By Jim Stout
CHATHAM, Mass. --- John Schiffner will be the first to tell you: Managers don't win games in the fabled Cape Cod Baseball League. Players and recruiters do.
But Schiffner, the long-time coach at Plainfield High School in eastern Connecticut, has won another compelling contest over the years in becoming the most successful manager in Cape Cod baseball history - that of being a high school coach while simultaneously commanding the respect of the nation's college elite.
With the Chatham A's 10-1 win over Bourne last Thursday, Schiffner became the winningest manager in Cape history, gaining his 335th career victory in 15 seasons and surpassing the 334 wins of former Wareham Gateman skipper Don Reed.
The next night, win No. 336 for Schiffner clinched a tie for yet another playoff berth for the venerable Chatham franchise, one that employed Schiffner for eight years as an assistant coach before turning over to him the managerial position in 1993.
How good has Chatham been historically? One of the managing legends Schiffner recently passed in his quest for win 335 was his former boss with the A's, Ed Lyons, who won 331 career games and from whom Schiffner learned much of his craft at this level.
Being one of the most successful high school coaches in Connecticut history hasn't hurt Schiffner, either. Two seasons ago, he became one of a half dozen coaches in state annals to top the 400-win plateau for his career, which now spans 29 seasons and 420 wins at Plainfield.
"I'd been an assistant (at Chatham) before becoming a manager, so the credibility aspect of it wasn't really a factor," said Schiffner, who last week signed a new three-year contact with Chatham, one that will carry him through the 2010 season.
"The kids in this league here want to be coached, but they want to play, too, so you let them play and they're going to respect you more for that. You coach when you have to coach. And if you know baseball, they're going to listen because they want to get better. My high school record was very good, too, so guys basically just said `hey, the guy knows what he's talking about.' It's not a hard game to coach."
Keeping the game fun and simple and adhering to tradition have been the keys to success for Schiffner, who teaches history at Plainfield when he's not living it. So, too, has the task of keeping egos out of the way.
Not only does Schiffner strive to make players the focal point of his CCBL flagship franchise, he prides his managing on the development of aspiring coaches and the designation of authority, similar to the way Lyons did when Schiffner was breaking into the business in the 1980s.
"The thing I've always said is, people come to these games on Cape to see the kids play, not to watch me coach or manage," Schiffner said.
"I always try to keep that in perspective. You also have to remember that being here, you have to have good contacts and be able to recruit. I didn't win 335 games because I'm a great coach. I won 335 games because I've had great players.
"I've been blessed with 20 or so assistant coaches over the years that have been fabulous," he added.
"Between the players and the assistants, no way I would have won 335 games without them. The coaches have made our kids better. And it gives them the opportunity to improve themselves in the coaching world and move on in the college or professional ranks. That's a thrill for me. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. Then you get calls from college coaches saying, `hey, my kid improved this summer...he's so much better, what did you do?' I tell them, `I turned him over to my assistants.'"
Over the course of the 2006 professional season, Schiffner had 38 former Chatham A's players in Major League baseball. All-star second baseman Brian Roberts of the Orioles was among those 38, as was Red Sox' third baseman Mike Lowell and Chatham's most recent ascendant to MLB, lefty pitching star and No. 6 overall pick in 2005, Andrew Miller of the Tigers. The Kansas Royals at one juncture had five ex A's on their roster in 2006.
As much as he enjoys seeing his former players move up, Schiffner revels in the overall environment of the Cape League, both amid the players and managers. He also enjoyed the first-time thrill last season of a former Plainfield High player of his, Josh Terletzky, of Southern Connecticut State, making the Chatham roster.
"Just watching the level of talent here has been fabulous," he said. "And coaching against some of these guys in this league has been special, guys like Scott Pickler, Billy Mosiello, Brad Kelly, Don Reed. Just to see guys like Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Veritek, Todd Helton, Brian Roberts and some of the others as college players is an experience like no other."
Though Schiffner has spent his life working in baseball, there's been a hint of hockey influence in his career and life as well. While playing baseball as undergraduate at Providence College in the mid 1970s, he came in contact with a baseball assistant by the name of Lou Lamoriello, who was also the architect of the school's hockey dynasty at the time.
Because Providence baseball and hockey players sometimes roomed and hung out together, Schiffner's college roommate turned out to be a hockey star, Ron Wilson. One of his best friends was another PC hockey player, Brian Burke.
The rest is both hockey history and a lifetime worth of friendships. Lamoriello, once a baseball manager himself in the Cape League, has won three Stanley Cups as president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils. Wilson is coach of the San Jose Sharks and has also coached the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. Burke won his first Stanley Cup this past season as the GM at Anaheim.
"I have a great deal of respect for Lou and the way he runs things and gets things done," Schiffner said. "He's always been way out front with everything he's accomplished, even back at Providence. Ronnie and Brian have been good friends for a long time now. They'll still call during the summer to see how we're doing and say, `hey, I have friend who's going to be on the Cape. Can you get him an A's hat or a shirt or something?'"
Schiffner and Wilson also share in another little-known connection. Both were subjects in movies about their respective franchises, Wilson in Mighty Ducks and Schiffner in Summer Catch, the latter involving a romance between a girl visiting Chatham for the summer and an A's player. Brian Dennehy played Schiffner in the movie.
"Ronnie still likes to kid me about which movie was better," Schiffner said.
One thing can never be argued, though. The Cape Cod Baseball League has been made immeasurably better by the long-time presence of a high school history teacher and coach from Connecticut.
"One of my only rules is, don't embarrass the game of baseball," Schiffner said. "Don't do something silly. Don't embarrass baseball, yourself or your team by throwing a helmet or a bat or acting up on the field or not hustling or getting thrown out of games a lot. That's when I will get angry. Just go out and play and play hard. This is a wonderful opportunity these players have to play this game at this level. I don't want them to screw it up."
Under Schiffner, they seldom do.
Jim Stout is the MaxPreps.com Regional Media Manager for the Northeast. He may be reached at 203-563-2297 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.