HISTORY OF THE LITTLE BASEBALL LEAGUE IN CAMBRIDGE
The first Little League baseball game was played in Williamsport, PA on June 6, 1939. The game was organized on the excellent principle of shrinking the length of the game and size of the field to two-thirds of its adult proportions. It also brought in a crucial new rule--base runners could not take leads.
Little League spread like wildfire after World War II, fueled by suburbanization, free time, and the convenience of the station wagon. Cambridge joined the national organization in 1952 with five teams playing in one division.
According to the Cambridge Chronicle, over 1700 kids--all boys--tried out for 75 roster slots! (The odds were better getting into Harvard that year than getting into Little League). The first game--part of a Sunday double header--was played on May 18, 1952 at Granite St. Park, now known as Lindstrom Field.
All the games that year were played at Granite St. The entire league budget for that first season was $1,000--underwritten entirely by the five sponsors. They were: Boston Athletic Shoe Co.; Barnyard Athletic League (an adult softball league, we think); Elks Lodge; Platt Construction Co.; and Salvi Ford. The coaching staffs were a virtual Who's Who of Cambridge amateur athletics and included former Harvard baseball captain John Caulfield, and John "Tweet" Reardon, head football coach at Cambridge High and Latin.
The following year, under the guidance of Commissioner James F. Whalen, the program expanded to twelve teams in three divisions--Central, East, and North. (Interesting to note that four out of the five above-named sponsors moved to the East division in '53. Why has East, we wonder, always led the way in fundraising?) That year saw the first inter-division playoff, a forerunner of the Mayor's Cup, which was won by the North division Dodgers, sponsored by Moll's Garage.
During this period Cambridge was not eligible for post season (LL World Series) play because we did not meet the demographic requirements mandated by Williamsport's 15,000 residents maximum per division (since expanded to 20,000).
Realizing that we would never have enough playing fields to satisfy them, we severed our ties with the national organization after the 1957 season. That is why today we call ourselves, for legal purposes, a "Little Baseball League".
In 1964 we expanded to four divisions when the "junior circuit", West Cambridge, threw out its first pitch. The fourth team made for a simpler postseason format. In '64 it was a best-of-three, home and away, semifinal and final playoff known as the City Series which stretched well in July. We arrived at the current, single elimination playoff format with Mayor's Cup in June and All-Star game in September in 1988.
The loss of the Williamsport connection in '58 had the unintended consequence of leaving us with no governing body to regulate the different divisions. It turned out that we liked it that wayxeach division has set its own social policy over the years(roster sizes, schedules, fees, etc.). Each division also had to struggle separately with the issue, which seemed vexing at the time, of whether to allow girls into the program. The honor of being the first division to admit girls appears to be a matter of debate between North and West. North definitely had four girls playing in the 1974 season. West claims that a girl, Alexandra Steinert, played for the Russell Associates teams in 1973 but we are still seeking confirmation of that. (Williamsport went coed in 1974 after a court challenge.)
An important development in youth baseball occurred in 1983 with the foundation of the Baystate Baseball League of which Cambridge was a charter member. The league now encompasses 32 towns in eastern Mass. and provides an incredibly intense level of competition for our little league all-stars during the months of July and August. A team from Cambridge won the Baystate "Tournament of Champions" in 1989.
Minor League Mayor's Cup Champs the Mets: early 1980s
From left to right: Henry Zelnio, long-time coach and player agent, Frank Barbera, past North Division League President, and Diane Costanza, past North Division League President.
Photo from late 1970s.