On Nov. 7, 1944, Joe Niekro was born. He’s in rare company: a major league player who not only had a sibling in the majors, but later, a child.
Some of you may remember my column earlier this year on brothers in the major leagues, specifically those unequal pairings of brothers. This week’s column takes that theme a step further, to families who not only had two (or more) siblings reach the majors, but also sent two (or more) generations to the big leagues.
In honor of this week’s tagline subject, we’ll start with the Niekro clan. The first generation contains the brothers, Phil and Joe. As with the Sislers below, it is easy to see who in the family the marquee player was.
Joe had a solid career throwing the knuckleball (and sometimes a bit more; he was suspended for having a nail file in the mound), winning 221 games. His son, Lance, debuted for the Giants in 2003. A first baseman, he saw a fair amount of action in 2004, but his role on the team has gradually diminished. Last season he appeared in just 11 games.
The real gem of the family is Joe’s older brother, Phil. Like his sibling, Phil threw a knuckleball. He rode the fluttering pitch to greater success, however, winning 318 games. In 1969, Phil won 23 games with a 2.56 ERA, good enough for second in the Cy Young race behind Tom Seaver. Perhaps the only thing Joe has over his brother is a World Series ring, won with the Twins in 1987.
In my previous column, writing of the brothers Sisler, I said that “if one is debating the merits of Dave Sisler versus Dick Sisler, one is ultimately in the wrong generation.” George Sisler, the elder of the family, was a better player than his sons put together.
George is a Hall of Famer, albeit a relatively poor one. His career .340 batting average is outstanding, but didn’t play long enough to record 3,000 hits. He did win two batting titles (hitting over .400 both times) and the 1922 MVP. But he rarely walked and had merely ordinary power.
These days, the only thing you really need to know about Sisler is that for many years he held the single-season hits record, finally topped by Ichiro in 2004. I’m more intrigued by two other facts about his career: He was a pitcher until it became clear he was much better at hitting than pitching, and he missed the entire 1923 with double vision.
(Out for the season with double vision! Season-ending injuries just aren’t that endearingly bizarre anymore.)
In the shadow of such performance, the brothers Sisler—Dick and Dave—were fated to disappoint. Dick did have one shining moment, hitting a walk-off home run to secure the pennant for the 1950 Phillies, but neither career amounted to much.
In fact, the most successful second-generation Sisler was probably George Jr., who didn’t play but was president of the International League for many years and elected to its Hall of Fame this year.
Of the few families featuring more than one generation and siblings in the major leagues, the Boone family goes one better, featuring three generations and a set of brothers.
The patriarch of the family is Ray Boone, who made his debut in 1948. Ray had a 13-year career as an infielder, occasionally reaching great heights—he finished eighth in MVP voting in 1953—but generally was a steady, unspectacular contributor.
The winter before he made his major league debut, Ray produced a son, Bob Boone. Bob was a catcher and although a poor hitter (lifetime .254/.315/.346) he had an excellent defensive reputation, winning seven Gold Gloves, third all-time among catchers. He would later go on to an uninspired managerial career.
The Boone line continued with brothers Brett (the older one) and Aaron. Like their grandfather, both are infielders with Brett playing largely at second and Aaron at third. Bret and Aaron were teammates for the Reds in 1997 and 1998, missing being managed by their father by a few years. (Aaron was still with the Reds in 2001 when Bob took over as skipper.)
Aaron, of course, had his moment of fame for the Yankees in 2003 with the homer that won the ALCS, and plans to play in 2008. Brett is retired and probably had the greater career, but has been dogged by steroid rumors. Both have won pennants, but unless Aaron picks one up soon, they will be the first Boone generation without a World Series ring.
Finally there is the most famous intergenerational, multiple-sibling baseball family of all: the Alous. If one is speaking strictly of those players to carry the Alou family name, they have sent four to the majors. The brothers (starting from the oldest) are Felipe, Matty and Jesus, followed by Felipe’s son Moises. Jose Sosa is a first cousin to the elder generation (and therefore a first cousin once removed to Moises) while reliever Mel Rojas is a nephew to the older generation and a cousin to Moises.
Moises is the best player of the lot, a strong hitter and six-time All-Star who has lately battled injury troubles. His father, Felipe, was the most talented of the three brothers.
There’s all kinds of unusual trivia about the brothers. For one, Alou isn’t actually their surname—it was their mother’s name. Felipe’s full given name was Felipe Alou Rojas. (For those looking to improve your word power, names based on one’s mother are matronymics while those based on one’s father are patronymics.) But the Giants scout who signed Felipe misunderstood this and the Alou Dynasty was born.
The pinnacle of Alou family success came on Sept. 15, 1963 when Matty (LF), Felipe (CF) and Jesus (RF) shared the outfield at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field for the Giants, the first time an all-brother outfield had played in the majors. Another Alou family highlight took place in Montreal during the 1992 through 1996 seasons, when Felipe managed a team with both his son Moises and nephew Mel Rojas.
Without taking a rigorous approach to the matter, I’d say the Alous have the inside track as the greatest family with multiple generations and multiple members within one generation. That position isn’t carved in stone, of course. The Boone boys have a few male children between them. Should any of those boys reach the majors, they would be the first fourth-generation major league players.
But then, Moises himself has sons, so it may be some time before there’s a definitive answer.