A Look at Family Ties Through the Cardboard Hobby

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

Baseball players with relatives in the game have been around since the beginning of the professional sport. If you count the National Association as the first major-league, brothers Doug and Art Allison and George and Harry Wright played in the inaugural season in 1871.  The first son of a major-leaguer to also play in the majors was Jack Doscher in 1903.  His father, Herm, had been a big-leaguer from 1872 to 1882.

Fast-forwarding to the beginning of the 2017 season, there had been almost 500 brother combinations and nearly 250 father-son combinations to have appeared in the majors. The number of players who are uncles, nephews, cousins, and in-laws of other major-leaguers is prevalent as well.

Throughout the years, baseball cards have contributed to the recording of baseball history, which includes many of the occurrences of family ties in the sport.

However, early baseball cards didn’t typically feature more than one player per card. So while there were numerous instances of family ties in the early days of the sport, they weren’t depicted together on a single card.  Furthermore, the individual player cards in those early years didn’t contain textual biographical information (like today) that might identify players as having a brother in baseball.

The 1872 Warren Studio Boston Red Stocking Cabinets set included individual cards of George and Harry Wright of the champions of the premier season. The Old Judge (N172) set issued by Goodwin & Co. during 1887-1890 was the largest among the early sets, with over 500 different players.  It included individual player cards of several of the early major-league brothers, including Ed and Con Daley, Pat (Tom) and John Deasley, Buck and John Ewing, Art and John Irwin, Dave and Jack Rowe, Orator and Taylor Shafer, Bill and John Sowders, and Gus and John Weyhing.

Jack and Mike O’Neill cards are included in the extremely rare 1904 Allegheny Card Co. set, which is believed to have only been produced as a prototype and never distributed. The 1922 American Caramel (E120) series contains cards of brothers Jimmy and Doc Johnston and Bob and Emil (Irish) Meusel.

The 1935 Goudey 4-in-1 (R321) set contained colored portraits of four players, usually on the same team, on a single 2-3/8” x 2-7/8” card. The set was unique in that card backs form nine different puzzles.  Wes and Rick Ferrell (appearing with Fritz Ostermueller and Bill Werber), Paul and Lloyd Waner (appearing with Guy Bush and Waite Hoyt) exist in this 36-card, unnumbered set.

Among the first sets to produce cards with brothers appearing on the same card in a single photo include the 1936 National Chicle Co. Pen Premiums (R313), a 3-¼” x 5-3/8” blank-backed, unnumbered set that illustrated facsimile autographs. It’s not purely coincidental that this set pictured Wes and Rick Ferrell and Paul and Lloyd Waner, since they were among the first sets of major-league brothers to both be star-quality players.  The Ferrells formed a brother battery for the Boston Red Sox, while the Waners roamed the outfield as teammates for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The smallish Waners are posed in a comical shot on the shoulders of 6-foot-6 teammate Jim Weaver.

1936 National Chicle Waners
1936 National Chicle Co. Fine Pens, Unnumbered

The 1941 Double Play (R330) set would have been the perfect set to show Joe and Dom DiMaggio on the same card, since the set was designed to feature two players on a single card with consecutive card numbers on each card. But that didn’t happen.  Instead the DiMaggios were pictured separately on two cards, Joe with Yankee teammate Charley Keller and Dom with Red Sox teammate Frank Pytlak.

One of the most recognized cards with brothers appearing on the same card is in the popular 1954 Topps set. A card with twin brothers Ed and John O’Brien of the Pittsburgh Pirates is included in the set, which was the first to feature two player photos (a portrait and an action photo) on a card.  The O’Briens, who formed the middle infield combo for the Pirates, are one of only eight sets of twins to ever play in the major-leagues.  They are shown together on the card in a kneeling pose with a bat on their shoulder, minus the action photo.

Bowman came up with a neat concept for its 1955 card design, its last as an independent card producer. Players were portrayed in color photos arranged inside a television set.  Brothers Bobby and Billy Shantz, then playing for the Kansas City A’s, were included on a single card.  An interesting circumstance in that card set involved brothers Frank and Milt Bolling, who were included on separate cards, but the backs of their cards incorrectly contained their brother’s biographical information.  Their cards were later corrected, creating a variation for collectors.

