HOFer Phil Niekro dead at 81; part of prolific MLB brother combo

Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro died on December 26 after a struggle with cancer. He pitched for 24 seasons in the majors during 1964 to 1987. He compiled a career record of 318-274 and 3.35 ERA, while striking out over 3,300 batters.

He is the brother of Joe Niekro, who played in the majors for 22 seasons. They are among the most prolific pair of brothers who pitched in the majors.

The Niekro brothers compiled the most wins (539) by a brother combination in major-league history (Phil with 318 and Joe with 221), narrowly edging out the Perry brothers (Gaylord and Jim) by 10 wins. But then the Niekros also had the most losses by a pair of brothers (478), as they pitched in a combined 46 seasons. The Niekro brothers started a combined 13 Opening Day game but wound up with a combined record of 0-10 on those days. Joe hit the only major-league home run of his career against Phil on May 29, 1976.

Click here for more information Phil’s career from mlb.com. Another article from the New York Times is available here.

Daniel Bard had impressive return to MLB in 2020

Pitcher Daniel Bard made a dramatic comeback to the majors last season after a seven-year absence, including the 2018 and 2019 seasons where he didn’t play at all.

Bard was a first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2006. Three years later he made his major-league debut with the Red Sox, when he made 49 relief appearances. In 2010 he was one of the best middle relievers in the game, posting a 1.93 ERA in 73 appearances. He followed that with a 3.33 ERA in 70 appearances in 2011.

But then he lost his control and struggled the next two seasons, eventually winding up back in the minors with several clubs. Unable to regain his control, he retired after the 2017 season.

He began his comeback in February and earned an invitation to spring training with the Rockies. The 35-year-old appeared in 23 games for the Rockies, posting a 3.65 ERA and averaging almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings.

He was awarded the Tony C. Award (named after former Red Sox player Tony Conigliaro) for his impressive comeback.

Daniel’s brother Luke has pitched for the big-league Angels for the past three seasons. Their cousin is former major leaguer John Andreoli.

Click here for more information about Daniel Bard.

Will Venable named new Red Sox bench coach

Will Venable was tabbed by manager Alex Cora as the new Boston Red Sox bench coach. He had previously served as third base coach for the Chicago Cubs.

Venable played nine seasons in the majors, primarily with the San Diego Padres. The outfielder compiled a career .241 average, with 81 home runs and 307 RBIs. He also played briefly for the Rangers and Dodgers.

Venable’s father, Max, also played in the majors from 1979 to 1991 for the Giants, Angels, Reds, and Expos.

For more information about Will Venable’s new position, click here.

MLB pitcher Lindy McDaniel used baseball to spread Christianity

Former major-league pitcher Lindy McDaniel was one of the casualties of COVID-19, dying on November 14 after battling the virus. He pitched in the majors for 21 seasons, compiling a 141-119 record and 3.45 ERA in 987 career games.

McDaniel served as a preacher and early in his baseball career produced a monthly publication titled “Pitching for the Master.” He continued to preach for nearly fifty years after his playing career ended.

McDaniel signed with the St. Louis Cardinals at age 19 with a bonus of $50,000. By 1959, he had become one of the premier relief specialists in baseball. His best season came in 1960 with the Cardinals when he finished third in the Cy Young Award voting and fifth in the MVP Award voting. His career also included stints with Cubs, Giants, Yankees, and Royals.

McDaniel’s brother, Von, also signed with the Cardinals, where he played parts of two seasons in 1957 and 1958. Another brother, Kerry, pitched in the low minors for the Cardinals from 1961 to 1963.

Click here to read more about Lindy McDaniel’s career.

Baseball’s family ties hampered by crazy 2020 season

COVID-19 put a damper on most things this year, including the 2020 MLB season. The changes that came about because of the pandemic even had an impact on the number of family relationships in the majors and minors this year and next year as well. It affected players, managers, coaches, scouts, and front-office personnel of all the big league organizations.

We had an abbreviated spring training, with players barely have gotten in game-ready condition when they were sent home in mid-March. Then we had a truncated regular season that lasted 60 games in a little more than two months. We didn’t have a minor league season from which big-league teams could draw needed players throughout the season. Instead it was replaced by each major-league team having a taxi or reserve squad of 60 players at their disposal during the season. The draft class was the smallest in history because MLB limited the selections to five rounds. Although not COVID-related, MLB also announced its plan to reduce the number of minor-league affiliates by 25 percent in 2021.

Consequently, fewer players were able to break into major league rosters coming out of spring training, since there wasn’t sufficient time for them to hone and demonstrate their skills. There were fewer call-ups to big-league rosters because of the limited pool of available players to draw from. In fact, the shortened season saw the fewest prospects promoted since 1878. There were fewer number of amateur players drafted, which will impact the population of major and minor league rosters in the future. Players with baseball in their bloodlines were impacted by all of these factors.

