A family affairby Dan Turkenkopf
April 10, 2009
Baseball is a family game, in a way like no other. Our interest in baseball is kindled by our parents—whether it be through a game of catch with our father, or our mother buying us a pack of baseball cards and explaining the numbers on the back. Rooting interests are passed from father to son to grandson, as are the stories of the players and teams they grew up with.
It's no surprise that certain families are drawn to the game, and have so much talent that multiple members can make it to the highest stage.
We're going to look at six families that have produced at least three major leaguers since 1955: the Alomars, the Alous, the Bells, the Boones, the Cruzes and the Molinas.
Using 1955 as a cutoff allows us to use Sean Smith's Historical WAR ratings but leaves out perhaps the greatest group of three related players, the DiMaggios. We'll have to acknowledge their greatness another time.
Requiring a family to have at least three members accomplishes two goals: It reduces the number of families to a manageable level, and also removes the threat that the Bondses and Griffeys overshadow the other families.
Let's look at each of the six families before finishing up with a comparison.
The elder Sandy Alomar was a middle infielder who had almost no business every stepping up to bat. He finished roughly 20 wins below average with the bat over the course of his career. He occasionally made up for it with the glove, to the point where he had a 3.6 win season with the Angels in 1971 (and managed 730 plate appearances with a .301 OBA). For his entire career he finished just shy of five wins above replacement in a 15 season career.
Sandy Alomar Jr. made a splash in his first full big league season with the Cleveland Indians, earning almost three wins above replacement. This performance won him the American League Rookie of the Year award. He battled injuries over the next five seasons or so before breaking out with the bat in 1997, helping the Indians win the pennant. That was pretty much his last hurrah, however. After leaving the Indians in 2000, he bounced around from team to team, including the White Sox three times, until retiring in 2007.
Roberto is the jewel in the Alomar family crown. Known for anchoring Toronto's back to back World Champions, Robbie is one of the top second basemen of the Retrosheet era. While his fielding didn't necessarily match his reputation, his bat and his legs more than made up for it. Despite falling off after a trade to the Mets in 2002 (dropping from eight WAR to .4 in a single season), Robbie earned more than 65 wins in his career and deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.
The first generation of the Alous, Felipe, Matty and Jesus, all suited up for the San Francisco Giants in 1963—Jesus' rookie season and Felipe's final season with the team. On at least three occasions, the Giants' outfield was Alou, Alou, Alou.
Despite the family reunion in San Francisco, both Matty and Felipe had more success after leaving the Giants.
Matty won the batting title with Pittsburgh in 1966, hitting .342, kicking off four years in a row in which he hit at least .330. Those were his only four seasons with over 120 OPS+ in his 15-year career, however. According to TotalZone, Matty was generally a below average fielder in center, sometimes costing his team an entire win with the glove. He finished his career earning just over 21 wins above replacement (WAR), driven largely by his four excellent seasons in Pittsburgh (1966-1969), when he amassed 16 of those wins.
Jesus never achieved the same level of performance as his older brothers. Only twice playing more than 120 games in the field, Jesus was often used as a pinch hitter and pinch runner later in his career. Jesus does lead the Alous in World Series Championships—winning twice with Oakland in 1973 and 1974 (interestingly, Matty was a key member of the championship-winning 1972 Athletics team).
Felipe saw his greatest success playing alongside Hank Aaron in Atlanta. He led the league in total bases in 1966 with 355 and finished fourth in 1968. Felipe completed his playing career almost 40 wins above replacement, and had five seasons of at least four (which generally indicates an All-Star caliber season). After his playing career ended, Felipe worked his way up the managerial ranks, becoming manager of the Montreal Expos in 1992. He was named Manager of the Year in 1994— the year the Expos were in position for a postseason berth when the players' strike halted the season.
Felipe did capture a division title in 2003, his first season with the San Francisco Giants. While with the Expos, Felipe had the opportunity to manage his son, Moises, from 1992 through 1996.
Through 2008, Moises had not quite surpassed his father in total value, despite being almost 20 wins better with the bat. Moises, who won a championship with the Marlins in 1997 before being traded to the Astros as part of the Florida fire sale, had his best season with Houston in 1998. His performance was worth 6.6 wins that season, and matched the Alou record which was first reached by his father in 1966. Alou has not yet caught on with a team in 2009, so he may end his career at 38 wins over replacement, just one win behind his father.
A final member of the Alou family, Moises' cousin, Mel Rojas, is not included in our analysis, both because I drew the line at immediate relations, and because we don't have easily accessible WAR for pitchers yet.
The Bells, the first of two three-generation families, exhibit a major disparity in value across the generations.
Grandfather Gus Bell garnered only about six wins in the 10 seasons covered by the Retrosheet era. To be fair, he had some pretty good seasons before 1955, which probably would have added another seven or eight wins to his total. Gus' performance dropped off after 1955, although he hung around for another nine seasons after that, only three of which had positive value.
Grandson David had two pretty good seasons for division-winning teams (the 2001 Mariners and 2002 Giants), one All-Star caliber season for the 2004 Phillies and otherwise pretty much nothing to fill out a 13-year career. Those three seasons totaled 9.7 WAR. For his career he earned only 8.5 WAR, which means he was below replacement level for 10 seasons.