1955 Bowman Shantz
1955 Bowman Card No. 139

The 1961 Topps set included a single card of Larry and Norm Sherry, battery-mates for the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the next fifteen or so years, except for a few occasional years when brothers appeared together on Topps league leader cards (for example, Felipe and Matty Alou in the Topps 1966 and 1968 sets) and in reprint sets, cards showing family relationships were absent from sets.

The first major set to duly recognize players with relatives was the 1976 Topps issue. Five consecutively-numbered cards comprised a subset captioned “Father & Son – Big Leaguers.”  The father-son combos included Gus and Buddy Bell, Ray and Bob Boone, Joe and Joe Coleman, Jim and Mike Hegan, and Roy Sr. and Roy Jr. Smalley.  Each card contained a photo from a previous Topps issue for the father and a photo from the current issue for the son.  Interestingly, three of these family combinations (Bells, Boones, and Colemans) would eventually have a third generation play in the major leagues.

Topps followed up in 1977 with another relatives subset titled “Big League Brothers.” It contained four consecutively-numbered cards that included George and Ken Brett, Bob and Ken Forsch, Lee and Carlos May, and Paul and Rick Reuschel.

The baseball card craze kicked into high gear in the mid-to-late 1980s when new card companies like Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck came onto the hobby scene. They each contributed a few relatives combo cards involving such families as the Niekros, Ripkens and Alomars.  Topps produced its largest family ties subset with thirteen consecutively-numbered cards captioned “Father-Son,” as part of its 1985 base set.  The father-son combos appeared on a single card, with the fathers being pictured in one of their former Topps cards as a player.  A few of the combos were Yogi and Dale Berra, Tito and Terry Francona, Vern and Vance Law, and Dizzy and Steve Trout.

As part of its 1992 base set, Upper Deck issued a subset captioned “Bloodlines Set.” It had seven consecutively-numbered cards that included major-league cousins (Keith and Kevin Mitchell, Gary Sheffield and Dwight Gooden) in addition to several brothers, fathers and sons. One would expect Ken Griffey Jr. and his father to be in this set, but Upper Deck threw in an extra twist by also including brother/son Craig Griffey, who was in only his second minor-league season.

1993 Bowman Bonds
1993 Bowman Card No. 702

Bowman followed the next year with a four-card subset called “Father and Son,” in which current players Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Moises Alou, and Brian McRae were depicted with their fathers on the same card, while in the same team uniform. The fathers were shown in a larger photo while the sons were pictured in a smaller action shot insert.

In 1994 The Sporting News, in conjunction with MegaCards, did an admirable job of producing a 330-card series featuring photos taken by legendary sports photographer Charles Conlon.  Similar series were produced in the three prior years.  Included in the 1994 series were a dozen cards showing major-league brothers, who had played during 1900 to 1945, on a single card.  For some of the players, it was the only baseball card ever produced with their image.  Cards for Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Wes and Rick Farrell, and Bubbles and Pinky Hargrave contained a single Conlon photo of the players posed together, while the other cards contained separate Conlon images of the brothers.  Some of the lesser known big-league brothers who were depicted in the subset included Andy and Hugh High, Wade and Bill Killefer, and Al and Ivey Wingo.  A burgundy-bordered parallel set was also produced for the 1994 series.

The proliferation of parallel sets contributed to variations of cards showing major-league relatives. For example, brothers Bengie and Jose Molina were depicted together on several 2005 Topps-produced sets, including Base, 1st Edition, Chrome, Chrome Refractor and Chrome Black Refractor.

Similar to the 1992 Upper Deck set with Craig Griffey, the 2003 the Topps Heritage set included a single card of Joe Mauer and his brother, Jake, who was in the minors at the time.

The 2016 Topps Archives set included a subset of seven cards, containing family relationships on a single card, in the same format as the 1985 Topps version of the Father-Son subset. Ray and Bob Boone appeared in the 1985 set, while the 2016 set include Bob and Bret Boone.  Tito and Terry Francona are carried over from the 1985 set, but with different retro card images.  Recent major-leaguer Dee Gordon and his father, Tom, are also included.

2016 Topps Archive Gordon
2016 Topps Archives Card No. FS-GGO

Fortunately for collectors, the majority of cards depicting players with their relatives are very much available and still affordable, except for the older cards prior to 1960. My checklist of baseball cards with multiple relatives can be viewed at https://baseballrelatives.wordpress.com/baseball-cards/.

