History of the Commodores

100 Years of History: Falmouth Commodores and Cape League Baseball Celebrate Their Centennial
By Leah Garritt, 2023 Falmouth Commodores Intern

Picture this:
It’s June or July or early August, and you’re at a baseball game. The stands are full, the fans are loud, and the sun is just about to set. Down on the field, the grass is vibrant green, the lines are drawn in sharp white paint, and the infield dirt is raked perfectly smooth. The players are wearing clean new uniforms, and they’re joking with each other as they toss the ball around during warmups. They’re not major leaguers; they’re just kids. But they are undeniably talented, and their futures are wide open ahead of them.

This is summer baseball at its very best, before the big leagues and the bigger crowds and the even bigger contracts. This is summer baseball at its very best, and it’s all happening on Cape Cod—it’s been happening for a hundred years now.

The Cape Cod Baseball League, which has been recognized for many years as one of the nation’s premiere collegiate summer leagues, was originally founded in 1923. When it was first formed, the league consisted of only four teams: Chatham, Falmouth, Hyannis, and Osterville. This league was created as an answer to the growing demand for official baseball on the Cape—a demand that dated back to the years between the late 1860s and the early 1920s, when unofficial teams from various Cape towns would play games against each other during the summer. It was this summer tradition that eventually led to the formation of the first official Cape League.

Falmouth, as one of the first four teams in the original Cape League, plays a rich and integral part in the history of the league. The team has changed and grown over the years, from the pre-Cape League Falmouth Heights Cottage Club to the 1951 Falmouth Falcons to the Falmouth Commodores we know today, but one thing has remained the same: the strong tradition of baseball in Falmouth, maintained by the players’ talent and the town’s love of the game. Falmouth is one of the most iconic franchises in the Cape Cod Baseball League, and they’ve got alumni in the major leagues to prove it—Harold “Pie” Traynor, Darin Erstad, and Rhys Hoskins, to name just a few standout players across the decades.

The roots of organized baseball in Falmouth can be traced back to the Falmouth Heights Cottage Club, a team that preceded the Cape League and competed with teams from various other Cape towns such as Barnstable and Sandwich. This unofficial team increased the town of Falmouth’s interest in baseball, an interest that was rewarded in 1923 when the Cape League was first formed. Falmouth’s original Cape League team was composed of players from many different backgrounds—mostly locals from both colleges and prep schools, but also some semi-professional players. According to Cape League historian Mike Richard, unlike today’s Cape League, which is limited to interleague competition, they were allowed to compete with other teams within the area. The most notable of these external competitions was the exhibition game that Falmouth played against the Boston Braves in 1929, in which the Braves won by a narrow 8-7 margin.

As an official Cape League team, Falmouth was fairly successful throughout the seasons. They reached the playoffs in 1923 and 1924, the first two seasons in the league’s history. Although they didn’t win the championship either year, losing to Hyannis the first year and Osterville the second, it was nevertheless a promising start for the franchise. Falmouth had more success in later years, winning the championship in 1929 under Lynn Wells, in 1931, 1932, and 1935 under Jack Walsh, in 1938 under Bill Bouhuer, and in 1939 under Charles “Buzz” Harvey. Some notable players from this era include Massachusetts-born pitcher Al Blanche, Al Nimiec, Bill “Lefty” Lefebvre, and Emil “Bud” Roy.

Although it was greatly popular among the residents of the Cape and caused the formation of many different teams from the various towns, the Cape League eventually had to fold in 1940 due to limited funding in the face of the Great Depression and World War II. It wasn’t until the war ended in 1946 that the Cape League was reinstated, this time with a slightly different set of requirements for players: teams could no longer hire professional or semi-professional players who received a salary. The league was separated into two divisions —the Upper Cape division and the Lower Cape division—and strengthened by the addition of teams from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and the Cape Verdean Club, to name a few.

During this era of the Cape League, Falmouth had two separate teams playing in the Upper Cape Division: the Falmouth All-Stars, whose roster was composed of star players from a league that was already active within the town of Falmouth, and the Falmouth Falcons, who were formed in 1951 and consisted mostly of college-age ball players. In 1948, the Falmouth All-Stars won the championship under manager Jack Walsh in the league’s first year of reinstatement; in 1951, the Falmouth Falcons finished second place in their division. After funding decreased and both teams struggled during the 1952 season, the All-Stars and the Falcons were eventually combined into one team for the 1954 season. The All-Stars’ 1948 championship was the height of success for Falmouth during this time, as they only qualified for the playoffs in 1948, 1949, and 1960 and lost the playoff games during all three years, but it was a bright start that allowed Falmouth to leave an indelible mark on this promising new era of Cape League baseball.

In 1963, the Cape Cod Baseball League changed its mode of operation and became an official collegiate league sanctioned by the NCAA. Rather than having local players representing each town, Cape League teams now had rosters filled with an elite crop of college players from across the nation. The reformed league kept the dual division format, with Falmouth placed in the Upper Cape Division along with Bourne, Cotuit, Sagamore, and Wareham. During this time, Falmouth had a little reformation of its own: They got a new name—the Falmouth Commodores—and a new field as well. Prior to 1964, Falmouth’s various baseball teams had always played on the diamond at Falmouth Heights—a field that could turn problematic when a ball was hit far enough to impact the buildings across the street from the outfield, in which case it would be counted as a double. In 1964, Falmouth’s home base became the nearby Guv Fuller Field. One year later, in 1965, their name was changed from the Falmouth Falcons to the Falmouth Commodores.

