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Cape League Spotlight: Future Major Leaguers from the 1930s

Red Rolfe
06/30/2020 6:16 AM

Article By: Mike Richard



In the pre-Modern era of the Cape Cod Baseball League, prior to 1946, there was an occasional player who was good enough to make the jump to the Major Leagues.
While those players were generally few and far between, there was a handful of players from that era that got the proverbial “cup of coffee,” while a few others had distinguished careers.
Here is a look back at those players from the 1930s decade who made it to the Major Leagues.

Johnny Broaca (Orleans 1930-32)

Born in Lawrence, Mass., Broaca graduated from Phillips Andover Academy where he played for coach Patsy Donovan, a former Major League right fielder who played for several
teams from 1890 to 1907, most notably the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Broaca went on to be a three-sport athlete at Yale University in baseball, track and boxing. Between 1930-32, he came to Orleans to play for the team coached by his former Phillip Andover coach Donovan.

He would go on to play for the Yankees (1934-37) and the Cleveland Indians (1939) where he had a 44-29 record with a 4.08 ERA and 258 career strikeouts.

Red Rolfe (Orleans, 1930)

Rolfe was an outstanding third baseman for Dartmouth College when he came down with a sore arm and missed most of his senior year. It just so happened that year many major league scouts came to see him at Dartmouth, but his chronic arm problems almost cost him a chance to sign a pro career.

At the suggestion of his college coach, former Major Leaguer Jeff Tesreau, Rolfe spent the summer of 1930 with Orleans on the Cape under the watchful eye of manager Patsy Donovan. There he was a teammate of Johnny Broaca on the third-place finishing Orleans squad.

The following year, he was at Yankee Stadium, a teammate of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the pin-stripers.  

Rolfe’s entire ten-year professional career was played with the New York Yankees beginning in 1931 and then returning from 1934-42. He was a four-time American League All-Star and a member of five World Series teams in 1936–1939 and 1941. His career batting average was .289 with 69 home runs and 497 RBI. He later managed the Detroit Tigers from 1949-52 to a 278-256 record and a .521 winning percentage

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Bill Chamberlain (Harwich, 1932)

Another native of Massachusetts, Chamberlain grew up in Milton and played college baseball at Saint Anselm College. While pitching for Harwich in the summer of 1932, he was noticed by a White Sox scout and by the end of that season he was on the Chicago pitching staff.

It would be his only major league season as he wound up appearing in 12 games for the White Sox and posted a 4.57 ERA in 41.1 innings. He wound up allowing three home runs in his career – and all to future Baseball Hall of Famers; two to Mickey Cochrane and the other to Al Simmons.

Chamberlain would play five more seasons, all in the minor leagues before leaving baseball and joining the Boston Police Force where he worked for 30 years.


Len Merullo (Barnstable, 1935)

East Boston native Lennie Merullo played shortstop for Barnstable during the 1935 season, leading the team to the top spot for the first half of the season. They wound up facing Falmouth in the playoffs, losing in an exciting five-game series.  

Merullo went on to play seven seasons in the major league, with his career beginning in 1941 with the Chicago Cubs. From 1942-45, he was the starting shortstop with the Cubs and according to some observers of the game, he was known to have the quickest throwing arm in baseball.

After retiring from professional baseball, Merullo went on to become the chief scout for the Cubs from 1950–72. He was named to the inaugural class of the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame in 2000.


Wilfred “Lefty” Lefebvre (Falmouth, 1935)

Facing Merullo’s Barnstable team in the 1935 finals, Wilfred “Lefty” Lefebvre hurled the Falmouth squad to victory. He won the first game of the playoffs, 8-3 and Falmouth took a 2-0 series lead before Barnstable came back to knot things 2-2. Lefebvre then won clinching game five, 3-2.

Red Sox scout Hugh Duffy came to the Cape that summer and was so impressed with Lefebvre that he was invited to a tryout at Fenway Park after Labor Day. That led to him being signed to a Red Sox contract and an eventual nine-year playing career that began in 1938.

Lefebvre pitched in a total of 36 games with Red Sox between 1938-44 and 1946-47, and 30 for the Washington Senators from 1943-44. He had a 5–5 record for his career and a 5.03 ERA in 132​1⁄3 innings pitched. Among his ten starts he had three complete games and also had three saves in relief.

From 1949 to 1963, Lefebvre was the head baseball coach at Brown University. He later returned to the Cape League manage Dennis in 1959-60 and Chatham in 1964.

Mike Richard is the official historian of the Cape Cod Baseball League and can be contacted by email at mikerichard0725@gmail.com.

 

Lefty Lefebvre