Junior Circuit: Big league sons making own names in majors
Boston — Growing up as the son of a major league ballplayer, Terry Francona knew the rules: “Talk only when spoken to, or I’d be spanked.”
When Francona became a big league manager and his players would bring their kids around, he ran a more hospitable clubhouse.
“There used to be a big sign that said ‘No kids,’ or whatever,” said Francona, who followed his father, Tito, to the majors and is now the Cleveland Guardians’ manager. “My rule was: You can come in, but you’ve got to come in and say ‘Hello’ to me.”
Major league clubhouses are more welcoming to the children of players these days — and not just to toddlers raiding the bubble gum bin. Some of those tykes turn out to big league ballplayers themselves.
In all, more than two dozen major league offspring are on AL or NL rosters this year. The Blue Jays alone have three, the sons of Hall of Famers Craig Biggio (Cavan) and Vladimir Guerrero (Vlad Jr.) and Bo Bichette, whose father, Dante, was a four-time All-Star with the Rockies.
“Everything I know about baseball, I learned from him,” said the younger Bichette, whose dad was the Blue Jays’ hitting coach before he stepped down so he could work with his son during the lockout.
“I was super grateful for my dad,” he said. “But at the same time, just wanting to be myself out there. Play as hard as I can. Not necessarily make a name for myself, but just be my own player.”
With a boost from genetics, access to good coaching and equipment — and certainly a little name recognition, too — major league players’ offspring have long followed in their dads’ spike marks.
According to the Baseball Almanac, 252 sons of major leaguers have made it on their own, from Cubs left-hander Jack Doscher in 1903 to Roger Clemens’ son Kody, who made his debut with the Tigers last month.
Along the way have been superstar fathers with forgettable sons — no offense, Pete Rose Jr., aka “The Hit Prince” — and kids who surpassed their dads’ careers, including Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr.
“I was certainly proud of my family, and what my brothers or dad or grandpa were able to do in their careers,” said former infielder and current Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “But the pressure I had was the guy 60 feet, 6 inches away, and that’s how I always approached it. Nothing was going to get in the way of that.”
Boone and his brother Bret are the sons and grandsons of major leaguers; Bret’s son Jake was drafted but hasn’t yet made it as the first fourth-generation big leaguer. (Gus Bell’s great-grandson Luke, the nephew of Reds manager David Bell, is also in the running.)
And it’s not just baseball: Arch Manning, the grandson of Hall of Famer Archie and the nephew of Peyton and Eli, is the top-ranked college football recruit coming out of high school. The NBA champion Golden State Warriors had four players whose fathers played in the league: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Gary Payton II and Andrew Wiggins.
For all of them, being a second-generation professional athlete has its perks.
After Kody Clemens was called up for the first time, dad’s old teammates Derek Jeter and Jeff Bagwell texted to offer advice. Francona said he would ride home from the ballpark in the backseat of the car while his father and Expos reliever Claude Raymond would talk pitching.
“I think I was like the only 10-year-old who knew you pitched up and in, down and away,” Francona said. “I just listened to everything. Probably too much.”
Cavan Biggio said he inherited a passion for the game from his father. But for the most part, just being around professional athletes was an education.
“Seeing how they go about their business and whatnot, I was able to see that as a young kid,” he said. “Growing up and being able to see at the highest level what it’s supposed to look like, I feel that gave me a little bit of an advantage.”
Teams seem to relish the connection, with the Blue Jays scheduling a “Vlad and Dad” bobblehead later this season that has both Guerreros on one pedestal. Clemens was given the No. 21 that his father wore for most of a career in which he won a record seven Cy Young Awards; three generations of Bells wore No. 25.
But mostly, the kids try to avoid comparisons.
“I’m trying to create my own career path here,” said Clemens, whose only pitching appearance was a mop-up role in a blowout. “We always say that I’m glad I’m a hitter, not a pitcher, so I don’t have to live up to what he did. Half a career as his is unbelievable.”
The sons of Red Sox players Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Keith Foulke — all members of the team that won the World Series in 2004 — are playing together on a summer league team outside of Boston. (Jaden Sheffield, whose father, Gary, played on the rival Yankees that year, is also on the team of college players hoping to attract the attention of pro scouts.)
Francona managed the Red Sox to their first championship in 86 years that season. Told that the offspring of some of his best players — and biggest clubhouse characters — were all on the Brockton Rox, he shook his head, chuckled and said “Gawd.”
“I can remember when D’Angelo (Ortiz) would pop his head in, he and Victor Martinez’s son, they would pop in their head every day,” Francona said of the boy who is now a 6-foot-2, 200-pound 17-year-old who batted .351 for Miami-Dade High School this spring.
“They would come in, sit on the couch all excited,” Francona said. “Now it makes me feel really old.”