Chips Off the Ol’ Cooperstown Block

On Saturday, Blue Jays rookies Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. added another item to their set of historic firsts: the first sons of Hall of Famers to bat consecutively in a single game. The particular sequence of events could have gone better, though. Facing the Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke, Biggio flew out. Then Guerrero smoked a first pitch slider (106.4 mph off the bat) 404 feet off the center field wall, yet only wound up with a long single after beginning his home run trot while rounding first base. The gaffe — the Jays’ first miscue in a game they lost 6-0 — didn’t escape the notice of manager Charlie Montoyo, who, in reference to Guerrero’s rookie mistake, told reporters afterwards, “You should always go hard.”

After a slow start following his belated arrival, Guerrero is hitting .248/.313/.445 (102 wRC+) with seven homers in 150 plate appearances overall, and .292/.352/.563 (142 wRC+) in his last 105 PA, starting on May 11. That’s not too shabby for a 20-year-old who might be the most hyped prospect in baseball history. No, he wasn’t a number one overall pick like Ken Griffey Jr., Stephen Strasburg, or Bryce Harper. But he’s the only consensus number one prospect to be the son of a Hall of Famer, which made his debut, forestalled by several months due to injuries and service time hanky panky, that much more hotly anticipated.

The sons of Craig Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero (who debuted on May 24 and April 26, respectively) are the first to be teammates within a group that numbers just 15 thus far. Only seven of those 15 reached the majors after their fathers were enshrined, which means that the rest of this group joined retroactively. Comparatively speaking, we’re in a boom time for such familial connections, given the activity not just of the two young Jays but also Giants pitcher Dereck Rodriguez, son of Ivan Rodriguez. The younger Rodriguez even has a Cooperstown-linked teammate himself, namely outfielder Mike Yastrzemski — not just the grandson of Carl Yastrzemski but the first grandson of a Hall of Famer to reach the majors.

The major league history of sons of Hall of Famers dates back to the early 20th century, though one can quibble over who came first based upon the criteria imposed. Claimant number one is Queenie O’Rourke, who in 1908 played 34 games in a utility role for the New York Highlanders. Born James Stephen O’Rourke, he was the only son of the eight offspring of Jim O’Rourke, whose major league career spanned from 1872-93 (with a one-game cameo in 1904) in three separate leagues, the National Association (1872-75), National League (1876-89, ’91-93, ’04), and Players League (1890).

The elder O’Rourke, who played all over the outfield (first as a center fielder but most regularly in left) and dabbled in catching and pitching, collected the first hit in NL history as a member of the 1876 Boston Red Stockings, helped that team to pennants in both 1877 and ’78, then did the same for the Providence Grays in ’79 and the New York Giants in ’88-89. The younger O’Rourke began his professional career in 1903, playing for the Bridgeport Orators, managed by his father (known as “Orator Jim” for his habit of reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy to his teammates before every game, which must have gone over well with the less-educated ballplayers of his era). Queenie’s major league career lasted less than two months at the tail end of the 1908 season, during which the Highlanders lost 103 games; after that, he returned to the minors, where he played and managed in a career that stretched to 1924. His father, who played and managed in the minors through his 50s — his last appearance was in 1912, when he was 61 — died in 1919 at the age of 68. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee in 1945.

So that’s one way of looking at it. Claimant number two, Earle Mack, played a total of five games for the Philadelphia A’s in 1910, ’11, and ’14 as part of a professional career that as a player (and sometime manager) spanned to 1923. While he debuted after the younger O’Rourke, father Connie Mack was elected by the Centennial Committee in 1937, the second year of Hall elections. From that vantage, eight years before O’Rourke’s election, one would have identified him as the first son of a Hall of Famer to play.

Of course, it’s fair to quibble with including the Macks in this roundup given that Connie Mack was inducted for his epic managerial career (which spanned from 1901-50), not his 11-year playing career (1886-96) during which he hit for a very modest .244/.305/.300 with 3.5 WAR for three teams. Interestingly enough, the younger Mack served not only as a coach under his father from 1924-50 but also as interim manager for extended stretches in 1937 and ’39 while the old man — and I mean old, as we’re talking his age-74 and -76 seasons — took leaves of absence due to prolonged illnesses.

