By BRUCE HACK
Baseball and All-Star games have been a great combination since 1933 when Major League Baseball played its first mid-summer classic at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
The Cape Cod Baseball League was reborn with the merger of the Upper Cape League and Lower Cape League in 1963. It did not take long for the league to put on its own version of a mid-summer classic. The first All-Star game in the modern era was played at Sagamore’s Keith Field on August 5th. The tradition will continue this year as the mid-season classic, an event that has become a major part of the season for both players and fans, returns to Wareham for the first time since 1999.
The first game in 1963 was an inter-league contest between the best of the Cape League and the best from the Cranberry League. This was the first time a Cape League All-Star team had played another league in an all-star game. The game was played on August 6th at Keith Field under the lights. Cotuit’s Cotton Nash, a basketball All-American at Kentucky, provided the heroics for the Cape stars as he hit the first home run – a three run blast to center- to climax a six-run second inning as the Cape League powered its way to a 15-2 win. Orleans’ Tom Yankus also homered for the Cape and pitched two innings, striking out one. Cotuit’s Bernie Kilroy started and was the winner as he struck out four in two innings.
The competition between leagues lasted only one year and from 1964-69 the league played an Upper Cape Division (west) – Lower Cape Division (east) contest.
The first all-star game happened in 1946 when the Cape League resumed play after a six-year hiatus. The first all-star game in the Cape’s history took place at Brooks Park in Harwich. The game was a match-up between a team made up of stars from league clubs and a team made up of the outstanding players selected from candidates at the Boston Red Sox tryout school in Hyannis.
The league continued to hold All-Star games and in 1958 an estimated crowd of 2,000 poured into Ezra Baker field in South Dennis for an all-star game between the Upper and Lower Cape leagues. The Upper Cape All-Stars came away with a 6-4 victory
This year will be the fourth time the Cape’s best head to Wareham’s Spillane Field to battle each other for bragging rights.
The first all-star game in Wareham took place in 1965 and was the second meeting between the Upper Cape and Lower Cape divisions. The Upper Cape won 10-9 for its second straight victory. Cotuit catcher Ray Ilg singled to drive in one run and a two-run error allowed the winning run to score in the bottom of the eighth.
The game featured a match-up of future Cape League Hall of Fame inductees Joe Jabar and Noel Kinski. Though neither starter was involved in the decision, Kinski fared better for his Upper Cape team as he pitched three innings, allowed no hits, walked one and struck out four. The Upper Cape was guided by Sagamore manager Lou Lamoriello, who went on to become the general manager of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
The Cape League’s best returned to Wareham in 1993 for the sixth meeting between the East and West. The West won 9-3 with Hyannis’ Matt Morris (now with San Francisco) getting the win. Home team favorite Roy Marsh was named West MVP and tied the game record with four hits, including a double and an RBI. Brewster’s Geoff Blum (now with the San Diego Padres) was named East MVP, as he went 2-for-2 with two RBI. Also playing in the game that year were Orleans’ teammates Nomar Garciaparra (LA Dodgers) and Aaron Boone. Starting catcher for the West was Hyannis’ Jason Varitek (Boston Red Sox), while the starting right fielder was Darin Erstad from Falmouth (Chicago White Sox).
The most recent all-star game in Wareham was in 1999 and the West won again 6-4. Each division had a future major leaguer take home MVP honors. For the West current Colorado Rockie Garret Atkins (Cotuit) won as he went 2-for-3 with two walks, a double and two RBI. Atkins doubled in a run in the four-run winning rally in the seventh. The East MVP was Mark Teixeira (Orleans and now with Texas) who hit a two-run home run in the first inning on his way to a 2-for-4, two RBI game. Orleans’ Lance Niekro (San Francisco Giants) and 2007 NL All-Star starting second baseman Chase Utley (Cotuit and now Philadelphia) were also in the game. The home run hitting contest was won by Falmouths’ Doc Brooks who knocked balls deep into the left field stands at Spillane Field.
Change came about in 1970 as the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League invited the Cape League to play an All-Star game. The first one was played at Yankee Stadium and the Cape League won 6-3. Future major-leaguer Paul Mitchell (Falmouth) was the winner, the first of his two all-star victories.
The classic returned to Falmouth in 1972 after the ACBL and CCBL took a year off. A group of Cape League all-stars played the defending champion Commodores and lost 8-1 as Jim Riggleman hit two home runs.
Riggleman was the hero in 1973 as he hit the first all-star game grand slam in a 13-7 win over the ACBL at Yankee Stadium.
The game made its second appearance at Fenway Park in 1977 and Steve Balboni (Yarmouth and Falmouth) hit two three-run blasts over the Green Monster to power the Cape to a 8-3 win.
The last inter-league contest between the ACBL and the Cape League came at Yankee Stadium in 1980 and Ron Darling (Cotuit) showed why he was called “All-World” by his teammates. Darling started in right, and singled, doubled , homered and drove in two runs as the Cape came back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 10-9 lead. With runners on first and second and one out, Darling came in from left and struck out the first batter he faced and retired the final batter on a popup to first to save the win.
In 1984 a trio of Harwich Mariners led the CCBL to a 7-3 win over the ACBL in Philadelphia. Mike Loggins and Casey Close combined to drive in seven runs. Loggins was named MVP as he tripled, scored three runs and drove in four. Future major-leaguer Joe Magrane earned the win with two shutout innings.
In 1988 the league returned to an intra league game which featured the best of the West against the best of the East. Orleans hosted the game and the West won 4-3. Future major league stars Jeff Bagwell (Chatham) and Mo Vaughn (Wareham) each hit a home run. The home run hitting contest was won by Orleans’ Frank Thomas (twice AL MVP) who used a bat given him by his Auburn teammate Bo Jackson.
Current New York Mets closer Billy Wagner (Brewster) was East MVP in the 1992 game won by the West 3-1. Wagner, a hard-throwing lefty, struck out the side in his only inning of work. Rick Ellstrom (Cotuit) was named West MVP for his two-run home run.
In 1997 Falmouth’s Jason Edgar was West MVP with two hits, two runs and an RBI on a solo home run as the West won 5-4 at Hyannis. The West starting pitcher was Mark Mulder (Bourne). With his start for the American League representing Oakland in the 2004 Major League All-Star game, Mulder became the second pitcher to start a Cape League All-Star game and a Major League All-Star game.
The 2004 game in Orleans saw the East knock out four home runs in the first two innings on the way to a record 13-0 blanking of the West. Y-D’s Frank Curreri hit a two-run home run in the first and Jordan Brown of the host Cardinals added a solo shot to close out a four-run first. Brewster’s Ryan Patterson led-off the second with a home run and Jon Aughey of Harwich added a two-run shot to give the East a 7-0 lead after two innings. While the East offense was exploding the pitchers were holding the West hitless for 5 and two-thirds innings, the longest stretch in an All-Star game. Wareham’s Warner Jones singled with two outs in the sixth for the West’s first hit. In the seventh Bryan Harris of Cotuit doubled for the West’s second and final hit. The two hits tied the record for the fewest hits in an All-Star game.