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The cards described above primarily address the occurrences of players and their relatives on a single card. Of course, the majority of cards with family ties show the individual players by themselves.

For a couple of years now, I have corresponded periodically with a card collector, Scott, who has a special interest in baseball cards of major-leaguers that had a family member that also played in the majors. Scott’s initial collecting activities go back to when he was eight years old in the late 1970s.  In the mid-1990s his focus on baseball families began to take shape, as he collected cards of some of the more noteworthy families such as the Boones, Bells and Alous.  His collection extends beyond just the multi-player family cards described above.  It also includes single-player cards of fathers, sons and brothers, as well.

Scott says about five years ago he got serious in his attempt to collect a card of every MLB family combination since 1957, the first year Topps standardized on the current card size. It’s an activity he shares with his son.  They have meticulously arranged their collection in a book organized by family  Families with more than two members are in front, and then the book is organized into Fathers-Sons and then Brothers.  Scott especially favors the cards that show close-up shots (versus action shots), so that he can compare the resemblances of father-son and brother combinations.  For example, Scott says Aaron Boone looks remarkably similar to card images of his grandfather, Ray, at the same age.

Scott even goes so far as to make up his own baseball cards of family members, when a player doesn’t have an official card printed by one of the major card companies, usually because the player’s major-league career consisted of only a few games. To do this, Scott finds a photo image of the player on the internet and prints them on card stock.  He’s currently on a quest to find rare MLB images of Stu Pederson (father of current major-leaguer Joc Pederson) and Mike Glavine (brother of Hall of Fame player Tom Glavine) that can be used for home-made cards in his collection.

Scott at Coors Field
Card collector Scott and his children at Coors Field

I’m betting there are quite a few more collectors like Scott who are using baseball cards to learn more about baseball’s many family relationships.

Sons of the 1960s Bronx Bombers Had Big Shoes to Fill

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

The New York Yankees dynasty that began in the early 1920s continued into the 1960s with five consecutive American League pennants from 1960 to 1964. Included in the streak were World Series championships in 1961 and 1962.

Those teams featured some of the greatest Yankee legends of the all-time, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Roger Maris. In addition to these renowned players, several other regulars and backups on these Yankee teams had sons who eventually played professional baseball themselves.

It’s not unusual for sons to try to follow their father’s professions. For example, how many families have produced multiple generations of doctors, lawyers, farmers and soldiers?  It’s been no different for the sons of baseball players.

But it does seem a bit remarkable that so many of the Yankee players of this era had sons who went on to follow in their father’s baseball footsteps. Altogether, fourteen Yankee players produced 21 sons that pursued professional baseball careers.

For the sons of the Yankee players, one might say they were born into baseball because of the environment in which they were raised. A few of the sons were legitimate pro prospects coming out of amateur baseball at the high school and collegiate levels.  However, several of them only got a shot a pro baseball because of their father’s name and Yankee background, especially those sons who signed as undrafted free agents or as late-round draft picks.  A couple of the sons had significant major league careers, but most of the progenies didn’t make it past the low minors.

Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle came from a family of ballplayers from Oklahoma. His two younger brothers, Ray and Roy, and a cousin, Maxie, managed to get tryouts with the Yankees organization, but lasted only a couple of minor league seasons, having nowhere near the talent of “The Mick.”  But their shortfalls didn’t deter Mickey from encouraging one of his sons, also named Mickey, to try his hand at the game.  One can only imagine the pressure on a son named Mickey Mantle trying to break into the game.  The younger Mickey played only 17 games for a Class A team in the Yankees organization in 1978 and quickly gave up the game.

One of the best catchers of all time, Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra produced three sons who went on to play professional sports. His oldest son, Laurence, was a catcher in the New York Mets organization, but wound up playing only a total of 22 games during the 1971 and 1972 seasons.  His son, Tim, however went in the direction of football, becoming the 17th round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1974.  Tim played one season for the Colts, primarily as a punt returner.

Dale Berra had the most significant career of Yogi’s sons, as he had an 11-year career in the majors spanning 1977 to 1987. However, the shortstop didn’t have his dad’s hitting ability.  His career batting average was a meager .236, to go along with 49 home runs and 278 RBI.  In 1985 and 1986, Dale also played for the Yankees, when his father was a coach for the team.

