Family Ties Flourishing in Baseball: New York Yankees

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

This is the first of a series of reviews that will take a look at family relationships in each major league organization.

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 of them 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, as well.

Indeed, families with a heritage of baseball are similar to 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 2016.

Brian McCann completed his third season as the Yankees catcher, after seven all-star seasons with the Atlanta Braves during 2005-2013.  He was traded to the Houston Astros during the off-season.  His brother, Brad, was a minor league first baseman in the Florida Marlins and Kansas City Royals organizations during 2004-2007.  McCann’s father, Howard, was drafted (8th round) by the Minnesota Twins in 1974, but did not sign.  He later played one season in the independent leagues.

Austin Romine got the most playing time in his five-year career with the Yankees in 2016, serving as a backup to Brian McCann.  But now that Gary Sanchez has taken over the starting catcher’s job, Romine will likely continue as a reserve.  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, was perhaps the ultimate utility player last season for the Detroit Tigers, as he played every position except catcher.

Mason Williams is a 24-year-old outfielder who played sparingly in his second season with the Yankees.  He doesn’t hit for much power, but uses his speed well on the bases and in the outfield.  He is the grandson of Walt Williams, who played in the outfield from 1964 to 1975, primarily with the Chicago White Sox.  Nicknamed “No Neck”, he made his major-league debut as a 20-year-old with the Houston Colt .45s.  He was a career .270 hitter, and logged two seasons with the Yankees before wrapping up his career.

Dustin Ackley was starting his second year with the Yankees in 2016, but his season was cut short in late May due to injury.  The outfielder/first baseman had been a regular with the Seattle Mariners after being a first-round draft pick (second overall) in 2009.  He is the son of John Ackley, a third-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1979, who never made it out of the minors.

Aaron Hicks played his first season with the Yankees in 2016 after three seasons with the Minnesota Twins.  Hicks was primarily a starter in the outfield alongside Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.  He batted a meager .217 with 8 HR and 31 RBI.  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.

Kirby Yates.  Yates was acquired by the Yankees before the 2016 season to fill a middle relief role in their bullpen.  In his third major league season, he made 41 appearances while averaging almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings.  However, he posted an ineffective 5.23 ERA and WHIP of 1.452.  Yates signed with the Los Angeles Angels for the 2017 season.  His brother, Tyler, was a major-league relief pitcher for five seasons during 2004-2009.  He had a career 12-17 record with the Braves, Mets, and Pirates.

Chasen Shreve.  He was another middle relief pitcher for the Yankees who struggled in 2016, after posting a fine season the year before, including a 6-2 record and 3.09 ERA.  He has a brother, Colby, who pitched in the Philadelphia Phillies organization from 2010 to 2013.  Both of the brothers were drafted from College of Southern Nevada.

Several other Yankee players, who briefly appeared on the major-league roster during 2016, had relatives that played in the major leagues: Eric Young Jr. (son of Eric Young Sr.), Donovan Solano (brother of Jhonatan Solano), and Ike Davis (son of Ron Davis, a former Yankee)

The Yankees’ pipeline of baseball relatives includes several top prospects whose relatives were former major-league all-stars: Dante Bichette Jr. (son of Dante Bichette Sr.), Jose Mesa Jr. (son of Jose Mesa Sr.), and Michael O’Neill (nephew of Paul O’Neill).

The Yankees had a number of personnel filling non-playing roles in the organization during 2016.

Brothers Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are the principal owners of the Yankees, having taken over for their legendary father, George Steinbrenner, following his death in 2010.

Tony Pena completed his 11th season as coach for the Yankees, having served as both a base coach and bench coach under managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi.  Pena was manager of the Kansas City Royals during 2002-2005.  He also had an 18-year major league career that included five all-star seasons.  He has two sons that have played in the majors:  Tony Francisco Pena was a shortstop who played from 2006 to 2009 in the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals organizations; and Francisco Antonio Pena is currently a catcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization.  Pena also had a brother, Ramon, who pitched briefly with the Detroit Tigers in 1989.

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.