The duties of player development and minor-league field and front office personnel were dramatically curtailed, although most organizations continued to pay their salaries, albeit reduced, for parts of the season. There will be 25 percent fewer affiliated players in the minors next season, although independent leagues may fill some of the gap. Many of those jobs and roster spots, including those held by staff and players with baseball relatives, will be eliminated in 2021 because of the negative financial impact of COVID this season.

Despite all of these factors, baseball’s bloodlines weren’t completely put on hold this season. Here are some highlights of baseball’s relatives in 2020 in several categories.

Opponents

Brothers Hunter and Braden Bishop met on the field for the first time in their lives in an early spring training game this year. Hunter was a first-round pick of San Francisco in 2019, while Braden, who is five years older, is in his second major-league season for the Seattle Mariners. They had a memorable moment together in the game when Hunter fielded an overthrow from the Giants catcher while Braden stole second and then made his way to third on the overthrow. For a brief moment, Hunter thought about trying to throw out his brother at third base, but then realized he didn’t have a shot on the play.

David Bell was in his second season as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2020. His brother Mike was named the bench coach for the Minnesota Twins under manager Rocco Baldelli for 2020, setting up the occasion for them to be in opposing dugouts for a three-game series starting on September 25. The Twins won two of the games, helping them earn the Central Division title.

On August 14, cousins Franmil Reyes and Ivan Nova faced each other for the third time in a major-league game. The Indians’ Reyes got the best of Detroit’s Nova with a two-run home run and an RBI single, as the Indians won, 10-5.

Brothers Corey and Kyle Seager are six years apart in age and never had a chance growing up to play on the same baseball diamond. On August 17, their respective teams (Dodgers and Mariners) faced each other, with both of them homering in the game won by Los Angeles, 11-9. The two brothers were productive that day, combining for five hits, four runs scored, and five RBIs.

When outfielder Kyle Zimmer was called up by the Kansas City Royals on July 25, it set up the possibility that he could face his brother Bradley, who pitched for the Cleveland Indians. They both appeared in the same game on July 26 but wound up not opposing each other. They’ll have to wait until the 2021 season.

Teammates

Josh Naylor was traded by San Diego to the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline on August 31. Naylor’s brother Bo currently plays in the Indians farm system, so they could find themselves as teammates for the Tribe down the road. The Naylor brothers are natives of Canada, and both were Number 1 draft picks by their respective teams.

In Toronto’s first game of the 2020 season on July 24, the first four batters in their lineup, who also made up the entire infield, were sons of former major-leaguers. Shortstop Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette, led off for the Blue Jays. Second baseman Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, batted second. First baseman Vlad Guerrero Jr., son of Hall of Famer Valdimir Guerrero Sr., was in the third spot, while third baseman Travis Shaw, son of Jeff Shaw, batted cleanup. Each of the players got at least one hit in the game, with Biggio hitting a home run.

Extending the multi-generation families

Three-generation major-leaguers are a rarity, with the Boones, Bells, Hairstons, and Stephensons as the only ones in baseball history. The next candidate for a three-generation family would likely be accomplished by Trei Cruz, son of Jose Cruz Jr, and grandson of Jose Cruz Sr. Trei was drafted in the third round out of Rice University by the Detroit Tigers. He had previously been drafted out of high school in 2017 by the Washington Nationals.

The Boone family could become the first four-generation family, since Jake Boone signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Washington Nationals during the summer. Jake, who played three seasons as shortstop at Princeton University, is the son of Bret Boone, nephew of Aaron Boone, the grandson of Bob Boone, and the great grandson of Ray Boone.

MLB Debuts

Sons of former professional players who made their MLB debuts this year include:

Daulton Varsho, July 30, Diamondbacks outfielder/catcher, son of Gary Varsho (1988-1995)

Brandon Leibrandt, August 23, Phillies pitcher, son of Charlie Leibrandt (1979-1993)

Ke’Bryan Hayes, September 1, Pirates third baseman, son of Charlie Hayes (1988-2001)

Derek Hill, September 4, Tigers outfielder, son of Glenallen Hill (1989-2001)

Daz Cameron, September 9, Tigers outfielder, son of Mike Cameron (1995-2011)

Mickey Moniak, September 16, Phillies outfielder, grandson of Bill Moniak (minor leaguer, 1958-1963)

Ryan Weathers, October 10, Padres pitcher, son of David Weathers (1991-2009)

Latest MLB manager with family ties

Luis Rojas made his major-league debut as manager of the New York Mets, joining Aaron Boone, David Bell, and Terry Francona as current managers with major-league fathers. Rojas is the son of Felipe Alou, who managed the Expos and Giants during 1992 through 2006.

Family Ties Overseas

On September 17 in South Korea, Preston Tucker hit two home runs in his Kia team’s win over Samsung in the Korean Baseball Organization league. Nearly 12 hours later and over 7,000 miles apart, his brother Kyle homered for the Houston Astros in their defeat of the Texas Rangers, 2-1. That’s probably the first time brothers hit homers on the same day on two continents.

Mel Rojas Jr, son of former major-league pitcher Mel Rojas Sr., is currently leading the Korean Baseball Organization in all the Triple Crown categories. The 30-year-old was a former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, but he never played at the big-league level.