Then again, if we’re trying to identify the first son who, like Biggio and Guerrero, arrived in the majors carrying the burden of expectations that comes with being the son of a Hall of Famer, then the claim should be awarded to Eddie Collins Jr. Between Mack’s A’s and the White Sox, the senior Eddie Collins starred as the second baseman on six pennant winners during his 25-year career (1906-30). Most notably, he joined fellow Hall of Famer Home Run Baker as part of Philadelphia’s “$100,000 Infield,” the foundation of four pennant winners and three World Series winners from 1910–14. In 1925, the senior Collins became the sixth player to reach 3,000 hits, and in 1939, nine years after his playing career ended, he was elected to the Hall by the BBWAA. On July 4 of that year, the younger Collins debuted for the A’s, though the fact that he collected just 21 PA in 32 games that year, all of them off the bench, in games during which the team went 3-28 (with one tie), should tell you something about the relative skills in question. Two years later, in his only real shot at playing time, he hit .242/.305/.297 in 240 PA as an outfielder.

Here’s the full register on the batting side (you can see more complete stats here):

Major League Sons of Hall of Famers (Hitting Version)
Son Years G wRC+ WAR Father Years Elected
Dick Sisler+ 1946-53 799 101 5.9 George Sisler 1915-30 1939
Dale Berra+ 1977-87 853 72 4.9 Yogi Berra 1946-65 1972
Tony Gwynn Jr. 2006-14 685 73 4.4 Tony Gwynn 1982-2001 2007
Earl Averill 1956-63 449 103 4.4 Earl Averill 1929-41 1975
Eduardo Perez 1993-2006 754 98 1.6 Tony Perez 1964-86 2000
Tim Raines Jr. 2001-04 75 44 0.3 Tim Raines 1979-02 2017
Chuck Lindstrom 1958 1 670 0.1 Freddie Lindstrom 1924-36 1976
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.+ 2019 36 102 0.1 Vladimir Guerrero 1996-2011 2018
Cavan Biggio+ 2019 12 81 0.0 Craig Biggio 1988-2007 2015
Earle Mack 1910-14 5 14 -0.1 Connie Mack* 1886-96 1937
Queenie O’Rourke 1908 34 56 -0.3 Jim O’Rourke 1872-1904 1945
Eddie Collins Jr.+ 1939-42 132 60 -1.0 Eddie Collins 1906-30 1939
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = elected as manager. + = debuted in majors after father was elected to the Hall of Fame. Years played covers span of career, not gaps in major league service.

And here’s the much shorter register for the pitching side (complete stats here):

Major League Sons of Hall of Famers (Pitching Version)
Son Team G ERA FIP WAR Father Years Elected
Dave Sisler 1956-62 247 4.33 4.54 2.2 George Sisler 1915-30 1939
Dereck Rodriguez 2018-19 32 3.47 4.33 1.3 Ivan Rodriguez 1991-2011 2017
Ed Walsh 1928-32 79 5.57 4.88 0.0 Ed Walsh 1904-17 1946
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
+ = debuted in majors after father was elected to the Hall of Fame. Years played covers span of career, not gaps in major league service.

That’s not a particularly auspicious or long-lasting bunch. Six of the 13 players preceding Biggio and Guerrero failed to reach 1.0 WAR, and none of them came close to 10.0 WAR. Four of the 10 position players played fewer than 100 games, and a fifth didn’t make it to 150.

The most impactful player of the second-generation group thus far was Dick Sisler, the older of the two sons of two-time batting champion George Sisler to reach the majors (a third, George Sisler Jr., spent four years in the minors). Dick was born in 1920, just after his father set a long-standing single-season record with 257 hits while winning his first title with a .407 batting average for the St. Louis Browns. Dick spent his first two years with the Cardinals, then became a regular with the Phillies, initially at first base (1948-49), then in left field (1950-51). He made the NL All-Star team in 1950 — the only player of this bunch so honored — hitting .296/.373/.442 with 3.1 WAR for the “Whiz Kids.” In fact, his three-run homer off the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe in the top of the 10th inning of the season’s final game proved decisive, giving Philadelphia its first pennant in 35 years. It’s still the most famous home run in Phillies history.

The longest-lasting of this group was Dale Berra, who came up as a third baseman with the Pirates but couldn’t hit enough to carry the position and was initially consigned to a utility role. He earned a World Series ring as a reserve in 1979 and spent three years (1982-84) as Pittsburgh’s starting shortstop. He wasn’t half-bad in that capacity, with a 2.9 WAR season in 1982 (.263/.306/.386, 86 wRC+, 19.1 Def), and 1.9 WAR (84 wRC+, 9.8 Def) in ’83. Traded to the Yankees alongside Jay Buhner in December 1984, he hit .343/.343/.457 while playing 11 games under his father the following year. Unfortunately, Yogi was unceremoniously fired after a 6-10 start, and Dale hit just .177/.244/.266 while playing sparingly the rest of the way, in part because he was called before a grand jury to testify in the infamous Pittsburgh drug trials.

