This annotated week in baseball history: May 8-14, 1935

In March, I wrote a column about Lloyd Waner and his brother Paul. I didn’t mention it at the time, but it struck me as interesting that Paul Waner, the older brother, was also the superior player. This came back to me this week as I saw it was the birthday of Felipe Alou who is, of course, the eldest member of the Alou baseball family. Perhaps coincidentally, Felipe is—at least by Baseball-Reference’s WAR statistic—the best of the Alou brothers. (He is also, at least based on WAR, the best of the whole Alou clan, edging out his son Moises.)

This got me thinking about older brothers in general: Were Paul Waner and Felipe Alou exceptions to the rule, or in baseball families was the right of the first born reigning supreme? I looked through some of the other baseball families to see how the brother compared.

(And before anyone points out the obvious flaw here—namely that, for example, Walter Johnson was the second of six children but wouldn’t make the list at all because none of his siblings reached the majors—I will grant you this is a bit of a skewed sample and we’ll leave it at that.)

I would love to say I went about this systematically, but it was not quite that specific an exercise. But without further commentary on my standards, let’s begin:

The Boyer Family: Cloyd Boyer

Not off to a great start here for the eldest, as Cloyd is to the Boyer family what Esau was to Jacob and Sarah, first but not best. In fact, compared to Clete Boyer, Cloyd’s career looks even worse. Pitcher Cloyd went just 20-23 in five major league seasons, posting a lifetime 4.73 ERA, coming in at barely half a win above replacement for his career. Clete, meanwhile, was a Gold Glove winner and two-time World Series winner with the Yankees. And neither was as good as the middle brother, Ken Boyer, who made seven All-Star teams and won the 1964 National League Most Valuable Player.

King of the Alou Family, and an older brother as well(Icon/SMI)

The Boone Family: Bret Boone

Of course, Bret is just the oldest of the third generation of Boones, elder only to Aaron Boone. But for our purposes this is the only generation we’ll consider. Purely based on the numbers, Bret wins this battle going away. He played more seasons than Aaron, made more All-Star teams, led the league in RBI, and finished as high as third in the MVP voting. Aaron’s greatest accomplishment remains his walk-off home in the 2003 ALCS. (Which, speaking as a Yankee fan, is no small feat.)

Aaron’s post career legacy has served him better, however, as he successfully returned from open-heart surgery to play in the majors and now serves as an analyst for ESPN. Bret was named as a suspected steroid user in Jose Canseco’s Juiced though he denied the allegation.

The Aaron Family: Hank Aaron

One does not have to spend much time deciding if Hank or Tommie is the superior Aaron, and it speaks to the supremacy of the older brother that there are a number of brother pairs of this type, where the older brother is an all-time great and the younger one a barely replacement-level contributor. Others of this type include Christy Mathewson and his brother Henry, and Tom Glavine and his brother Mike. In these cases, the older brother is not just superior, but superior by an enormous order of magnitude.

The Wagner Family: Butts Wagner

Of course, sometimes it the younger brother who is far greater than the older. Such is the case of the Wagner family. I’ve made fun of Honus Wagner’s brother Butts a few times before—that’s the fate of a career .226 with a nickname that seemingly get worse with every passing year. Another case is that of the Hoffman brothers, where Trevor Hoffman’s all-time leading 601 saves dwarf the accomplishments of his brother Glenn Hoffman who batted just .242 in nearly 2400 plate appearances.

The DiMaggio Family: Vince DiMaggio

Like the Alou and Boyer families, Vince is the head of a three-person family clan. And just like the Boyer family, it is the middle brother who reigns supreme. There’s nothing wrong with being second to a talent the likes of Joe DiMaggio, who remains one of the greatest center fielders ever to play the game. In second would be the baby of the family, The Little Professor, Dom DiMaggio. Dom was probably the best center fielder of the trio, while Vince was no slouch either. (In fact, Vince would go on far later in life to claim that he could easily outplay his most distinguished brother in center.) But on the whole, Vince was the weakest of the DiMaggio brothers.

The Martinez Family: Ramon Martinez

While older brothers frequently have a good showing when it comes to hitting, on the pitching side the reverse is often true. While many of the older brother pitchers are no weaklings—several have some truly excellent seasons on their resume—on the whole it seems younger brothers do better. In addition to the Hoffmans, as noted above, the dominance of younger brothers is present in the Martinez family, where Pedro Martinez exceeds Ramon. Jim Perry did win 215 games, including 24 and the Cy Young Award in 1970, but Gaylord Perry used his spitball to take him to the Hall of Fame. And while Mike Maddux is a well-regarded pitching coach, there can be no question that Greg Maddux, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, is superior.

The Niekro Family: Phil Niekro

Of course, as Christy Mathewson proves, sometimes being the older brother is a good thing. This is also the case in Niekro family where Phil and his knuckleball went to the Hall of Fame. Brother Joe Niekro and his knuckleball, though with a good career (221 career wins), does not match that resumé.

Of course, there are any number of other families who could be considered to increase this list, the Ferrel’s and the Delahantys being among the most prominent. For now though, we can take away the lesson that success can land on a player no matter where in the birth order he falls.

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  1. Jim G. said...

    Don’t forget the elder Cal Jr. and Billy “FF” Ripken! There was some disparity there.

    Or George and Ken Brett.

    I think Cal was older but George was younger.

  2. James T said...

    You forgot the Bretts, Ken and George, thought that’s an interesting case.  Obviously George Brett had a much better career than Ken.  But maybe if the late 60’s and early 70’s Red Sox hadn’t bungled things so badly it would be a closer call.  Ken was supposedly a terrific hitter and a very good center fielder.  But he was also a big pitching lefty prospect and the Red Sox thought he should pursue a career as a pitcher.  Things never quite panned out in that direction. 

    The Red Sox had a massive influx of talent into their minor leagues in the late 60’s and early 70’s and perhaps thought they had tons of outfielders so making Ken Brett a pitcher was a solid choice.  But the likelihood of a pitcher not being injured and fulfilling his promise is less than that of an outfielder it seems.

  3. Richard Barbieri said...

    You can also play this game with other fields, incidentally. Dennis Quiad, for example, is Randy’s younger brother. Eddie Murphy is Charlie’s younger brother. Perhaps funny works better from the younger generation.

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