For the first time since 1945, the Cape Cod Baseball League won’t swing into action in June. The season was canceled in April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of collegiate players are missing out on the opportunity to play in front of major league scouts as they try to bolster their dreams of making it to the major leagues.
More than 1,200 Cape League players have gone on to reach the majors since it became an officially sanctioned summer college league in the early 1960s. But who are the best? Here’s one writer’s pick, listed by their primary position while they played on the Cape.
In hopes of getting the best possible team on the field, we’ve done some roster shuffling, putting some guys in positions they played mostly on Cape Cod, like Jeff Bagwell at third base. In addition, we’ve taken some pitchers who were mostly starters and put them in the bullpen because of their experience in the majors.
Frank Thomas (Orleans 1988)
Such a deep spot, but my lasting memory of Thomas that summer was the future Hall of Famer hitting a series of tape-measure home runs, including one in the Cape League’s inaugural home run derby to left-center in Orleans that might still be going.
Other notable names: Steve Balboni (Falmouth 1976, Yarmouth-Dennis 1977), Will Clark (Cotuit 1983), Tino Martinez (Falmouth 1986), Mo Vaughn (Wareham 1987-88), Sean Casey (Brewster 1994), Todd Helton (Orleans 1994), Carlos Pena (Harwich 1996, Wareham 1997), Justin Smoak (Cotuit 2006), Mitch Moreland (Bourne 2006-07), Pete Alonso (Bourne 2015).
Chuck Knoblauch (Wareham 1988)
Knoblauch and Vaughn were part of one of the best Cape League teams I have ever seen. Those Gatemen won 29 of 44 games that year and took home the title.
Other notable names: Todd Walker (Brewster 1992), Chase Utley (Brewster 1998, Cotuit 1999), DJ LeMahieu (Harwich, 2008).
Nomar Garciaparra (Orleans 1993)
We’re going with the Red Sox great, who led the Cardinals to a league title in his lone year on Cape Cod with a .321 batting average.
Other notable names: Walt Weiss (Wareham 1984), John Valentin (Hyannis 1988).
Jeff Bagwell (Chatham 1987-1988)
There’s a ton of talent here, but it’s hard to overlook Bagwell. The former University of Hartford star would go on to have one of the best MLB careers of any New England native and end up in the Hall of Fame. He hit .315 for Chatham in 1988, and started in the Cape League All-Star Game
Other notable names: Mike Pagliarulo (Chatham 1980), Chris Sabo (Orleans 1982), Robin Ventura (Hyannis 1987), Bill Mueller (Bourne 1992), Aaron Boone (Orleans 1993), Mike Lowell (Chatham 1994), Mark Teixeira (Orleans 1999), Kevin Youkilis (Bourne 2000), Evan Longoria (Chatham 2005), Todd Frazier (Chatham 2005-06), Kris Bryant (Chatham 2011).
Thurman Munson (Chatham 1967)
Tough call here, but Munson gets the nod because he was not only an AL MVP (1976), he also led Chatham to a 30-9 record and the league crown with a .420 average in his one year on the Cape.
Other notable names: Carlton Fisk (Orleans 1966), Mickey Tettleton (Wareham 1980), Terry Steinbach (Cotuit 1982), Craig Biggio (Yarmouth-Dennis 1986), Jason Varitek (Hyannis 1991, 1993), Matt Wieters (Orleans 2006), Buster Posey (Yarmouth-Dennis, 2006-2007).
Lance Berkman (Wareham 1996)
There are a lot of big names on this list, but few could match success on the Cape and in the bigs like Berkman. He had the look of a future big leaguer when he was with the Gatemen in 1996, hitting .352 for Wareham in 1996.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Hyannis 2009)
Bradley’s glove distinguished him even then, and is the primary reason he made the cut. But when it came to his offense, it was a familiar Cape League story — he struggled with the wood bats when he first arrived, as many do. But he ended up finishing the year with a .275 average, putting himself squarely in the conversation as a pro prospect.
Aaron Judge (Brewster 2012)
The story goes that Judge was a guileless sort when he was on the Cape, and was worried that he was losing the team money when he continued to blast baseball after baseball into the woods beyond left field during BP. He led Brewster that summer with five homers and 16 RBIs.
Other notable names: Cory Snyder (Harwich 1983), Greg Vaughn (Cotuit 1985), Albert Belle (Chatham 1986, Hyannis 1987), Tim Salmon (Cotuit 1988), Mark Sweeney (Chatham 1988, Yamouth-Dennis 1989-90), Doug Glanville (Wareham 1990), Darin Erstad (Falmouth 1993-94), Aaron Rowand (Brewster 1996-97), Nick Swisher (Wareham 2000), Jacoby Ellsbury (Falmouth 2004), George Springer (Wareham 2009-10).
Barry Zito (Wareham 1997-98)
There are a ton of great pitchers on this list who made a lot of good hitters look foolish on the Cape, but I don’t know if I ever saw someone as talented as Zito, a future Cy Young Award winner who had an astonishing 81 strikeouts in 59 innings with Wareham in 1998.
Other notable names: Mike Flanagan (Falmouth (1972), John Tudor (Falmouth 1975), Ron Darling (Cotuit 1980), Bobby Witt (Chatham 1983), Charles Nagy (Harwich 1987), Dennis Neagle (Yarmouth-Dennis 1988), Ben McDonald (Orleans 1989), Eric Milton (Falmouth 1995-96), Tim Lincecum (Harwich 2005), Chris Sale (Yarmouth-Dennis 2009), Marcus Stroman (Orleans 2010-11), Walker Buehler (Yarmouth-Dennis 2014).
Billy Wagner (Brewster 1992)
Wagner had electric stuff in his one year on the Cape, striking out 79 in 44⅓ innings and going from small-school prospect to first-round pick.
Other notable names: Jeff Reardon (Cotuit 1974-76), Turk Wendell (Falmouth 1987), Andrew Miller (Chatham 2004-05).
Christopher Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.