The son of Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford, Eddie, was an excellent college shortstop at the University of South Carolina, where Whitey’s former teammate Bobby Richardson was the head coach. Eddie became the first round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 1974 Major League Draft.  Although never a great hitter in the minors, he reached the Triple-A level before quitting baseball.

Roger Maris made his mark in Yankee history with his historic 61 home run season in 1961 and his two American League MVP campaigns in 1960 and 1961. His son, Kevin, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization as an undrafted free agent in 1982.  However, it turned out Kevin didn’t have the same propensity for hitting as his father did, since the infielder played only one minor league season in which he managed to hit only .111 in 33 games.

As the slick-fielding third baseman on those Yankee teams, Clete Boyer was one of seven brothers who played baseball professionally. Two of them, Ken and Cloyd, also played in the majors.  Clete had two sons, Brett and Mickey, who pursued professional careers.  Mickey, named after Mickey Mantle, played one season in the Oakland A’s organization, while Brett played five seasons in the Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants minor league organizations, never rising above Class A level.

Tom Tresh was slated to be the heir apparent to Tony Kubek as the New York Yankee shortstop in the 1960’s, and he lived up to expectations as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1962. Tom’s father, Mike, had been a former major leaguer during the late 1930s and 1940s.  Tom’s son, Mickey (also named after Mickey Mantle), attempted to become a third-generation major leaguer in the Tresh family, but he fell short after playing four minor league seasons in the Yankees and Detroit Tigers organizations.

Mel Stottlemyre broke in with the Yankees in 1964 and proceeded to play 11 seasons, winning 20 or more games in three seasons on his way to compiling 164 career wins. Among his three sons that played professional baseball, the most prominent was Todd, who won 138 career major league games over 13 seasons during 1988 to 2002.  Mel Jr. had 13 major league appearances in 1992 with the Kansas City Royals, while he also pitched a total of six seasons in the minors.  Jeffrey pitched four minor league seasons in the Seattle Mariners organization from 1980 to 1983.

Bill Stafford pitched for the Yankees from 1960 to 1965. As a member of the starting rotation, he won 14 games in each of the 1961 and 1962 seasons when the Yankees won World Series titles.  His son, Mike, was the 41st round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of Ohio State University in 1998.  A relief pitcher, Mike appeared in four minor league seasons that also included stints with the Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers.

Pitcher Stan Williams had two seasons with the Yankees as a spot starter and reliever in 1963 and 1964. His son, Stan Jr., was a 38th round pick by the Yankees from the University of Southern California in 1981.  He played two minor league seasons in the Yankees farm system before leaving baseball.

Once touted as the Yankees’ potential center field replacement for Mickey Mantle whose injuries had begun to slow him down considerably, Roger Repoz wound up being a platoon player who was ultimately traded by the Yankees. He had two sons that pursued pro baseball, albeit resulting in brief careers.  Craig was a third baseman who spent six minor league seasons in the Mets and Padres organizations from 1985 to 1990.  Jeff pitched sparingly in two seasons in Low A and Rookie League levels in 1989 and 1990.

Several other players who made brief appearances for the early 1960s Yankee teams also had sons in professional baseball. The fathers included Deron Johnson (sons Dom and D. J.), Billy Gardner (son Billy Jr.), Lee Thomas (sons Scott and Deron), and Bill Kunkel (sons Kevin and Jeff).  Of this group of sons, only Jeff Kunkel made it to the major leagues.

Although the son of 1963 American League MVP Elston Howard wound up not playing professional baseball, Elston Howard Jr. did play at the collegiate level at Dade Community College in Florida and the University of Alabama. When Elston Jr. was not drafted by a major league team, he didn’t pursue a pro baseball career.

Looking back in baseball history, the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” teams of the 1970s had a similar circumstance as the New York Yankees teams of the 1960s. Sixteen Reds players during their championship era produced 23 sons that went on to play professional baseball.  Nine of the sons reached the major league level, most notably Ken Griffey Jr.

The 1960s Yankee fathers probably had visions of their sons being the next generation of Bronx Bombers who would continue the dynasty. For the most part, however, the offspring of these Yankee players didn’t come close to measuring up to their father’s productive major league careers. Perhaps Moises Alou, the son of a major leaguer and a former major leaguer himself, said it best, “If a player can’t hit, field, or throw, it doesn’t matter who his father was.”

In many respects, the shoes which the Yankee sons were trying to fill were much too big to expect similar results as their fathers.