The changes in name and location weren’t the only major changes that Falmouth experienced at this time. They also played their first night game in 1966, and became one of the most dominant teams in the league from the years 1966-1971. During this period of time, the Commodores reached the playoffs every year and won the championship four years in a row—from 1968-1971—under manager Bill Livesey, who would later end up in the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame. Some star players during this era were pitcher Noel Kinski (1966), Pat Borque (1968), Paul Mitchell (1969-1971), and Mike Flanagan (1972). Borque and Flanagan later prospered in Major League Baseball with the Oakland A’s and the Baltimore Orioles respectively.

After losing manager Bill Livesey in 1973, the Commodores struggled near the bottom of the league for the next few years, qualifying just once for the playoffs in 1975 under manager Jack Gillis and losing the final to the Cotuit Kettleers, 3-2. It wasn’t until 1980, when manager Al Worthington led the Commodores to a 3-2 win over Chatham in the finals, that the league title came home to Falmouth once again. Although not entirely successful during the latter half of this time period, the Commodore’s 1963-1980 era was a great one because it established them as a dominant power in the league as well as giving them the title of “four-peat” champions for their legendary 1968-1971 run.

Since 1980, the Commodores have been less successful on the field, as they have not won a league title in the last 43 years and have not qualified for the playoffs during 27 of those years. Despite this, Falmouth has seen success in other ways. Although the team as a whole may not have prospered during this time, Falmouth has many success stories with individual players. Some of the big names that have passed through Falmouth on their way to the big leagues are Darin Erstad (1994), Eric Milton (1995), and Conor Gillaspie (2007). Erstad played for the Anaheim Angels (later the Los Angeles Angels), the Chicago White Sox, and the Houston Astros; Milton played for the Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and LA Dodgers, throwing a no-hitter in 1999; and Conor Gillaspie played for the San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels. One of the most notable Commodores from the last few years is Rhys Hoskins (2013), who made it to the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2022 MLB season.

Another mark of Falmouth’s success can be seen by the recent field renovations, which were started in the mid 2010s in an effort to enhance the experience for fans. Thanks to funding from the Falmouth Road Race as well as the generous donations of private individuals, Guv Fuller Field got a new solar-powered LED scoreboard in 2015. This was the beginning of a renovation program at the Guv that also saw the addition of a new multi-purpose building used as the press box, an observation deck known as the Crow’s Nest behind home plate, and several field renovations. These field renovations included an overhaul of the two dugouts, the installation of safety netting and a new brick wall, new bleachers for the visitor section, and new fencing around the field, and the funding for this project was provided by a grant from the Falmouth Community Preservation Committee. Together, these renovations helped to increase the safety of fans while also improving the quality of the ballpark as a whole.

Fancy renovations and major league alumni aren’t the only things that make Falmouth special, however. The Commodores have a long and storied history as a part of the Cape Cod Baseball League, and they have a significance beyond the field, too. The Commodores are an iconic part of Falmouth’s culture, a way for the townspeople to connect with each other as well as with the sport of baseball itself. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be baseball fans can find a sense of belonging on those hot summer nights at Guv Fuller Field.

In addition to casual fans, the Commodores have also created a tight-knit community of staff and volunteers who dedicate their time and effort to the team. One example of this dedication is the story of longtime Commodores fan Al Irish, who recently passed away. Irish began attending Commodores games in 1924, and was the team’s historian for many years; he is known as the longest-living fan of the Commodores. Another example is Chuck Sturtevant, who served as the president of both the Commodores and the Cape League itself and was involved with Falmouth for 36 years before retiring in 2022.

The Commodores are a team surrounded by community, and that community’s roots run far deeper than just baseball. The team spends much of each summer doing community outreach—the players attend public events, such as field days at local elementary schools, and the player-staffed youth baseball clinics that run from June to July are a favorite tradition among the kids of Falmouth. There is also the culture of host families, which has become an institution through the years; the bonds between host families and the players who live with them are strong and lasting, creating relationships that will often continue for years afterward.

The Falmouth Commodores, and the Cape Cod Baseball League as a whole, are that rarest of phenomena: an organization that transcends profit in favor of authenticity. True, the CCBL is a feeder league for the majors; true, the majority of the players are from big-name colleges and chasing six-figure contracts for the future. During the short summer seasons, though, the money and the majors don’t matter as much as the magic that’s created on and off the field. The bonds built between players, families, and fans are the thing that’s most important, and the Falmouth Commodores are just one town’s example of the Cape League’s significance to the public. The Cape League is the place where elite college players hone and showcase their skills, but it’s also the place where families spend their summer nights and children learn to love baseball and people of all ages from all walks of life can be united through the timeless tradition of baseball. Ask anyone involved with the league, and they’ll tell you this: It’s the people that make the Cape League special.

“It’s made great because of the volunteers, the host families, the people who are involved with every one of their teams,” said Mike Richard, the CCBL’s historian, when asked about the league. “I just think it’s by far the greatest league that you could ever find anywhere.”

This sentiment was echoed by head coach Jeff Trundy, who is entering his 27th year with the Commodores. “I don’t think there’s any question,” he said. “I think that’s what really makes it all worth it. Obviously I love the game and I have a passion for it, I think that goes without saying, but it’s the people that make it what it is.”

The Cape League has always been like this: a holy ground for college baseball, a haven for fans of all ages, and a place where community grows right alongside the game. It’s been this way for a hundred years now—summer baseball done right on Cape Cod—and hopefully it will continue in the same fashion for the next hundred years as well, with the Commodores as a proud keystone of the league’s franchise.

“Being able to be a part of that myself and be there for this year is pretty special,” Trundy said. “I think it’s just going to be a really neat, neat summer celebrating the hundredth anniversary.”

A special thanks to Cape League Historian Mike Richard, Christopher Price’s book Baseball by the Beach, and Dan Crowley’s book Baseball on Cape Cod.