.”
Like the breed of dog he was nicknamed after, Pug Cavet wasn’t pretty. All told, he gave up six hits, walked two, hit two batters, threw two wild pitches, and also committed an error. He got the job done, though. On the plus side, in addition to whitewashing the Red Sox, he struck out four. Cavet somehow found a way to outduel Leonard, who had already beaten the Tigers three times that season. The Free Press reporter acknowledged the Detroit southpaw’s gritty performance:
"“Cavet prevailed where many another pitcher would have faltered…Stupid baserunning and the failure of the Red Sox hitters to come through in the pinches saved him…Cavet nevertheless pitched one of the cleverest games seen here in a long time, and he deserves all the glory for defeating his great rival.”"
For Cavet, who boosted his record to 2-5, the triumph in Boston was the first of six straight appearances (a combo of starts and relief stints) in which he was credited with a victory. He finished with a 7-7 record, 2.44 ERA, 1.143 WHIP and 115 ERA+. He returned to the Detroit Tigers in 1915 for one more big-league season. Pug continued to pitch in the minors until 1930. The 40-year-old retired with a total of 291 minor-league wins.