Kyle Arnsberg is a coach in the Yankees’ minor league system.  He is the son of former Yankees major league player Brad Arnsberg, who is now a minor league coordinator in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Mark Littlefield is a trainer 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.

 Baseball’s Relatives Website

The entire list of 2016 active major and minor league players and non-players can be retrieved at:

https://baseballrelatives.wordpress.com/2016-family-ties/

 

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Bichette Brothers Play for Brazil in WBC Qualifier

Dante Jr. and Bo Bichette had never played baseball together in competition, until they recently appeared for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier round in Brooklyn, NY.  They were eligible to represent Brazil because their mother is a native of the country.

They are the sons of Dante Bichette, Sr., who logged fourteen seasons in the major-leagues with 355 HRs, 1078 RBIs, and a .299 batting average.  He was a four-time All-Star and runner-up for National League MVP in 1995.

Dante Jr. was a first-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2011, and he played at Double-A Trenton in 2016, where he posted 9 HRs and 49 RBIs to go along with a .243 average.

Bo was a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays this year.  He played rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League, where he excelled with 4 HRs, 36 RBIs and an amazing .427 batting average in 22 games.

Read more about the Bichette family at the link below from Hardball Scoop:

http://www.scout.com/mlb/rumors/story/1710943-bichette-family-forges-baseball-legacy

Family Ties Prominent Again in this Year’s MLB Draft

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi, 07/05/2016

Following the MLB Draft in June of every year, I try to identify those drafted amateur players who have a relative in professional baseball. I’ve found 48 players so far who fit this criteria this year.  They represent the latest crop of relatives that have infused baseball rosters since the sport’s professional beginnings in the 1870s.

Every year there are intriguing backgrounds for several of the drafted players. This year is no exception.  Here’s a look at some of the highlights of this year’s players with family ties in baseball.

One of the headliners in this year’s major-league draft class probably won’t attempt to play professional baseball at all. Trey Griffey was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 24th round, even though he hasn’t played baseball since grade school.  He is currently a senior wide receiver for the University of Arizona.  Trey has one of the most recognizable last names in baseball.  His father is Ken Griffey Jr., who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this summer.  His grandfather is Ken Griffey Sr., who was a 19-year veteran of the majors.  The Mariners actually selected Trey as a tribute to his father, who played a significant portion of his career in Seattle, wearing uniform Number 24.

Torii Hunter Jr. is another college football player selected in this year’s draft, except he also played baseball, albeit sparingly, at Notre Dame for two seasons. His father is Torii Hunter Sr., who retired only last year after playing 19 years in the majors.  Torii Jr. had been drafted out of high school in 2013 by the Detroit Tigers, but chose to attend Notre Dame to play football and baseball.  However, football became his primary sport, as he has played on special teams and as a wide receiver.  He wound up playing only a handful of baseball games for The Fighting Irish.  Because of his athleticism and family bloodlines, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 23rd round this year and proceeded to sign a pro contract with them.  He still intends to play football at Notre Dame this fall.  Who knows?  He may be the next Deion Sanders, who played professionally in both football and baseball.

Bo Bichette was encouraged by his father, Dante Bichette, to play tennis as a youngster, but he wound up following in his father’s baseball footsteps. Bo was drafted out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2nd round, after becoming one of the top prep pitchers in the country.  The elder Bichette was a four-time major-league all-star during his 14-year career.  Bo’s older brother, Dante Jr., is currently an infield prospect in the New York Yankees organization.

Cavan Biggio, son of 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio, was drafted this year by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 5th round.  The infielder had previously been drafted out of high school in 2013 by the Phillies, but chose to attend college at Notre Dame, where he was a starter for three seasons.  Cavan’s brother, Conor, was drafted last year by his father’s major league team, the Houston Astros, after also playing for Notre Dame, but he did not sign a pro contract.

Chad Hockin is the grandson of another Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew. He was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 6th round, after completing his third season as a pitcher for Cal State Fullerton.  Grandfather Killebrew was one of the all-time great sluggers in baseball, recording 573 career home runs.  He was selected to all-star teams on eleven occasions and was American League MVP in 1969.  Chad’s brother, Grant, was a 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2014.  His uncle, Cameron Killebrew, played in the Texas Rangers organization and unaffiliated baseball from 1978-1981.

