CHATHAM — You can go home again, home to the place you played summer ball, home to the field where so many friendships were born, and home to a town that, no matter how many years have passed, has never forgotten you. But only in Chatham , and only as a member of its beloved baseball team.
Joe Jabar shows off is Cape League championship ring.
It was a reunion weekend to remember for the 1967 Chatham A’s – the first-ever A’s team to win the Cape Cod Baseball League championship – as they relived their glory days while being lavished with attention, gifts and gratis meals, complements of the altruistic Chatham Athletic Association.
Putting the final touches on so many brilliant careers, each team member was presented with a customized championship ring prior to Saturday’s game against the Cotuit Kettleers, on a short-sleeve, slightly breezy night the Gods conspired to make perfect for baseball.
“Receiving a ring is the icing on the cake, but it really means more for all of us to get together and see each other again,” said George Greer, who’s Cape League career spanned 12 years, three as a player in Chatham and nine as the head coach of Cotuit. “Seeing all those familiar faces, it’s almost like we never left, it’s almost like we were getting ready to play tonight.”
They left the batting and fielding up to the current group of A’s, but relished the spotlight one final time during an honorary pre-game introduction, much to the adulation of the overflow crowd at Veterans Field.
The 1967 Chatham A's team at last weekend's reunion.
Nearly every cast member from the famed ’67 squad returned to Chatham , making the trek from places like Michigan , Georgia , Indiana , and Arizona . Many hadn’t spoken to or seen each other since making history 38 years ago, but failed to miss a beat despite the decades of idle communication.
“It’s just been a marvelous walk down memory lane,” said Steve Saradnik, the team’s second baseman. “We’ve been able to pick up where we left off. It’s almost as if time has stood still.”
Even those players not present were well represented, particularly the late Dick Hanselman, who’s daughter Jennifer Hatchel threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The rings, designed by the players and manufactured by Jostens, feature the Cape ’s peninsula insignia on one side, the A’s emblem and each player’s surname on the other, with a luminous baseball in the centerpiece, surrounded by a sapphire exterior.
Upon catching a glimpse of the sparkling hardware, members of the 2005 Chatham A’s began to fashion a star-struck look in their eyes, coming face-to-face with what they stand to receive should they follow suit and take home the coveted Cape crown.
They proceeded by beating Cotuit 6-1 for their fourth straight win, taking another step closer to clinching a playoff berth, and making an already sweet reunion for their predecessors that much sweeter.
Better Late Than Never
Chatham A’s players didn’t receive rings until the mid 1990s, beginning with the 1996 championship squad, followed by the ’98 club. Prior to that, the CAA had only enough money to cover its expenses, according to President Peter Troy. But the advent of the concession and merchandise stands, 50/50 raffle, et al boosted the organization financially, allowing for previously unfeasible luxuries.
Troy said the decision to honor the ’67 team and provide them with rings was an unanimous one among the A’s board members.
“I truly believe the players of the 1960s, guys like Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, are the caliber of players who really elevated the Cape Cod Baseball League,” said Troy . “Guys who were on the ’67 A’s championship team were a major foundation for what this league has become, and for that reason, I feel comfortable reaching back and recognizing them. It was kind of a delayed reaction, but it’s better late than never.”
The cost for each ring was approximately $200, “not a huge cost, but not an insignificant one either,” said Troy , noting a ring ceremony for the 1982 and 1992 A’s championship teams remains a viable possibility.
“An association like ours has a very strong sense of history, and that’s why we decided it would be really great to be able to recognize this team,” said Troy . “It’s the type of thing that if you give something, you always get something back, and that’s very much been the case this weekend. We’ve given, but we’ve got so much back with all the stories they’ve told and all the gratitude this team has demonstrated.”
Anchored by the late Thurman Munson, the ’67 A’s compiled a 30-9-4 regular season record, swept Orleans in the Lower Division playoffs then posted two wins over Falmouth to capture the championship.
Arguably the most famous A’s alumni, Munson hit .420 and won the batting title that summer. (Organizers said an exhaustive effort was made to contact the Munson family in hopes of having them attend the reunion, but they did not respond).
Joe Jabar was the team’s defensive stalwart, amassing a 7-0 record, a 1.23 ERA, and taking home pitcher of the year honors. He was the hero of the championship series, pitching a five-hitter and driving in the winning run with a sacrifice fly that gave the A’s a narrow 3-2 victory over Falmouth to clinch the title.
“We wanted to win the championship, expected to win it, but it was also a relief,” said Jabar. “We knew nothing was guaranteed, especially after losing the championship series in ’65 and in ’66. Still, we weren’t going to be denied.”
In fact, the A’s were so intent on taking home the title, some went so far as to defer their major league dreams.
“After we lost the ’66 title game, a scout from the Baltimore Orioles tried to get me to sign [a pro contract],” said Saradnik. “But I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t want to leave Chatham without winning it all. I truly wanted this town to have a championship.”
For many, playing in Chatham was the highlight of their baseball careers, even for those who went on to play pro and semi-pro ball.
“I played minor league ball for the Red Sox, broke records at the University of
Connecticut , but nothing stands out more in my mind than my time in Chatham ,” said Ed Baird, dubbed “Big Ed” for his six-foot-four frame. “My fondest memory wasn’t winning the championship. It was the entire three years (’65-’67) I spent in Chatham playing for the A’s.”
Baird, along with Greer, spearheaded the reunion effort, tracking down phone numbers and playing detective to find former teammates. Baird personally constructed a bulky year-in-review yearbook, so replete with newspaper clippings, box scores, team stats and individual stats, that those at the Elias Sports Bureau would marvel at its make up.
The stories for the yearbook were provided by the team’s first baseman Gary Lautzenhiser, whose parents saved every copy of the Cape Cod Standard Times and later stored it in their attic, where it remained seal-wrapped and in near mint-condition.
“It’s been a total blast reminiscing with the guys,” said Baird, a Cape League Hall of Famer, along with Greer, Jabar and Munson. “No one remembers everything, but everyone remembers a little something.”
An hour before the ring presentation, Greer sat on the porch of the Red Nun bar (adjacent to Veterans Field), reminiscing and recalling stories so lucidly, you’d think they happened yesterday.
On Greer’s right ring finger rests his 2001 Atlantic Coast Conference championship ring, which he won as part of his 17 years as head coach at Wake Forrest. He looks down at the stone, certain it’ll be the last time he’ll don the jewel.
“The Wake Forrest ring comes off, the Chatham ring goes on, and the Chatham ring stays on,” said Greer with unmistakable conviction.
“You make it sound as though the Chatham ring is more special,” observes an outsider.
“It is,” he said, looking up and smiling. “It really is.”
by Eric Adler