June 20 was Father’s Day this year. In honor of celebrating Dad, Richard looks back on some of the notable Senior and Junior pairs in major league history.
Like a number of people, my father is a Junior, named after his father. My father and his father had different careers, which makes it hard to say who was really “better” at his chosen job.
But in some cases of Senior and Junior, it is relatively easy to tell because they are in the same line of work, and that work is playing major league baseball. In the spirit of the recent Father’s Day holiday, this week we’ll look back at some notable pairs, which will reveal why this was a strong choice for Father’s Day.
First things first: Joe Posnanski is—as usual—absolutely right. If Gary Matthews was “Sarge,” then his son should be “Corporal,” not “Little Sarge,” which is one of the dumber nicknames of recent times. (My father, meanwhile, observes that “Little Sarge” sounds like he should be the dog from Beetle Bailey.)
The senior Matthews won the Rookie of the Year award in 1973, hitting .300 on the nose while stealing 17 bases. He was a strong hitter through most of his career, which had San Francisco and Atlanta as its most prominent stops. Today he is most associated with the Phillies, for whom he does color commentary.
Matthews Jr., meanwhile, is one of those players who parlayed one good year—2006 in his case—into an ill-conceived long-term contract, in his case with the Angels. Matthews was released by the Mets recently and as of this writing is still a free agent, being paid (somewhat remarkably) by two franchises.
Like Cy Young and Joe DiMaggio, Pete Rose holds a major league record that will surely never be broken: 4,256 career hits. No one has been better at getting hits recently than Ichiro, yet he would need to maintain his career average of 225 hits a season for almost 19 years to top Rose’s record. So it would be understandable if Pete Rose Jr. was not the ballplayer his father was.
|Tony Gwynn Jr., toiling in the shadow (and uniform) of his father (Icon/SMI)|
And indeed, Rose Jr. was not that ballplayer. He played only 11 games in the majors, managing just two hits. Even worse, Rose Jr. served a month in federal prison after pleading guilty to distributing drugs among his teammates on the Chattanooga Lookouts. In light of this, the younger Rose not only failed to be a better ballplayer than his dad, which was hard, but also failed to be a better person, which was—let’s face it—not that hard. Not great success on either front, then.
With the exception that both were brilliant batters who amassed a huge number of hits, it is hard to imagine two men more different than Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn. Yet they also have the common thread of a son who made the majors but could not live up to his father’s outsize glories.
Gwynn is a San Diego legend, a virtual Mr. Padre. Winner of eight batting titles in his playing days, Gwynn now coaches at San Diego State University (the alma mater of both himself and Stephen Strasburg) and occasionally broadcasts Padres games from Petco Park, located at 19 Tony Gwynn Way.
While Tony Gwynn Jr. has had a better a career than the younger Rose, he is still just a career .255 hitter, and his career-high .270 average last year is 19 points lower than his father ever hit.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Gwynn pere and Gwynn fils is that while the elder Tony spent his entire career for the Padres, the younger—though he plays for them now—helped them miss the playoffs in 2007 when he tripled off Trevor Hoffman, costing the Padres a victory that would have sent them into October.
Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention, which explains the current careers of both generations of Tony Pena. The elder Pena is into his 50s, and after an 18-year career that included five trips to the All-Star Game and four Gold Gloves—only five catchers have more—Pena moved into coaching. He managed the Royals successfully (American League Manager of the Year in 2003) and not (fired with an 8-25 record in 2005) and is currently the Yankees’ bench coach.
Tony Pena Jr., meanwhile is a just 29 and should be in the prime of his career. But unfortunately for Pena, though he was a brilliant defensive shortstop, he simply did not hit enough to justify a place in a major league lineup. Or, for that matter, one in Kansas City, where he played. His final two seasons, Pena hit an astounding .156 with just six extra-base hits and eight walks in nearly 300 plate appearances. The only player who can get away with hitting like that is the pitcher.
Which is exactly what Pena is currently trying. In a story that should be getting more press, Pena currently has a 2.79 ERA in Double-A for the Giants, while striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings. It remains to be seen if Pena can return to the majors on the mound, but there his bat might even be above average for his position.
In these pairings (and pitcher senior/junior combinations like Mel Stottlemyre Senior and Junior), the common thread, of course, is that the father is the superior ballplayer, often by a terrific measure. Of course, this isn’t always the case, as both generations of Ken Griffey would doubtless point out.
Nonetheless, with this week being the one that includes Father’s Day, it seemed fitting to put out those duos where the son inherited the father’s name, but not necessarily his talent. As for me, though I don’t have my father’s name, it is from primarily him that I get both my love of baseball and my writing. We should all be so lucky.