Trio of Franco Brothers Playing for Rare Place in History

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

Picture this: on the baseball highlights show one evening, the sports anchor mentions that Wander Franco hit a game-winning home run for his team.  Well, which Wander Franco was it?

Initially that may sound like a foolish question, but it turns out to be a legitimate one, since there’s actually a trio of current professional baseball brothers with the same first and last name, Wander Franco. The Dominican Republic-born brothers are still in their early careers, but if they ever get to the big leagues at the same time, they would likely cause a fair amount of confusion for baseball followers who will be challenged to keep them differentiated.

The pick of the litter of the ball-playing Franco brothers is the youngest, Wander Samuel, who at age 17 is already projected to be the next teen phenom in the majors. He was the Number 1 overall international pick of 2017 by the Tampa Bay Rays and proved in his debut season in 2018 that the Rays were correct in their assessment of his potential.  The switch-hitting shortstop recorded a slash line of .351/.418/.587 at the rookie-league level, while posting 11 HR and 57 RBI in 61 games.  He was named Player of the Year in the Appalachian League.  The Rays’ investment of $3.85 million to sign Franco looks like it may turn out to be a sound one.

22-year-old Wander Alexander played in the San Francisco Giants organization last season at the Single-A level. He is also a switch-hitter that plays both corner infield positions.  His numbers weren’t too shabby either, as his slash line consisted of .314/.351/.519.  He was originally signed by the Houston Astros as a teenager and spent four seasons in the low minors before being dealt to the Giants.

Wander Javier is the “old man” of the bunch at 23 years old. The third baseman also currently plays in the Giants organization, after starting his career with the Kansas City Royals.  Playing at the Single-A level in 2018, he showed a tendency to strike out a lot, but also knocked in 65 runs while posting a .271 average.  He was named Offensive Player of the Year for his team.

Reportedly the brothers’ father (yes, his first name is also Wander) had a brief stint in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, although that isn’t substantiated in Baseball-Reference.com. In any case, he taught them the fundamentals of the game, and they were also influenced by uncles Erick and Willy Aybar, both of whom had major-league careers.

If the three Franco brothers wind up in the majors at the same time, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Altogether there have been only 20 sets of brothers in baseball history that were comprised of three or more major-leaguers. Perhaps the most famous trio of brothers were the DiMaggios (Joe, Vince, and Dominic), who played at the same time in the late 1940s.  Each of them attained all-star status during their respective careers.

There were the Boyer brothers (Cloyd, Ken, and Clete) in 1955, and the Cruz brothers (Jose, Tommy, and Hector) played in the 1970s. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Delahanty, Mansell, and O’Neill brothers were among the first families with three or more siblings to play in the majors at the same time.

More recently, the Molina brothers (Bengie, Jose, and Yadier) played simultaneously during the 2004-2010 timeframe. Among the three brothers, all of whom were catchers, they have played a total of 43 seasons, with Yadier still active.  Each of them has at least one World Series ring.

However, the rarest occurrence of three brothers playing at the same time happened when the Alou brothers (Felipe, Jesus, and Matty) actually appeared in the same game on September 10, 1963, for the San Francisco Giants. In that game, they made all three outs in the 8th inning, with Matty and Jesus making pinch-hitting appearances.  On September 15, the three Alous manned all three outfield positions late in the game.

But there have been countless sets of multiple brothers who didn’t make it.

So it’s still a bit early to predict whether all three Franco brothers will reach The Show, since they have yet to prove themselves beyond the low minors. Based on history though, the odds are against them; but don’t count them out just yet.

 

Advertisements

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/

 

Trio of Alou Brothers Made History in 1963

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

On September 13, 1963, brothers Felipe, Jesus, and Matty Alou made baseball history when they played in the same outfield for the San Francisco Giants. At the time, the occasion may have been a promotional gimmick by the Giants, since Matty and Jesus were at the beginning of their careers, surrounded by uncertainty they would be sticking around with the Giants much longer since they were competing for regular jobs with their older brother and future Hall of Famers, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.  Regardless, the feat hasn’t occurred again since.

As it turned out though, all three Alou brothers wound up having significant careers in the major leagues, altogether encompassing 47 seasons. Felipe and Matty became all-stars, Matty won a batting championship, and Jesus was a member of two World Series championship teams.  Felipe also had a 10-year managerial career.

The Alous’ extended baseball family eventually included other major leaguers, nephew Mel Rojas and cousin Jose Sosa. Felipe had several sons who also played professional baseball, including Moises who became a major league all-star himself.  Mel Rojas’s brother and son were minor leaguer players.

Following is a look back at the careers of the history-making Alou brothers.

Felipe Alou

Felipe began his baseball career with very humble beginnings. Born into a poor family in the Dominican Republic, gloves made out of strips of canvas and bats lathed from scrap wood were his first exposure to baseball.  While he excelled in baseball and track as a youngster, it was his parents’ desire that become a doctor.  In fact, he enrolled in the university for one year with his tuition paid by the state.  But it soon became evident he would not have enough money for the books, clothing and food required to stay in school.

After attracting attention in the Pam American Games, the New York Giants signed him to a contract at age 20 and sent him to Lake Charles, Louisiana, in the Evangeline League. He immediately became controversial because this league did not allow black players at that time.  His mother was a white native of Spain and his father was black.  However, the Louisiana governor’s office declared he was black, forcing the Giants to ship him to the Florida State League after only five games at Lake Charles.

Felipe was the first of the three Alou brothers to play in the major leagues. Considered an everyday, consistent player, he played 17 total seasons, primarily with the Giants and Braves.  He broke in with the Giants on June 8, 1958, their first year on the West Coast.  It was at a time when Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda were getting all the attention on the club.  However, Felipe hit .316 and a career-high 98 RBI for the NL pennant-winning Giants in 1962.

After being traded to Milwaukee in 1964, he led the National League in at-bats and hits in 1966 and 1968. He finished second in batting average to his brother Matty in 1966, the only time this happened in major league history.  That same year, he hit a career-high 31 home runs.   He appeared in the first League Championship Series in 1969, when Atlanta faced the New York Mets.

Felipe was often placed in the batting lineup as a leadoff hitter. On two occasions, July 26-27, 1965, and August 9-10, 1966, he hit leadoff home runs in consecutive games.  He is among the career leaders in leadoff home runs with 20. He combined with four other Giants players to hit consecutive home runs in the 9th inning of a game on August 31, 1961.  On another occasion, April 30, 1961, he hit one of eight homes in a game by Giants players against the Braves.  In 1968 he had a 22-game hitting streak with the Braves.

At the end of the 1969 season, Felipe was traded to the Oakland Athletics and finished his career in the American League by 1974. During his career, he made the All-Star team three times.  Felipe was one of only three players in history to play for the Milwaukee Braves and Brewers teams.  Hank Aaron and Phil Roof were the others.

Felipe spent twelve years managing in the minor leagues, as well as many seasons of winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He became the first Dominican manager in the majors when he succeeded Tom Runnells of the Montreal Expos in May 1992.   He had previously coached at every level in the Expos organization.  Although he was noted for his low-key approach, his philosophy of managing was simple:  “Don’t be afraid to fail.  Play to win, don’t play not to lose.”  His initial Montreal clubs included his son, Moises, and nephew, Mel Rojas.

Felipe resurrected the Expos franchise, finishing first or second in four of his first five seasons. He was selected the National League Manager of the Year in the strike-shortened season of 1994.  He led a young Expos team to the best record in the majors that year, but unfortunately the team did not play in the post-season, because of the strike.

The Expos operated with a lean budget and as a result the players were consistently among the lowest paid in the league. Yet Alou was noted for being somewhat of a miracle worker by getting the most out the talent dealt him.  However, with the Expos competing in the same division with the best National League team of the ‘90s, the Atlanta Braves, they could never rise above a mediocre status.

He became the manager of the San Francisco Giants for 2003 and promptly led them to a NL West Division title by winning 100 games, their most since 1993. He managed the Giants for three more seasons before becoming a special assistant to the Giants’ general manager.

During his playing career, Felipe compiled a .286 batting average, 2,101 hits, 985 runs, 206 home runs, and 852 RBI. He was a three-time All-Star and finished fifth in the National League MVP voting in 1966, when he had a career year leading the league in hits, runs, and total bases.  As a manager, his career record was 1,033 wins and 1,021 losses.

In addition to major leaguer Moises Alou, Felipe had three other sons who played baseball professionally. Luis Rojas was signed by the Orioles. Jose Alou played in the Expos organization, while Felipe Alou Jr. played in the Royals organization. He also had another nephew, Francisco Rojas, who played in the major leagues.

Jesus Alou

Jesus was the youngest of the three Alou brothers who played in the major leagues. He was signed by the Giants as a 16-year-old and began his professional career in 1959 as a pitcher.  He converted to an outfielder and made his major league debut on September 10, 1963, with the San Francisco Giants.

He played a total of six seasons with the Giants, hitting .298 and .292 in two of those seasons. Like his brother Matty, he was not known as a power hitter, with 9 home runs and 52 RBI in 1965 being his career best in each of those categories.

When the National League expanded after the 1968 season, Jesus was drafted by the Montreal Expos from the expansion player list, but they traded him to Houston for the 1969 season.

He played three full seasons and part of a fourth for the Astros, and then was traded to Oakland just in time to help them into the World Series in 1973. In 1974 as a reserve outfielder, he again appeared with Oakland in their third straight World Series.  He played for the Mets in 1975, sat out for two years, and then completed his career with two more years at Houston.  Beginning in 1972 he was frequently filling a pinch-hitter role and finished his career with 82 pinch-hits.

Jesus got six hits in a game on July 10, 1964, against the Cubs. Each of his hits came off a different pitcher.  On July 17, 1966, he equaled a National League record when he grounded into a double play three times in the second game of a doubleheader.

For his career, he hit for a .280 average and produced 1,126 hits, 32 home runs and 377 RBI. When he got his 1,000th career hit with the Astros in 1972, it made the Alou brothers the only major league trio to get over 1,000 hits in their careers.  In 1979, he was a coach for the Houston Astros.

Matty Alou

Matty followed his older brother’s footsteps with the San Francisco Giants when he made his major league debut on September 26, 1960. He spent six seasons with the Giants as a reserve player, primarily because the Giants’ outfield was already crowded with such hitters as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Harvey Kuenn, and his brothers.

Matty was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1965 season, and he immediately became a star as a full-time player. He led the National League in hitting (.342) in 1966, beating out his brother Felipe, who finished in second place.  That year he was part of a .300-hitting outfield with Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente.  Matty would go on to be among the top ten in his league in batting average and top five in hits for five more seasons.  He is one of eight major league players who got 200 hits in a season (1970) and still batter under .300.

Following his five-year stint with the Pirates, he played with the Cardinals, A’s, Yankees and Padres, still managing to hit well.

Matty retired after the 1974 season with a .307 career batting average, 1,777 hits and 236 doubles. He had very little power, as he hit only 31 home runs and 427 RBI over fifteen seasons.  In fact, in 1968 he went an entire season (558 at-bats) with no home runs.

Matty appeared in World Series games with the Giants in 1962 and Oakland A’s in 1972. He was a National League All-Star in 1968 and 1969.  Following his major league career, he played three years for the Taiheiyo Club Lions in Japan.