Family Ties Flourishing in Baseball: New York Yankees

Baseball has more family relationships than any other professional sport.  They existed in the earliest days of the sport in the 1870s, and they are abundant in today’s game, perhaps more so than ever before.  Baseball has been called a “generational” sport for several reasons.  One is that multiple generations of families have been active in the game–grandfathers, fathers, sons, and brothers.  And now even some great-grandsons are starting to show up on rosters.  Uncles, nephews, cousins and in-laws are part of the extended family of baseball relatives, too.

Baseball bloodlines aren’t limited to just the players.  Family trees with a baseball background have commonly included managers, coaches, scouts, owners, executives, front office personnel, umpires, and broadcasters.

Indeed, families with a heritage of baseball are like those with military, medical, jurisprudence, and agricultural backgrounds.  Their professions are often passed down from one generation to the next.  Likewise, professional baseball fathers generally want their sons to follow in their footsteps.  Brothers grow up pushing each other to excel on the diamond.  Once one brother gets drafted by a major league team, then it’s often the case his brother will try to follow.

A look back in history shows many fascinating stories about baseball families.  For example:

  • the Hairston family, which included a major league father (Sam), three sons (two in the majors—John and Jerry Sr.), and five grandsons (two in the majors—Jerry Jr. and Scott), collectively had professional careers that spanned from 1945 to 2014.
  • three Alou brothers (Felipe, Matty, and Jesus) played for the San Francisco Giants in the same game in 1963.  The trio had two cousins who followed them in the big leagues, and one of the trio, Felipe, also had four sons to play professionally.
  • the Boyer brood included seven brothers that played professionally, including three major leaguers (Cloyd, Ken, and Clete).  They then produced three sons who played in the minors.

Numerous players of the 1960s New York Yankees teams had offspring who wound up playing professional baseball.  Follow the link below to an article entitled “Sons of the 1960s Bronx Bombers Had Big Shoes to Fill.”

https://baseballrelatives.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/sons-of-the-1960s-bronx-bombers-had-big-shoes-to-fill/

Fast-forwarding to more recent times, here are some highlights of baseball relatives in the New York Yankees organization during 2019.

Gary Sanchez was an all-star selection in 2019.  He had the most home runs in his career (34) despite spending several stints on the injured list.  He had been the runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 when he hit 20 home runs in only 53 games.  Gary’s brother Miguel had played in the Seattle Mariners organization for six seasons (2009-2014) as a catcher and pitcher.

Austin Romine had one of his best years with the Yankees with a slash line of .281/.310/.439, with 8 home runs and 35 RBIs.  He filled in very capably when regular catcher Gary Sanchez was on the injured list.  Romine is in one of those rare families that had a father and a brother in major-league baseball.  His father Kevin was a major-league outfielder in the Red Sox organization from 1985 to 1991, when he was also a backup player to regulars like Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Mike Greenwell.  His brother Andrew is a nine-year major-league veteran who played at the Triple-A level with the Philadelphia Phillies last season.

Aaron Hicks was in his fourth season with the Yankees but was one of several regulars who spent most of the season on the injured list.  In 59 games he hit 12 home runs and 36 RBIs.  He had signed a seven-year contract extension worth $70 million before the season began.  Hicks is the son of Joseph Hicks, who reached the Double-A level with the San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals organizations before retiring in 1981.

Luis Severino missed all the 2019 season except one game in September due to a rotator cuff injury.  His disappointing season came after he led the Yankees in wins (19) in 2018.  His younger brother Rafael is also a pitcher, signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic and assigned to the Yankees’ academy there.

Zach Britton was one of the stalwarts in the Yankees’ bullpen in his first full season with them last season. In 66 appearances, he posted a 1.91 ERA.  He didn’t yield any runs in five relief appearances against Houston in the ALCS.  He is the brother of Buck Britton who played nine seasons in the minors before becoming a manager in the Baltimore Orioles farm system.

The Yankees’ pipeline of baseball relatives includes several prospects whose relatives were former major-league all-stars:  Jose Mesa Jr. (son of Jose Mesa Sr.), and Michael O’Neill (nephew of Paul O’Neill), Ryan Lidge (brother of Brad Lidge), LJ Mazzilli (son of Lee Mazzilli),and Isiah Gilliam, (grandson of Jim Gilliam).

