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History of the Cape Cod Baseball League: The Sons of Summer

NCAA Sanctioning + Wooden Bats = Grand Slam for League

Prior to being sanctioned as an official collegiate summer baseball league by the National Collegiate Baseball Federation—the forerunner of the NCAA—the Cape League had traditionally relied on a mix of locals, college players, military veterans and semi-pro players to fill its rosters. 

As the league’s teams began to recruit more collegiate stars to the shores of Cape Cod, league leadership understood that courting NCAA approval was the key to the summer circuit’s survival. When the Cape League was officially sanctioned by the NCAA on March 9, 1965, it was recognized as an elite college league and received grant money to help finance league operations. 

In addition to the “blessing” of the NCAA, another key turning point during this era was the decision to embrace wooden bats in the mid-1980s. In a cost-cutting move in 1974, the league switched to the more affordable aluminum bats used in the college game. 

This “heavy metal” experiment lasted only a decade. In 1985, the Cape League made the decision to revert to wooden bats, a decision championed by former Harwich Mariners Manager and then-Cape League Commissioner Fred Ebbett.

“This move greatly enhanced the value of the league to the professional baseball scouting community, and from this point the Cape League really took off and became a much more prominent league,” says Matt Hyde, Northeast Area Scouting Supervisor for the New York Yankees. “From the mid-1980s through now, the league’s history is unrivaled in terms of the number of top prospects and future professionals who have played in it.  . . .  [The Cape League] is by far the top collegiate summer league in the country.”  

The numbers don’t lie. According to the latest, pre-pandemic statistics, the Cape League has produced more than 1,400 Major League Baseball players during its existence, and in recent years approximately one in six big leaguers boast Cape League experience. On average, more than 300 current major leaguers are Cape League alumni. 

Including Pie Traynor, Cape League alumni in the National Baseball Hall of Fame include catcher Carlton Fisk (Orleans), first baseman Frank Thomas (Orleans), second baseman Craig Biggio (Yarmouth-Dennis) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (Chatham). 

In addition, Judy Walden Scarafile, the former Cape League president, is prominently featured in the hall’s “Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball” exhibit, which traces women’s roles in baseball from the 1800s to the present. 

Scarafile oversaw an unprecedented period of growth and financial stability during her tenure, which lasted from 1991 through 2015. “The Cape League is not just a great breeding ground for players, but also executives and coaches,” says Bruce Murphy, who has served as Cotuit’s general manager since 1999. 

“If you play college baseball and you want to have a shot at the major leagues, then the Cape is the place to play summer ball,” says current Cape League President Chuck Sturtevant. “The college coaches we work with tell their players that the Cape League is their stage, and it’s up to them what they make of the opportunity.”

Joe O’Shea is a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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