Drafted players

In addition to Trei Cruz, some of the players drafted in 2020 with major-league ties include:

Tyler Soderstrom was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the first round. He is the son of Steve Soderstrom who was also a first-rounder of the 1993 draft by San Francisco. They are the tenth father-son duo to be first-round draftees.

Carson Tucker was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Indians. His brother Cole Tucker, currently a Pirates shortstop, was also a first-round pick. They are the ninth set of brothers as first-round picks.

Bryce Jarvis was a first-round pick of the Diamondbacks, while his father Keith Jarvis was a 12-year starter.

Players not drafted

Some of the draft-eligible amateur players with family ties were victims of the smaller draft class and didn’t get selected. In normal years, some of those players would likely have been drafted in the later rounds. A few of the more recognizable names include:

Peyton Glavine, son of Tom Glavine

Dante Girardi, son of Joe Girardi

Marquis Grissom Jr., son of Marquis Grissom Sr.

Casey Dykstra, son of Lenny Dykstra

Ryan Berardino, grandson of Dwight Evans and Dick Berardino

Darren Baker, son of Dusty Baker

Miscellaneous

Former Chicago White Sox pitcher Richard Dotson (1979-1990) was surprised this year to find out through DNA testing that his biological father was former major-league pitcher Turk Farrell (1956-1969). Dotson’s deceased mother had never spoken of her relationship with Farrell.

Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer struck out Toronto’s Vlad Guerrero Jr. on July 29. Scherzer also struck out Vlad’s father ten years earlier.

Jake Boone anxious to extend family’s baseball legacy

Jake Boone decided to forgo his senior senior at Princeton University and signed a contract with the Washington Nationals this summer, even though he was not selected in the June MLB Draft. He has been an infielder at Princeton for the past three seasons.

Boone had previously been drafted by the Nationals out of high school in 2017, but chose to attend Princeton.

If he were to eventually reach the majors, the Boone family would become the first to have four generations of major-league ballplayers. His great-grandfather Ray, grandfather Bob, father Bret, and uncle Aaron are veterans of the big leagues.

Click here to read more about Jake Boone.

Dusty Baker’s son Darren to continue college career at Cal

Darren Baker was eligible for the MLB Draft this season, but with a limited draft of only five rounds, he was not selected among the top amateur high school and college players in the country. So he has decided to finish his college career.

Darren was originally drafted out of high school in 2017 by the Washington Nationals in the 27th round. However, he chose to attend the University of California, where he has been a starter at second base from 2018 to 2020. His aspirations are to eventually play in the major leagues.

Darren is the son of Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, who has been in the majors for 19 years as a player and 23 years as a manager, including stints with the Giants, Cubs, Reds, and Nationals before assuming his current role with the Astros this season.

Click here to read more about Darren Baker.

Jerry Hairston Jr. relishes career in broadcasting

Jerry Hairston Jr. had a sixteen-year major-league career from 1998 to 2013, playing for nine different teams, with Baltimore the longest at seven seasons. He often served as a valuable super-utility player, as he played all positions except pitcher and catcher throughout his career.

Hairston, who just completed his eighth season as a broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is enjoying the extension of his involvement in baseball.

Hairston comes from a family steeped in pro baseball. His father Jerry Sr., uncle John, grandfather Sam, and brother Scott played in the majors, while another uncle and several of his cousins have played in the minors.

Click here to read more about Hairston in his role with the Dodgers.

Fernando Tatis Jr. a rising MLB star

Fernando Tatis Jr. was one of the most exciting stars of the abbreviated 2020 season. He energized the San Diego Padres this year, leading them to their first post-season appearance since 2006. He finished second in the league in home runs (17) and fourth in RBIs (45), while making countless impressive defensive plays at shortstop throughout the season.

Tatis Jr. made his major-league debut in 2019 and provided a glimpse of things to come, before he missed half of the season due to injury. He still managed to finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting last year.

Tatis Jr. is the son of Fernando Tatis Sr., a major-leaguer from 1997 to 2010. His grandfather Fernando Tatis played in the Houston Astros organization from 1969 to 1978.

Click here to read more about Fernando Jr.’s 2020 season.

Ryan Weathers makes improbable major-league debut in post-season

20-year-old pitcher Ryan Weathers had a total of 29 minor-league games under his belt before making his major-league debut with the San Diego Padres against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2020 NLDS.

Weathers was the first-round pick of the Padres in 2018. He had never pitched above Class A before his improbable post-season relief appearance. With the COVID-19 impacts on the 2020 season, rosters have been in a state of flux, and Weathers benefitted from the situation.

Weathers is the son of David Weathers, former major-league pitcher from 1991 and 2009. The elder Weathers was a member of the 1996 New York Yankees championship team.

Weathers is the second-youngest player to make his MLB debut in the post-season. Adalberto Mondesi holds the record with his appearance with the Kansas City Royals in 2015. Mondesi is the son of Raul Mondesi.

Click here to read more about Ryan Weathers’ debut.