In my interview with Ed Randall about my book Family Ties on his New York-based “Talkin’ Baseball” radio show on March 2, he asked a very insightful question about whether the Major Leagues of past eras had as many baseball relatives as what it seems to be today. My answer generally explained that relatives playing the game began in the earliest days of Organized Baseball and has steadily increased throughout the years, but my sense from the data collected in the research for my book was that there has been a significant increase in the last 20 to 25 years.
I further cited to Ed a statistic from Family Ties that there were over 190 players in the Majors in 2011 who had a relative in professional baseball, including those players whose relatives were only drafted or only reached the minor league level at the time. That’s about 25% of the players in Major League Baseball. No other major professional sport has that level of penetration.
I believe this increase in the number of baseball relatives is primarily rooted in the salary potential for major league players since free agency began in the mid-1970s. I assert that the generation of professional baseball fathers, whose careers ended in the 1980s and 1990s making respectable salaries, began encouraging their sons and creating the environment for them to also pursue the lucrative sport. Furthermore, Major League Baseball allows for the drafting of players out of high school, so the opportunity for 18-year-olds to begin their professional careers at an earlier age than other professional sports (although that seems to be changing, particularly in basketball) added to the appeal. Another reason for the increase is due to the fact that baseball’s expansion since then has created opportunities for more roster spots for players in both the major and minor league levels.
Who are the examples of today’s baseball family tree producing more fruit, so to speak?
There are no less than 20 new players, who have yet to make their Major League debut, that have already appeared in Spring Training games this season and also have a relative (brother or father) who has already played in the big leagues. Many of them are good candidates to actually make their debuts in 2013.
Travis D’Arnaud got a lot of attention when he was traded to the New York Mets in the R. A. Dickey deal over the winter. The Mets are looking to re-build around All-Star third-baseman David Wright, who recently signed a long-term deal. Travis, a much-needed catcher, figures to be in those plans. Travis’ brother, Chad, is currently with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Brett Bochy, son of San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, is in camp with the Giants. The right-handed pitcher seems poised to get to the big league club sometime in 2013. Bruce would be the first big league manager to have a son on his team since Cal Ripken, Sr. managed his two sons, Cal Jr. and Billy, in 1988.
Tim Wallach is the third base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his son Matt is currently in the Spring Training camp with the team. Tim has two other sons who will also be bidding to become Major Leaguers: Brett is currently in the Cubs organization and Chad is playing baseball for Cal State Fullerton.
New Red Sox manager John Farrell faced his son’s team in a spring training game last week. Jeremy Farrell drew a walk in his only plate appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Other Major League brother prospects (with brother’s name in parenthesis) include: Braves’ Cory Rasmus (Colby), Diamondbacks’ Mark Reed (Jeremy), and the Diamondbacks’ Jon Owings (Mark).
Additional Major League prospects who are sons of former big leaguers (father’s name in parenthesis) include: Cubs’ Michael Brenly (Bob), Daniel Fields (Bruce), Rockies’ Parker Frazier (George), Pirates’ Mel Rojas, Jr. (Mel, Sr.), and Cardinals’ C. J. McElroy (Chuck).
Contributing to the growing number of family relatives in baseball in recent years are situations where some current players are representing a third generation of professional ballplayers. The Marlins’ Derek Deitrich has appeared in Spring Training games this season, and his grandfather was former major leaguer Steve Demeter. Other current minor leaguers with Major League grandfathers include (grandfather’s name in parenthesis): Colin Kaline (Al), Aaron Pribanic (Jim Coates), Andrew Garcia (Dave), Deion Williams (George Scott), Scott Thomas (Lee), and Nolan Fontana (Lew Burdette).
Another noteworthy fact to support the case for an increasing number of potential Major League ballplayers: over 75 amateur players were drafted in 2012 that had a baseball heritage within professional baseball.
Furthermore, in my research for Family Ties, I found countless examples of father-son and brother-brother combinations in professional baseball, neither of which ever made it to the Major Leagues. These cases were not included among the over 3,500 names I already have in the book.
However, despite my anecdotal evidence cited above, a more comprehensive, quantitative study of my assertion (that there are an increasing number of baseball relatives in Organized Baseball) would be warranted to provide conclusive proof. That’s probably a topic of another research project…for another day.
Who is your favorite Major League father-son or brother combination?
Contributing Writer: Richard Cuicchi