Grae Kessinger is a third-generation baseball player that was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 26th round.  His grandfather is Don Kessinger, a six-time all-star shortstop for the Chicago Cubs who also managed in the majors for the Chicago White Sox.  Grae’s father is Kevin Kessinger, who played in the Cubs organization in 1989, while his uncle, Keith Kessinger, played part of one major-league season for the Cincinnati Reds in 1993.  It is likely Grae will opt to attend Ole Miss on a baseball scholarship, where his grandfather, father, and uncle also played collegiately.

Brandon Bossard’s baseball bloodlines go back three generations before him. The shortstop was drafted out of high school by the Chicago White Sox in the 31st round.  However, his forefathers didn’t play the game, but instead worked as groundskeepers for the White Sox.  His great-grandfather, Emeril, was the first in the family to hold the position, followed by his grandfather, Gene, and his father, Roger, who is currently the head groundskeeper at U. S. Cellular Field.

JaVon Shelby, drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 5th round out of the University of Kentucky, also comes from a large baseball family.  His father, John Shelby, was a big league outfielder from 1981 to 1991, primarily for the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers.  JaVon has three brothers who also played baseball.  John III played in the minors from 2006 to 2012 for the White Sox and Rays organizations, while Jeremy played briefly in the Orioles organization in 2010.  Youngest brother Jaren, this year’s Gatorade Player of the Year in Kentucky, has signed a letter of intent to play for Kentucky next year and projects to be a future major league draft pick.  JaVon’s cousins, Josh Harrison and Vince Harrison Jr., both played baseball professionally, with Josh currently playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Brothers Joshua and Nathaniel Lowe were both drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. Joshua was a top high school third baseman in Georgia, while Nathaniel played first base for Mississippi State University.  Joshua was selected in the first round, the 13th overall pick, and Nathaniel was picked in the 13th round.  They are the sons of David Lowe, who was drafted out of high school by the Seattle Mariners in the 5th round in 1986, but did not play professional baseball.

Every year there are also a handful of major-league draftees whose bloodlines don’t include a baseball background. This year’s list includes pitcher Matt Manning, son of Rich Manning who played in the NBA for two seasons (1995-1996).  Matt was a first-round pick of the Detroit Tigers.  Pitcher Griffin Jax, the son of NFL linebacker Garth Jax (1986-1995), was the third-round pick of the Minnesota Twins.  Outfielder Chris Bono, the 37th round pick of the San Francisco Giants, is the son of former NFL quarterback Steve Bono, a veteran of 14 pro seasons (1985-1999).

A full list of the players from the 2016 MLB Draft with relatives in professional baseball can be viewed at http://baseballrelatives.mlblogs.com/2016-family-ties/.

Father’s Day All-Star Team Rooting for Potential Major League Sons

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi, June 17, 2016

On Father’s Day last year, I compiled a list of major-league all-stars who were fathers of major-league players. The mythical team represented a good look back in history at some dads who were among the best players in the game. There were some pretty good names on the list—Berra, Griffey, Bonds, Raines, and Rose.

To honor baseball dads this year, I’m taking a different twist on the same subject.

The all-star team I’ve compiled this time is indeed comprised of fathers who starred in the big-leagues. However, their sons, who are currently following in their dad’s baseball footsteps, are prospects still grinding their way through college and the minors.

Not that long ago, most of these sons were hanging out with their dads in major league clubhouses or shagging balls in the outfield during dad’s batting practices before games. Those early childhood experiences likely fueled their aspirations to ultimately join the ranks of “major leaguers” like their fathers.

On this Father’s Day, the tables will be turned, since these all-star dads will be pulling for their sons to pitch and hit well enough, so as to improve their chances of one day getting to the “Big Show” themselves.

