As someone who both grew up on Cape Cod League baseball and would love to see more women in the executive ranks of professional sports, I was particularly interested to read Jane Leavy’s Grantland piece on the women who run and act as general managers for the Cape League. Unfortunately, the piece spends a lot of time on the idea that if these older women worked in big-league ball, their priorities would be about things like banning hip-hop, migratory circles around the pitchers’ mound, and smokeless tobacco (I’d be fine with that last item), reaching perhaps the most interesting thing about the Cape League only towards the end:
Over the years Mrs. E has hosted give or take 160 players. In her view, parents are a clear and present danger to their offspring. One year looking over the roster for the coming season, she told her manager, “You’ve talked to the fathers of three sons and all three have the second coming of Christ living at home. How is that possible?”
She snorts. “We oughta hire only orphans to play the game.” If that proves impossible, Mrs. E suggests an all-out ban on living vicariously through your children. “After five years in The Show, they can look up their parents,” she said.
Jim Collins gets at this a bit in The Last Best League, his 2004 book where he follows a group of players through a Cape League season. But as much as the Cape League is a showcase and developing ground for major league talent, they also preach what’s essentially an anachronistic set of values. The players work side jobs. They stay in Cape Cod families’ extra bedrooms. They sign autographs and sell 50-50 raffle tickets during games. That kind of humility and service to fans isn’t a skill set that they’ll need in the majors, or at least not at the same intensity. Professional athletes who don’t want to be seen as terrible human beings at least make the motions at fan service and charity work, but the alignment and priorities are just totally different, and I’d love to see someone explore at greater length how long the Cape League’s character-building structure can last, and what kinds of pressures it’s come under at an age when stars are anointed at younger and younger ages, and made increasingly aware of other people’s perceptions of their own worth by their parents and agents.
In any case, for as long as it’s seen as a necessary stop on the road to the majors for elite college athletes, the Cape Cod League will remain a delight. Leavy’s totally correct to single out Orleans, though the Brewster home field is a wonderful combination of high school field and major-league promise.