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.”
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:
Former New York Mets player, Lee Mazzilli, was labelled a “phenom” at age 18, being drafted directly out of a Brooklyn high school as a first-round pick in 1973. Three years later, he made his Major League debut with the Mets and made the National League All-Star team within four seasons. Fast forward forty years and Lee’s son, L. J., joined the professional ranks this season as the fourth-round pick of his father’s former team. The Mazzillis are just one example of many incidences of former Major League fathers seeing their sons follow in their footsteps, start to enjoy some success, and pursue making their own name in the sport.
The younger Mazzilli played his first professional season in his father’s home town of Brooklyn for the Mets’ Class-A affiliate. He is playing in ballparks where his father previously coached and managed at the minor league level before becoming manager of the Baltimore Orioles for two seasons. As his career progresses, L. J. will have the advantage of advice from a father who knows what it’s like to play in New York City, as well as having hung around the stadium environment while growing up.
Eric Young Jr. was headed to Villanova on a football scholarship when, after some heart-to-heart discussions with his father, he decided he would make baseball his career profession. Eric Sr. was an experienced advisor, since he was a 15-year veteran of the Major Leagues. Eric Jr. reached the big leagues himself in 2009 with the Colorado Rockies, but got a change in scenery this season, being picked up as a free agent by the New York Mets, where he broke into an everyday outfielder role.
Eric Jr. wound up leading the National League in stolen bases this season and is expected to be a part of the Mets’ rebuilding. His father, who also had a stint with the Rockies, was a similar type of player, excelling on the base paths, accumulating 465 stolen bases over his career. Now a baseball analyst for the Houston Astros’ broadcasts, Eric Sr. relishes the idea of being able to work in games in which his son plays.
After ten Major League seasons as journeyman middle reliever, 36-year-old Jason Grilli had a breakout year in 2013, as he was entrusted with the closer role for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He responded with a league-leading 29 saves and 1.99 ERA by the All-Star break, before suffering an injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks. Jason was a big component of the Pirates’ resurgence as a playoff team in 2013.
Jason’s father, Steve, had also been a Major League pitcher in the 1970’s, but appeared in only 70 games during his four-year career. Hence, he never achieved the success of his son, so he was indeed a proud papa when Jason pitched the final inning for the National League in the All-Star Game in New York this season.
Wanting to give his son Jacob every chance to succeed in professional ball, Lee May Jr. taught him to switch-hit while he was playing at the college level. It paid off, as Jacob was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the third-round of the June 2013 draft. Lee Jr. had also been a high draft pick in 1986, the 21st overall selection by the New York Mets, and he wound up playing in the minors from 1986-1993. Their bloodlines also include Jacob’s grandfather, Lee Sr., who was a three-time All-Star during his eighteen-year Major League career from 1965-1982. With Jacob’s switch-hitting plus his speed, he projects to be a player more like his father than his grandfather, a power hitter who slugged 354 career home runs in the big league.
Baseball runs deep in another May family. Derrick May Jr. is an outfielder drafted in 2012 by the St. Louis Cardinals, but he chose to attend college over signing. Both his father (Derrick Sr.) and grandfather (Dave) were former Major League players. If Derrick Jr. can reach also the big leagues, their family would be only the fifth three-generation combination in history.
Delino DeShields is an up and coming prospect in the Houston Astros organization. He was a first-round selection out of high school in the 2010 Major League Draft. As a kid, he got a taste of the Major League environment while accompanying his father in big league clubhouses. He got to hang around such stars as Ripken, McGwire, and Sosa, since they were teammates of his father, also named Delino, a thirteen-year veteran of the Major Leagues.
It turns out the younger Delino is a base-stealer in his father’s mold. Now the elder Delino is pulling for his son to gain some maturity on the field so that he can become an integral part of a revitalized Astros franchise.
Kevin Romine has reason to be doubly proud of his baseball family, since he has two sons, Andrew and Austin, who have reached the Major League level. He coached them from the time they played tee ball as children. Kevin had a seven-year big league career as a reserve player for the Boston Red Sox. So when he got calls from Austin, a second-year catcher with the Yankees this season, about helping him with his swing, Kevin was all too ready to provide objective advice. Andrew, who played at Arizona State University like his father, was a fourth-year big leaguer this season with the Angels.
During the 2013 season, George Frazier and his son Parker shared a common dream, more than the normal aspirations of your average father and son. They both had careers in the Colorado Rockies organization. George, a former Major League relief pitcher from 1978-1987, had been a member of the Rockies broadcast team for seventeen years. Parker, a pitcher like his father, came up through the Rockies organization reaching the Triple-A level.
Thus, George waited anxiously for the day when he could do play-by-play with his son on the field for the Rockies. However, their unique dream ended with Parker being traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization during the season. George will have to settle for calling a game with Parker on the opposing side of the Rockies, still destined to be a special moment.
In early April of the 2013 season, big league fathers of several Cleveland Indians were honored at Progressive Field with ceremonial first pitches before the game. Five current Indians, including manager Terry Francona, coach Sandy Alomar Jr., and players Nick Swisher, Michael Brantley, and Zach McAllister, caught tosses from their respective fathers who were wearing their son’s uniform.
Francona’s father, Tito, spent fifteen seasons in the majors from 1956 to 1970. Alomar’s father, Sandy Sr., was an infielder from 1964 to 1978 and then served a long-time big league coach. Swisher’s father, Steve, was a reserve catcher from 1974 to 1982. Brantley’s father, Mickey, was an outfielder for the Mariners from 1986 to 1989. McAllister’s father, Steve, was the only father of this group who did not appear in the majors. However, after a short minor league stint, Steve has been a Major League scout.
For these guys, it was like playing catch in the back yard again. It was probably hard to tell who was more proud—the fathers or the sons.
Naturally, every father wants to see his son have success in life. But it’s an especially proud feeling when the son achieves success in the same profession. Baseball fathers are no different.
These are just a few of the father-son combinations in professional baseball today. I was able to count over 150 such combinations where the son was active in 2013, either in the majors or the minors.
If this article has peeked your interest in baseball’s many family relationships, check out my book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, which contains over 3,500 players, managers, coaches, scouts, owners, executives, umpires, and broadcasters who have a relative in professional baseball. The book can be purchased at http://thetenthinning.com/booksreviews.html.
Eric Young Jr. watched his father steal a lot of bases in the Majors. This season Eric Jr. has stolen a career-high 36 bases, with the Colorado Rockies and now the New York Mets. He joins his father, Eric Young Sr., as one of only five father-son combinations in the Major League to each have a 30-steal season. Eric Sr. had a total of 465 steals in 15 seasons, while Eric Jr. currently has 98 in his fifth big-league season.
See the story about Eric Young Jr. in the Daily News in the link below:
Eric Young, Jr., who was recently acquired by the New York Mets, recalls the day he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2003. He had a football scholarship from Villanova in hand, but wound up choosing to play baseball instead, following his father’s footsteps.
See article in nj.com about Eric Young, Jr.:
Former Major Leaguer, Eric Young Sr., was a 15-year veteran and is now a TV analyst for the Houston Astros. His son, Eric Jr., was recently picked up by the New York Mets and is having an immediate impact for the team. Father and son are similar types of players–using speed and hustle.
See attached article on ESPN.com about the Youngs: