In my research for my book Family Ties about baseball’s relatives a few years ago, I came across hundreds of facts about father-son combos and brother combos over the course of baseball history. The most fascinating for me was the game in which Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. played as teammates in 1990. It was the first time that situation had ever occurred, and it has only been accomplished once more since the Griffeys.
When you think about what must transpire for this feat to occur, there are several factors that must fall in place at the right time. The father must have a lengthy career, at least 20 years as a professional. The son must begin his pro career right out of high school and reach the big leagues by age 20 or 21. For the father and son to be major-league teammates, a team will likely be compelled to go out of its way to bring them together at the same time.
The odds of all these factors happening are extremely high, especially when you consider there have only been 200+ father-son duos in the history of the majors.
Griffey Jr. was the No. 1 overall pick out of high school by the Seattle Mariners in the 1987 MLB Draft. He made his major league debut at 19 years of age in 1989 and joined his father Ken Griffey Sr. (with Cincinnati) as the first father-son combo to play in the majors at the same time. A year later Griffey Jr. was an American League All-Star and one of the most promising stars in baseball.
Griffey Sr. had been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1969 and made his major-league debut with them in 1973. He became part of Cincinnati’s dynasty teams of the 1970s known as the Big Red Machine. His career took him to the Yankees, Braves, and back to the Reds by 1988. By then he was on the downside of his career, serving as a pinch-hitter and occasional starter in the outfield and at first base. However, he provided a valuable veteran presence in the Reds clubhouse.
In mid-August 1990, the Reds informed Griffey Sr. he was at risk of losing his roster spot. He decided to announce his retirement on August 18, in order to help the club with a roster problem. With the prospect of Griffey Sr. being able to team up with his son for Seattle, the Reds agreed to take him off the voluntarily retired list and put him on waivers, so that he could become eligible to play for another club. When Seattle signed him on August 29, Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre insisted Griffey Sr.’s signing was not a publicity stunt. He said, “This is not a dog-and-pony show. We’re looking for a spark.” The Mariners were looking to capture their first-ever winning season since joining the league in 1977.
Their historical first game as teammates occurred on August 31 against Kansas City. 40-year-old Griffey Sr. played left field and batted second in the lineup, while Junior took his normal centerfield position and batted third.
Facing Royals right-handed pitcher Storm Davis, both father and son singled in the bottom of the first inning and later scored to help the Mariners take a 3-0 lead. They both went hitless during the remainder of the game that the Mariners won 5-2.
On September 14, the father-son duo hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the first inning in the Mariners’ game against the California Angels.
Griffey Sr. didn’t hang up his spikes after the 1990 season. He returned with the Mariners in 1991, where he continued to team up with his son until May 31, when he retired after 19 major-league seasons.
Over a decade later, in 2001, 41-year-old Tim Raines and his son 21-year-old Tim Raines Jr., became the second father-son duo to play as teammates in the same game. Raines Jr. was called up late in the season by the Baltimore Orioles, who then made a request to Montreal to trade for his father. On October 3 against Toronto, Raines Sr. made a pinch-hit appearance, while his son was the starting centerfielder. Both father and son started the next day as outfielders against the Boston Red Sox. Raines Sr. retired in 2002 after 23 seasons in the majors.
On at least two other occasions, father-son combos were active players at the same time, although only the fathers were in the majors. Juan Beniquez played in the majors until 1988 (his 17th major-league season), while his 18-year-old son was in his second season in the Kansas City Royals farm system. Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez was active in 2011 (his 21st major-league season), when his 19-year-old son was a rookie in the Twins minor-league system.
Following are examples of other noteworthy father-son duos.
49-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer was still playing in the majors in 2012 when his son Dillon was drafted out of high school but opted to attend college instead.
45-year-old Fernando Valenzuela and his 23-year-old son Fernando Jr. played together for Mexicali in the Mexican League in 2006. The elder Valenzuela had been a major-league pitching star from 1980-1997, amassing 173 career wins.
53-year-old Rafael Palmeiro and his 28-year-old son Patrick were teammates for independent league team Cleburne Railroaders in 2018. The elder Palmeiro had been a 20-year major-league veteran, collecting over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.