Of the rest on the position player side, Lindstrom — the son of the lowest-ranked third baseman according to JAWS, part of the Frankie Frisch/Bill Terry-led wave of lousy Veterans Committee selections in the 1960s and ’70s — was a 22-year-old catcher who collected a triple and a walk in his only two major league plate appearances for the White Sox on the final day of the 1958 season. The career 1.000/1.000/3.000 hitter shares the all-time lead in all three slash stats (minimum 1 PA). Alas, coming off a strong year at B-level Davenport, he never hit well again in his remaining three minor league seasons.

“Little Rock” Raines teamed with his father — who was traded from the Expos to the Orioles on October 3, 2001 — to join the Griffeys as the only father-son combinations to grace the same lineup. They started in the same outfield twice, the second time of which was Cal Ripken Jr.’s final game. Averill, who played with five teams in seven seasons — including the expansion 1961 Angels, on which he placed third with 2.4 WAR — had the distinction of catching Bob Feller eight times in 1956; the Hall of Fame fireballer had previously played with his father, the slugging “Earl of Snohomish” (Washington), from 1937-39. Gwynn, who sometimes went by Anthony Gwynn during his career, didn’t hit particularly well as a regular outfielder, though he did have a pair of two-win seasons with the Padres in 2009-10. He stuck around the majors thanks in large part to his pinch-hitting prowess (.261/.339/.348 in 187 PA, even with a 2-for-30 finish). Perez (not to be confused with 1990s Braves catcher Eddie Perez) was a four-corners player for six teams and is better known as an ESPN broadcaster. His 79 homers leads this bunch.

Of the pitchers, Dave Sisler began his career a useful swingman with the 1956 Red Sox, posting a 2.0-WAR season in 142.1 innings, but it was pretty much downhill from there. “Little Ed” Walsh, the son of the all-time leader in ERA (1.82) and World Series hero of the 1906 “Hitless Wonder” White Sox, spent all four of his seasons on the South Side as well. His big moment as a player came in the Pacific Coast League, where as a member of the Oakland Oaks in 1933, he put a halt to Joe DiMaggio’s 61-game hitting streak. Unfortunately, he died of rheumatic fever in 1937 at the age of 32.

Rodriguez, a sixth-round draft pick by the Twins in 2011, has a good chance to be the best pitcher of this trio. As a relatively unheralded 26-year-old rookie, he pitched to a 2.81 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 118.1 innings, en route to 1.8 WAR. He’s struggled thus far this year, however, giving up a lot of hard contact. His failure to retire any of the five Dodgers he faced on Saturday did his stat line (5.10 ERA, 5.79 FIP, -0.5 WAR in 47.2 innings) no favors.

The 24-year-old Biggio, chosen in the fifth round of the 2016 draft out of Notre Dame, doesn’t have the same kind of ceiling as Guerrero (or even Bo Bichette, son of the decidedly non-Hall of Fame-caliber Dante Bichette). He placed 12th on the Blue Jays’ top prospect list this spring, grading as a 40 Future Value prospect whose only above-average tool is his raw power. Scouts’ skepticism about his ability to handle second base has led to an expansion of his defensive repertoire to include the outfield and corner infield, which may help his cause. Wrote Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel in February, “If he could indeed play all of those positions, he’d be a very interesting Swiss Army knife with power, but realistically he profiles as a second-division regular or platoon outfielder.” Even if he does that, he has a chance to surpass many of the players on this list in terms of his major league accomplishments.

Ultimately, though, it’s Guerrero who really has a chance to shake things up. So far, his defense at third base (-2.8 UZR in 33 games) has largely offset the impact of his bat, but his improved performance at the plate in the past couple of weeks makes clear that he’s only just begun his reign of terror against opposing pitchers. Last Wednesday against the Yankees, facing reliever Zack Britton, he clubbed a go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth inning, a blast estimated at 434 feet:

Mercy. Only 72 home runs to go to catch Perez.

We hoped you liked reading Chips Off the Ol’ Cooperstown Block by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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edwinblume
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edwinblume

The table shows the years for Earl Averill (the father) incorrectly. They are the years for the son.
Fun read. Maybe someday there will be a similar writeup of grandsons of HOFers that is more than a sentence…

TKDC
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Member
TKDC

Obviously with a grandson you are getting further away from the biological advantage. It just goes to show how freakish it really is to be at the highest level. Even the greatest players, passing down genes and often nurturing as well, so rarely even have sons that are good enough to play in MLB at all.

It would be a daunting task, but it would be interesting to know how many sons of hall of famers have ever existed, so you could see how the rate of making it to MLB compared to the general public.

Adam C
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Adam C

Even getting away from Hall of Famers how many productive major leaguers had sons and/or grandsons that were productive major leaguers as well? The Boone and Bell families are the only three generation major league families I believe.