Starting Pitcher – Roger Clemens won 354 career games and is 3rd on the all-time leader list in career strikeouts.  He won the Cy Young Award a record seven times.  Twice he struck out 20 batters in a game.  He would already be in the Baseball Hall of Fame if it were not for his suspected involvement with PEDs.  Three of Clemens’ sons have followed in his footsteps.  (Note that all the sons’ names begin with “K” – the symbol for “strikeout.”) Kacy and Kody played for the University of Texas this year, after having been drafted by major league teams out of high school. Koby has played in the minors for the Astros and Blue Jays organizations and later in independent league baseball.

Relief Pitcher – Mariano Rivera is the all-time saves leader in baseball with 652.  He pitched in seven World Series for the Yankees and recorded an astonishing 0.70 ERA and 42 saves during his post-season career that included 96 games.  He is a lock to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.  Mariano’s son, Mariano III, is a relief pitcher like his father.  He was the 4th round pick of the Washington Nationals in 2015 and is currently pitching at the Class-A level.

Catcher – Mike Matheny played thirteen major league seasons for the Brewers, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Giants.  While he never played at an all-star level during his career, Matheny developed a keen sense for the game that has allowed him to become one of the top young managers in major league baseball today.  Matheny’s son, Tate, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2015, and the outfielder currently plays at the Class-A level.  Mike has two other sons with futures in pro baseball. Jake has committed to play for Indiana University, while Luke has committed to Oklahoma State University.

First-Base – Rafael Palmeiro is one of only five players in history to get 3,000 hits and slam 500 home runs in his career.  However, his fabulous career has been stained by failing a drug test during his last season.  Consequently, he won’t likely get elected to what would have otherwise been a sure spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  However, his sons have put on the spikes to follow in dad’s footsteps. Patrick played in the Chicago White Sox organization for three seasons and is currently playing in the independent leagues.  Last year, his 50-year-old father came out of retirement for one game to play with Patrick in a league game. Rafael’s other son, Preston, was drafted this year out of North Carolina State University by the Baltimore Orioles in the 7th round.

Second Base – Craig Biggio could have landed a spot on this imaginary all-star team at three different positions.  He has the distinction of being a regular starter for the Houston Astros at three different positions during his career: catcher, second base, and centerfield.  He attained all-star status as a catcher and second baseman.  He compiled over 3,000 hits, 660 doubles, and 1,800 runs scored during a Hall of Fame career. Biggio coached his two sons in high school, and both went on to play baseball at the University of Notre Dame. Cavan was drafted this year by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 5th round. Conor was selected by his dad’s team, the Astros, in the 34th round of the 2015 draft.

Third Base – Dante Bichette was a four-time National League all-star for the Colorado Rockies and was runner-up in the MVP voting in 1995.  He compiled a .299 batting average, 274 home runs, and 1,142 RBI during his 14-year career.  Bichette, coached his son, Dante Jr., in the Little League World Series competition in 2005, and Dante Jr. is now playing in his sixth season in the New York Yankees organization.  Bichette’s other son, Bo, was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2nd round of this year’s draft.

Shortstop – Cal Ripken Jr. is the Hall of Fame shortstop best known for his consecutive game streak of 2,632 for the Baltimore Orioles.  He was a 19-time all-star and two-time American League MVP.  His physical size of 6’ 4” and 200 lbs. re-defined the shortstop position in the major leagues during the 1980s.  Ripken comes from a baseball family, as his father was a long-time coach and manager of the Orioles, while his brother Billy played in twelve major league seasons as an infielder.  Cal’s son, Ryan, was drafted in 2012 and then again in 2014, and is now playing at the Single-A level in the Washington Nationals organization.