The Yankees had numerous personnel filling non-playing roles in the organization during 2019.  Some of them include:

Hal Steinbrenner is the managing general partner of the Yankees, having taken over for their legendary father, George Steinbrenner, following his death in 2010.  His siblings, Hank, Jennifer, and Jessica are general partners.

Aaron Boone was in his second year as manager of the Yankees.  His teams have won a hundred or more games in each season.  He played 12 seasons in the majors, including a stint with the Yankees.  Boone is part of a three-generation major-league family (one of only four in MLB history), including his grandfather Ray, father, Bob, and brother Bret.

Phil Nevin is in his second season as the Yankees’ third base coach.  He was the first overall pick of the 1992 MLB draft by the Houston Astros.  Nevin played 12 seasons in the majors, including an all-star season in 2001 with San Diego.  Nevin’s son Tyler was a first-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2015 and played at the Double-A level in 2019.

Brothers Lou and Rob Cucuzza have been long-time clubhouse and equipment managers at Yankee Stadium.  They previously served with their father, Lou Sr., who also had an extensive career in similar capacities with the Yankees.

Mark Littlefield is a medical coordinator in the Yankees organization.  He is the brother of David Littlefield, currently an executive in the Detroit Tigers organization, and Scott Littlefield, currently a scout in the Texas Rangers organization.

Ken Singleton is currently a broadcaster for the Yankees.  He previously had a 15-year major-league playing career with the Montreal Expos and Baltimore Orioles.  His son, Justin, played for six seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, reaching the Triple-A level.

Donny Rowland, Yankees’ Director of International Scouting, is the father of Shane Rowland, who played two seasons in the Cleveland Indians organization.  The following Yankees scouts have relatives in baseball: Troy Afenir (father of Audie Afenir, 2019 independent league), Jeff Patterson (brother of Jim Patterson, former Yankees scout), Cory Melvin (son of Doug Melvin, former front office executive with several teams).

Travis Shaw Joins Family Affair at Toronto

Infielder Travis Shaw signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in December after completing three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 29-year-old has five years in the majors, including two with Boston.

Shaw is the son of Jeff Shaw, former major-league relief pitcher and two-time all-star from 1990 to 2001.

Travis joins the Blue Jays team that already has several players with family ties in the majors. With Shaw at first base, the Blue Jays could field an entire infield consisting of players whose fathers were big leaguers.

Blue Jays second baseman Cavan Biggio is the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. Shortstop Bo Bichette is the son of former All-Star Dante Bichette, while Vlad Guerrero Jr. is the son of Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero Sr. Additionally, the Blue Jays team included Lourdes Gurriel Jr., whose brother Yuli is the first baseman for the Houston Astros.

Read more about Travis Shaw by clicking here.

Mike Bell named Twins bench coach

Mike Bell, a member of one of the most famous baseball families in major-league history, was named the bench coach by the Minnesota Twins. He will be on the staff of manager Rocco Baldelli, the AL Manager of the Year in 2019.

Bell was previously Vice President, Player Development for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He appeared in 19 major-league games for the Cincinnati Reds in 2000 and played a total of 13 seasons in the minors.

Bell is the son of Buddy Bell, a major-leaguer from 1972-1989 and former major-league manager, and the grandson of Gus Bell, a major-leaguer from 1950 to 1964. His brother David is currently the manager for the Reds.

Click here to read more about Bell’s new job.

Mesa brothers make progress in first year of minors

A year ago Victor Victor Mesa and his brother Victor Mesa Jr. were signed by the Miami Marlins organization. They came from Cuba where their father Victor Mesa Sr. was a long-time player for the Cuban national team which won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1992.

22-year-old Victor Victor played with Class A Jupiter and Class A Jacksonville this season, hitting a combined .235/.274/.263 with 29 RBI.

17-year-old Victor Jr. played in the Gulf Coast League rookie league, where he posted a slash line of .284/.366/.398 with one HR and 24 RBI.

Click here and here to read more about the Mesa brothers.

Chris Duncan dies at age 38

Former major league player Chris Duncan died on September 6, 2019, at age 38.  He had played five seasons in the big leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2005 to 2009. His 22 home runs in 2006 helped the Cardinals win the NL pennant and go on to defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Most recently Duncan had been a sports radio host on a local St. Louis station.

Duncan is the son of Dave Duncan, a former major-league player and a long-time coach for the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals.  Chris’s brother, Shelley, is also a former major-league player from 2007 to 2013 with the Yankees, Indians, and Rays.

