CHATHAM – John Schiffner was once told he'd never be a head coach in the Cape Cod Baseball League. After all, he was just a high school coach and high school coaches didn't make it to the nation's most renowned summer baseball league. Now those naysayers can come visit Schiffner's plaque where it hangs proudly in the League's illustrious Hall of Fame.
Schiffner, longtime head coach of the Chatham Anglers, was one of six former coaches and players inducted into the Hall of Fame in its annual ceremony held Dec. 1 at Chatham Bars Inn.
“I was told I'd never be a head coach in the Cape Cod Baseball League,” Schiffner said.
At the time he was a high school baseball coach in Plainfield, with dreams of something bigger for his future. Bigger became a job as manager of the Chatham A's, later the Anglers, which Schiffner coached until 2017.
While in Chatham, he led his teams to two League championships, six East Division titles and 15 playoff appearances, as well as 541 regular season victories, making him the winningest coach in Cape League history. Schiffner's goal during each of the summers he worked for the league was to provide his players with what he called the Chatham Experience.
“This is obviously one of the greatest places around,” he said. “It's an extremely, extremely special place. It is everyone and everything that makes playing in Chatham so special.”
Since stepping down from the Anglers, Schiffner has been hard at work as the assistant baseball coach at the University of Maine in Orono, dividing his time between Maine and his home in Harwich. “This is the greatest reward I'll receive as a baseball coach,” Schiffner said. “I thank God every day he made me a Chatham A.”
When the time came for Harwich Mariners head coach Steve Englert to put closing pitcher Craig Hansen into a game, his confidence was always high, and rightly so. During his playing days in 2004, Hansen had a 1-1 record that included 10 saves and a perfect 0.00 ERA. He threw 41 strikes in just over 22 innings, was an East Division All-Star reserve and named to the 2004 All-League team.
For Hansen, being inducted into the Hall of Fame was an honor. The Cape League, Hansen said, highlighted the beauty and joy of the game of baseball, and having the host families and fans behind a player sweetened the experience.
“I think when you have belief and support behind you, that's what makes a player,” he said.
Mark Sweeney said what made his Cape League experience so memorable was the bonds formed with players and host parents during his years with the Y-D Red Sox and the Chatham A's.
“It's the friendships that last a lifetime that make the Cape League so special,” Sweeney said.
During his three summers on the Cape, Sweeney was named playoff MVP in 1989, had a batting average of .310 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 1990, and was part of the first championship Red Sox team in 1989 as well as the next in 1990.
For more than five decades, Peter Gammons has been a tireless contributor, supporter and follower of the Cape Cod Baseball League, as well as one of America's most popular sportswriters and baseball enthusiasts. But what mattered the most to Gammons throughout his career wasn't the words he penned so eloquently, nor was it the statistics he kept careful track of. It was the people.
“It always came back to Peter's love of people,” Mike Hazen, executive vice president and general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, said in his presentation speech.
During Gammons' career he was a lead baseball columnist for Sports Illustrated, a columnist for The Sporting News, and author of numerous books on the sport. He has been a television and radio analyst, and even put out a musical album in 2006.
“I've had 50 great years of covering baseball,” Gammons said. “I did what I love, and the Cape League is a big part of what I love.”
“At 20 years old in 2011 I had an 82-year-old best friend,” said Robert Benincasa.
Those unfamiliar with Cape Cod Baseball League legend Barbara “Mrs. E” Ellsworth might have questioned Benincasa's statement. But those who knew her best understood. There were few aspects of summer Mrs. E loved more than the Cape League ballplayers she hosted each season.
During her more than three decades with the Cape League, Ellsworth housed 153 players between the Y-D and Harwich organizations. She first joined the league in 1978, working with the Y-D Red Sox, serving as president, vice president, housing coordinator and general manager during her 34 years with the organization.
In 2013 she joined the Harwich Mariners family and continued to host players, including the sons of some past players. Sadly, Mrs. E passed away in November, and was posthumously inducted on Dec. 1, and honor that thrilled her when she learned of it.
“She was my phone call in the middle of the night,” said her son Kent Ellsworth. “She knew every kid, where they went, and what they were doing. I will miss talking baseball with her.”
He said that for the league to induct her into its Hall of Fame was “so rewarding.”
“Not many kids can say their mom is in a baseball hall of fame,” he said. “It's pretty cool.”