Buddy Bell, on the other hand, has the makings of a Hall of Fame case. He earned more than 60 wins in his career, largely on the strength of his defense. TotalZone rates Buddy as 17 wins above average with the glove, and another 10 with the bat. His best season was 1979 with Texas, when he saved an amazing 33 runs more than average in the field while playing all 162 games.
In the strike-shortened season of 1981, Buddy saved 28 runs with his glove and contributed another 19 with his bat in only 97 games. His win total places him at number 61 among position players since 1955, just below Dick Allen, which suggests Buddy should be part of any Hall of Fame discussion.
Like the Alous, the Boones managed to birth four major league players. Like the Bells, they were spread over three generations.
Also like the Bells, the scion of the family, Ray had some of his best seasons before 1955. Ray came up as a shortstop with Cleveland before becoming a third baseman with the Tigers. Later in his career, he moved to first base and became a part time player, able to rack up only eight WAR after 1955.
Bob is perhaps the most respected Boone in baseball circles, although it might only seem that way because I grew up in the 1980s. Bob was a long-time catcher for the Phillies, Angels and Royals, putting in 19 seasons behind the plate. He was never very good with the bat—his career high in Batting Runs was 8—but he generally made up for it with the glove. Over his playing career, Bob earned just over 26 wins. After he retired, he managed the Kansas City Royals and then the Cincinnati Reds. He wasn't very successful as a manager, but it's hard to blame him for the quality of his teams. In six years on the bench, Bob was more than 70 games below .500
Aaron is pretty much known for two things: hitting the series-winning home run for the Yankees to end the Grady Little game in 2003, and hurting his knee playing basketball that offseason, opening the door for the Yankees to trade for Alex Rodriguez. Outside of those accomplishments, he's been a relatively nondescript player. He's had a few quality seasons, between two and three wins above replacement, and a handful below replacement. He recently underwent open heart surgery, which almost certainly ended his career, but we wish him well in recovering.
Bret is a very interesting story. Perhaps the key offensive force behind the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games (although Edgar Martinez might have an even better claim), Bret was a phenomenal offensive force from 2001 to 2003. In those three seasons, he was a combined 10 wins above average offensively, a far cry from the late '90s when he was nearly eight wins below average with the bat. The sheer prodigousness of those three seasons, taken with his inability to hit in most of his other seasons, have encouraged whispers of steroid usage. Regardless of the cause, 2001 to 2003 were amazing seasons, and give Bret a very interesting WAR curve for his career.
Jose Cruz Sr. is an often-\ overlooked player, largely because he did all sorts of things well. He was a major offensive force, but in a pitcher's park. He fielded well, but he had a fairly weak arm. He didn't run well on the bases, but he stayed out of the double play. All of this added up to more than 50 wins above replacement and a top-100 ranking among Retrosheet era position players.
Jose apparently had the best baseball genes of the Cruz family, because not only was he substantially better than his brothers Hector (-4.2 WAR for his career) and Tommy (not enough playing time to rate), his son, Jose Jr. also managed to make the big leagues.
Jose Jr. has earned 22 wins to this point in his career. His best seasons were 2003 with the Giants and 2004 with the Rays, when he was combined 4.5 wins above average in the field. He's generally been fairly weak with the bat, especially for a corner outfielder, but his defense has allowed him to stay above replacement level. Like Moises Alou, Jose Jr. is without a job this spring, possibly marking the end of a 13-season career in the bigs.
The Molinas are probably the most fun of the baseball families for me. Three catchers; two of whom are among the slowest players in the majors (I'm not sure if I should include Yadier here as
well). I love the fact that Bengie and Jose were basically a two-headed catching monster for the Angels between 2001 and 2005. Sure, neither of them could hit, but why should that stand in the way?
Collectively the three brothers are more than 21 wins below average offensively, which is pretty poor for a family. But since they all wear the tools of ignorance, they're all above replacement for their careers. Jose doesn't have far to fall before dropping below replacement value, and Bengie's starting to get a little long in the tooth, but Yadier should ensure there's a Molina behind the plate for some years to come.
And if all else fails, there's still a chance for Gustavo Molina to make it as a backup catcher, (I know, I know, he's not related. Maybe he can be adopted into the official Molina clan.)
In the battle of the baseball families, the Alous come out on top by more than 15 wins. Yes, they do have four entries competing for them, but Jesus turned out to be a negative in this fight. They're also the most well-rounded family with three members racking up more than 20 WAR apiece. The other families tend to demonstrate a larger separation between family members, with only Bob and Bret Boone battling for the top spot in their family.
I'm sure I've missed a couple of families, most notably the Hairstons, whose three members have totaled around 17 WAR among them (although Scott and Jerry Jr. are still active), but this article is long enough as it is.
The fact that a single family can repeatedly produce some of the top baseball talent in the world is staggering to me. You don't really see it happen in any other sport, although basketball is beginning to see a legacy effect.
I'm sure much of the reason for familial success is genetic, and a lot of the rest is growing up around baseball with access to top coaches, but I like to think it reflects the idyllic nature of a boy having a catch with his dad. I suppose it's the hopeless romantic in me.
Dan Turkenkopf is a Yankees fan who spends way too much time poring over baseball statistics (at least according to his wife). He also writes for Beyond the Box Score and can be reached by email.