Outfield – Vladimir Guerrero was often noted as wild-swinging hitter, but he managed to hit 449 home runs, drive in 1,496 runs, and hit for a .318 average during his sixteen-year career.  He was the American League MVP in 2004 and was an all-star selection nine times.  His performance should earn him a spot in Cooperstown.  Guerrero’s 17-year-old son from the Dominican Republic, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., was one of the top international free agents last year and was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays for $3.9 million. However, he has yet to play in the minor leagues in the U. S.  Guerrero Sr. had a brother who also played in the major leagues, and his nephew, Gabby Guerrero, is currently a top prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Outfield – Carl Yastrzemski is one of the all-time great Boston Red Sox players.  He’s in the Hall of Fame based on his career numbers of 452 home runs, 1,844 RBI, and .285 batting average.  He was an all-star in three different decades, the Triple Crown winner in 1967, and MVP of the American League in 1967.  He’s on my list of all-star dads, but in fact he is the grandfather of Mike Yastrzemski, currently playing at the Triple-A level in the Baltimore Orioles organization.  Mike is a third-generation professional player, as his father, also named Mike, played five seasons of minor league baseball.

Outfield – Magglio Ordonez was a six-time all-star in the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers organizations.  During his 15-year career, he managed to hit for a .309 average, slugged 294 home runs and 1,236 RBI.  In 2007, he finished second in MVP voting in the American League.  Ordonez’ 20-year-old son, Magglio Jr., played for Detroit’s rookie league team last season.

Manager – John Farrell is currently in his fourth year as manager of the Boston Red Sox, having claimed a World Series championship in 2013.  A former major league pitcher, Farrell has three sons involved in professional baseball. Luke is currently pitching in the Kansas City Royals organization at the Triple-A level. Jeremy was drafted in 2008 and played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization last season. Shane was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011, but chose a career as a pro scout, currently working in the Chicago Cubs organization.  The three Farrell sons represent a third generation of ballplayers, as their grandfather, Tom, played briefly in the minors in the mid-1950s.

Odds of MLB Draft Legacies Making the Big Leagues

Each year there a number of sons, brothers, and cousins of current and former major-league players who are selected in the 2016 MLB Draft.

Bleacher Report provided an interesting assessment of the probabilities of several legacy prospects from the 2016  draft actually reaching the major-league level.

The assessment included the following drafted players who have relatives in pro baseball:

  • Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette and brother Dante Bichette Jr.
  • Cavan Biggio, son of Craig Biggio and brother of Conor Biggio
  • Conner Capel, son of Mike Capel
  • Trey Griffey, son of Ken Griffey Jr. and grandson of Ken Griffey Sr.
  • Jacob Heyward, brother of Jason Heyward
  • Torii Hunter Jr., son of Torii Hunter Sr.
  • Preston Palmeiro, son of Rafael Palmeiro and brother of Patrick Palmeiro
  • Cal Quantrill, son of Paul Quantrill
  • Nick Shumpert, son of Terry Shumpert and cousin of Mookie Betts

For the full report see the link below from Bleacher Report:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2645856-odds-of-each-2016-mlb-draft-legacy-prospect-reaching-the-majors

 

 

Bo Bichette Chooses Baseball Like His Father and Brother

Bo Bichette comes from a baseball family, and it appears he will follow suit in the game even though he was urged to play tennis at a young age.  Bo is the son of Dante Bichette, who had an extensive career in the majors from 1988 to 2001, including four all-star years.  Bo’s brother, Dante Jr., was a first-round draft choice of the New York Yankees in 2011 and played at the Double-A level this season.

Bo was selected to play in the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field in August, a showcase for high-school talent.

Read more about Bo Bichette at the link below from USA Today:

Despite early tennis push, the net result is Under Armour All-American Bo Bichette chose baseball

Bichette Jr. Expects to Live Up to his Father’s Name

Dante Bichette Jr. is in his fourth professional season after being drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round as a supplemental pick (51st overall) in 2011. His father, Dante Sr., had a 14-year career in the Major Leagues, which included the 1995 season when he led the National League in home runs and RBI. Thus, Dante Jr. feels a lot of pressure because of his father’s career. He was coached by his father growing up and attributes all he knows about the game to him.

While Dante Jr. has struggled in the low minors, he seems to have turned the corner this season, being recently promoted to Double-A Trenton in the Yankees farm system.

See related story about Dante Bichette Jr. at the link below from The Trentonian:
http://www.trentonian.com/sports/20140808/bichette-jr-living-up-to-high-praise