Yesterday ‘s NFL contest between the Manning brothers was their third such game in which they went head-to-head as opponents. How often do fans of any sport get to see two high-performing professional players, who also happen to be brothers, face off as competitors in the same game? In the Mannings’ case, they have both led their teams to Super Bowl championships and currently rank among the best quarterbacks in professional football. Baseball has a long history of sibling confrontations on the field. The most recent one occurred in May of this year, when Colby Rasmus of the Toronto Blue Jays hit a double off of his brother Cory of the Atlanta Braves. It was the first time they had played in the same game since high school.
Many of us have experienced seemingly intense rivalries with our siblings while playing pickup games in our back yards or on neighborhood sandlots. Indeed, they are some of our best memories, despite being unheralded moments. However, can you imagine the emotions of two brothers who are competing against each other on a big stage such as a major league stadium?
Let’s take a look at some of the earlier occurrences of siblings as opponents in the big leagues.
Jesse and Virgil Barnes were the first pair of brothers to face each other as starting pitchers in the major leagues on May 3 1927. In all, they opposed each other ten times, with Jesse winning five contests and Virgil three.
Phil and Joe Niekro each had long careers in the majors, and consequently they wound up pitching against each other nine times in the regular season. Forty years after the Barnes’ first occurrence, Phil (with the Braves) outdid Joe (with the Cubs), 8-3, on July 4, 1967. In 1979, the Niekros tied for the National League lead in wins with twenty-one. Phil defeated Joe for his 20th win that season. Joe hit only one home run in his 22-year major league career, and that was off brother Phil on May 29, 1976. While the Niekros may have beat up each other as opponents from time to time, they wound up as the brother combination with the most combined wins (539) in major league history.
On the other hand, a contemporary pair of pitching brothers with the Niekros, Gaylord and Jim Perry, faced each other only one time in their combined thirty-nine seasons of pitching. They were opponents on July 3, 1973, in a game between the Indians and Tigers. Gaylord took the loss for the Indians.
Brothers Stan and Harry Coveleski pitched for different major league teams in the American League from 1916 to 1918, but they refused to start against each other. However, they did wind up pitching in a game on Labor Day in 1916, when Stan was knocked out of the game in the first inning by the Tigers and Harry pitched in relief later in the game.
Greg and Mike Maddux were the first rookie brothers to pitch against each other in the same game on September 29, 1986. Greg (with the Cubs) defeated Mike (with the Phillies), 8-3.
In a specially arranged move, Detroit Tiger Pat Underwood made his major league debut on May 31, 1979, against his brother Tom of the Toronto Blue Jays. Pat was a 1-0 winner his debut, yielding only three hits in eight and one-third innings, while Tom pitched a complete game in the loss.
Furthermore, there have been numerous instances of major league brothers opposing each other as batter versus pitcher.
Alex Gaston of the Boston Red Sox broke up brother Milt’s (with the St. Louis Browns) no-hitter in 1926, hitting a single with one out in the ninth inning.
The St. Louis Browns’ Rick Ferrell almost broke up kid brother Wes’ no-hitter on April 29, 1931; but the official scorer ruled Rick’s at-bat an error, and Wes claimed his pitching gem the Cleveland Indians. On July 19, 1933, in a game between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, Wes Ferrell (with the Indians) yielded a home run to brother Rick (with the Red Sox) in the fourth inning. Wes also hit a home run in the same inning. This was the first time brothers on opposing teams homered in the same game. As a footnote, pitcher Wes wound up with more career home runs than his catcher brother.
On May 6, 1885, Philadelphia pitcher Ed Daily faced his brother Con (with Providence) in Con’s first major league at-bat. Ed hit Con causing him to be removed from the game.
Following are additional occurrences of major league siblings opposing each other in the same game.
Additional brothers to hit home runs for opposing teams include: Al and Tony Cuccinello (1935), Joe and Dominic DiMaggio (1950), Graig and Jim Nettles (1972, 1974), Hector and Jose Cruz (1981), Bret and Aaron Boone (1999, 2000), and Felipe and Cesar Crespo (2001).
Clete and Ken Boyer competed against each other in the 1964 World Series, with the Yankees and Cardinals, respectively. In Game 7, they each hit home runs. They had played against each other professionally for the first time in Game 1.
On September 4, 1988, Donell Nixon led off for the San Francisco Giants, and his older brother Otis led off for the Montreal Expos, marking one of the few times in major league history that brothers led off a game for opposing teams.
On April 5, 1993, Cal Ripken Jr. and brother Billy played their first game as members of opposing teams. They had previously played together with the Orioles from 1987 to 1992 as the middle infield combo.
These and other accounts of brothers who played with and against each other in the major leagues are included in my book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, in a chapter titled “Teammates and Opponents.” The book can be purchased at http://thetenthinning.com/store.html.