PLAY BALL! From the Cape Cod Baseball League to the Hall of Fame
(originally published in Cape Cod LIFE, Summer 1981)
‘SELDOM ANY SPLENDID STORY IS wholly true, thought Samuel Johnson. The official version of the Cape Cod Baseball League’s history points up what the English literary figure had in mind, but facts of the league’s past may well be more interesting than folklore.
The Cape League has boasted of “a long and proud history dating back to 1885. Publicity reads, “Hall of Famers such as Pie Traynor, Mickey Cochrane, and Red Rolfe played here before embarking on illustrious professional careers. Appearing year after year in brochures and team booklets, the version is at least careless, if not misleading. A league publicist, undoubtedly a Yankee partisan, once incorrectly described Rolfe as a Hall of Famer. He was good, earning a .289 lifetime batting average. Still, he is not a Hall of Fame member Rolfe, out of Penacook, New Hampshire, was Orleans’ 1930 shortstop.
This official version is misleading because it suggests the league was formed in 1885. Contemporary evidence shows the Cape Cod Baseball League was organized in 1923. The story behind this discrepancy is intriguing, but, first, what about Traynor and Cochrane?
Traynor a Framingham native, did play for the 1919 Falmouth team-several years before the Cape League was established. As he did for the Pittsburgh Pirates a year later Traynor played shortstop at Falmouth. One of the team’s best hitters, he displayed his all-around skill in the Labor Day field events and won the “circling the bases’ event in a time of 15 seconds, the 100-yard dash, and the ‘throwing the ball for distance’ competition.
The Cochrane connection is more difficult to verify Mickey Cochrane, generally regarded as the greatest catcher of all-time, as Traynor is considered the greatest third baseman, was a native of Bridgewater. He starred in five sports at Boston University and played semi-professional ball in the summer under the name of Frank King. In fact, when he went to Dover of the Eastern Shore League in 1923, he still signed as Frank King.
An exhaustive search fails to uncover a King (or a Cochrane} playing for any Cape team. However a King (first name unknown) played shortstop for Middleboro in 1920. Cochrane, in fact, was an infielder at the time. Could this be the basis of the legend?
All of this is not too important. The Cape Cod Baseball League has so distinguished itself in the past two decades, distortion of historical facts is unnecessary In 1980, 33 major league players earlier performed in the Cape League, New England favorite and All-Star catcher Carlton Fisk, among them. Fisk played for Orleans in 1966. His constant rival, the late Thurman Munson of the Yankees, was with Chatham in 1967
Remarkably the last two American League Cy Young award winners are Cape graduates. Steve Stone, last year’s best American League pitcher toiled for Chatham in 1968. His Baltimore Oriole teammate, Mike Flanagan, the 1979 Cy Young winner in the American League, was with Falmouth in 1972.