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.

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.

Jake Boone joins grandpa Bob Boone’s major-league organization

Jake Boone decided to forgo his senior season at Princeton University next year and signed a contract with the Washington Nationals. Jake is the son of Bret Boone, grandson of Bob Boone, and great grandson of Ray Boone, all of whom played in the majors.

Bob Boone is currently a vice president with the Nationals, and Bret Boone attempted a comeback in 2008 (after retiring in 2005) with the Nationals organization, but did not play in the majors with them.

Jake is the nephew of Aaron Boone, the current Yankees manager.

The Boones are one of only five families to have three generations play in the majors, including the Bells, Hairstons, Colemans and Schofield/Werths.

If Jake eventually makes it to the majors, the Boones would become the first four-generation family in the majors.

Click here to read about Jake Boone’s signing.

Third-round draft pick Trei Cruz could make it a three-generation MLB family

Trei Cruz was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft. He had been an infielder at Rice University for the past three seasons.

He is the son of Jose Cruz Jr., who had been a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 1995 after a college career at Rice. His father went on to a 12-year career in the majors that included one Gold Glove. He was also the runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 1997,

Trei is the grandson of Jose Cruz Sr., who played 19 seasons in the major, primarily with the Astros and Cardinals. Cruz Sr., whose brothers Tommy and Hector were also major leaguers, was a two-time National League all-star.

If Trei eventually makes it to the majors, the Cruz family would become only the fifth three-generation family in major-league history.

For more information about Trei Cruz, click here.

Mike Yastrzemski’s major-league career is no fluke

Often times legacies of major-league players get a token opportunity to be drafted by a major-league team, out of respect for their fathers or grandfathers.

Mike Yastrzemski is the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. In his case, his first major-league season in 2019 proved his ascent to the majors was not a gratuitous gesture. His debut season with San Francisco included a slash line of .272/.334/.518 to go along with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs in 107 games. He figures to be a regular again for the Giants in 2020.

Click here to read more about Mike Yastrzemski’s numbers from last season.

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).

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.

Gavin Lux nephew of former Golden Spikes Award winner

Gavin Lux was named by Baseball America the Minor League Player of the Year. He received a call-up to the Los Angeles Dodgers in September and hit a home run in his major-league debut game. He was put on the Dodgers post-season roster and appeared in several games.

Lux is the nephew of Augie Schmidt, the Golden Spikes Award winner in 1982, playing for the University of New Orleans. Schmidt played in the minors for five seasons, reaching Triple-A in the Blue Jays organization.

Lux’s grandfather, August Schmidt, played two seasons in the minors in the Red Sox organization in 1956-57.

Click here to read more about Gavin Lux.