To read more about Chris Duncan, click here for a recent article from the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.

Taylor and Tyler Rogers: rare set of MLB twins

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

There have been over 19,600 major-league ballplayers in the history of the game. Only twenty of them have the distinction of being a member of a set of twins. When Tyler Rogers made his major-league debut on August 27 in a relief appearance for the San Francisco Giants, he joined his brother Taylor as the tenth set of twins to play in the big leagues. Taylor had previously reached the majors in 2016 with the Minnesota Twins and has been a strength in their bullpen since then. Taylor picked up his 21st save on the same night as Tyler’s debut.

The rare twins are among a total of 395 sets of brothers to wear major-league uniforms. The Rogers pair are the first set to play in the majors since Damon and Ryan Minor in 2000.

After playing together for Chatwood High School in Lincoln, Colorado, the Rogers brothers took separate paths in their professional careers. Tyler went on to play for Austin Peay University while Taylor played for the University of Kentucky, although he had been selected out of high school By Baltimore in the 37th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. Taylor signed with the Twins after being drafted again in 2012 in the 11th round. Tyler was selected and signed by the Giants in the next year’s draft.

Although the Rogers twins are identical, Taylor is a southpaw who averages over ten strikeouts per nine innings, while Tyler is a right-handed submarine-style pitcher relying more on pitching to contact to get batters out.

Here’s a quick rundown of the other major-league twins.

The first pair of twins to play in the majors were Bill and George Hunter between 1909 and 1912. They were followed by Joe and Red Shannon, who played as 18-year-olds on the same team in Joe’s only major league season in 1915.

Ray and Roy Grimes made their major-league debuts in 1920, the only season Roy would play. A third Grimes brother, Kenneth, played in three minor-league seasons, while Ray’s son, Oscar, would also play in the majors from 1939 to 1946.

Claude and Bubber Jonnard appeared in the majors in the early 1920s. It would be another 30 years before the next set of twins would reach the majors, when 22-year-old Eddie and Johnny O’Brien formed the double-play combination for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1953.

Mike and Marshall Edwards had brief careers during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They also had a younger brother, Dave, who also played five major-league seasons.

Stan and Stew Cliburn both played for the California Angels during the 1980s, but not at the same time. After their playing days, the pair held managerial and coaching positions together for several minor-league teams in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Jose Canseco is the most noteworthy of all the major-league twins. He was American League Rookie of the Year in 1986, the AL MVP in 1988, and a six-time all-star who amassed 462 career home runs. His lesser-known brother, Ozzie, played only 24 major-league games spread over three seasons, never hitting a home run.

Ryan Minor is most remembered for having taken Cal Ripken’s spot in the lineup when Ripken ended his streak in 1998 for most consecutive games played. Minor played four seasons with Baltimore and Montreal, while his twin Damon played four seasons with San Francisco.

Possibly following the Rogers brothers with distinction as the next major-league twins are brothers Luis Alejandro Basabe (Diamondbacks organization) and Luis Alexander Basabe (White Sox organization). The native-born Venezuelans are active this year, working their way through the minors.

Boston’s current all-star shortstop Xander Bogaerts is a twin whose brother, Jair, played in the minors at 17 and 18-years-old, but never made it out the Dominican rookie leagues.

Over the years, there have been numerous former major-leaguers with twin brothers that also couldn’t get past the minors, including Vern Law (1950-1967), Russ Nixon (1957-1968), Brian Doyle (1978-1981), Tony Fernandez (1983-2001), and Mike Mimbs (1995-1997).

Twin brothers have never pitched against each other in the majors. Maybe one day soon we’ll see the Rogers twins taking their turns on the hill for opposing teams.

Brothers Kyle and Bradley Zimmer look forward to facing each other in the big leagues

Brothers Kyle and Bradley Zimmer have both reached the majors, after they were both highly-touted draft picks–Kyle a first round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2012 and Bradley a second round pick of the Cleveland Indians two years later.

Pitcher Kyle made his debut with the Royals early this season, but has spent most of the year in Omaha.  Outfielder Bradley played parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons with Cleveland, but has missed most of 2019 due to injuries. 

Both are hoping they will have major-league jobs next year and look forward to the day when they can face each other.

Click here to read more about the Zimmer brothers at sdnews.com.