May 12, 2012

Not about Jamie Moyer

Here's the opening of a minor sports page article in the L.A. Times about the Dodgers facing 49-year-old Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jamie Moyer:
To prepare to face Jamie Moyer on Friday night, Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. could watch videos of his past at-bats against the Colorado Rockies left-hander. 
Or he could talk to his father, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn Sr., who also faced him.
Rookie Scott Van Slyke could also solicit advice from his father, former All-Star Andy Van Slyke. 
Shortstop Dee Gordon's father, former pitcher Tom Gordon, was Moyer's teammate. ...
"I think Jamie pitched against my grandfather," joked Jerry Hairston Jr., a third-generation major leaguer.

So, four of the 25 Dodgers are the sons of former major leaguers. And these aren't minor major leaguers, either. All four dads spent at least 13 years in The Show.

When I was a kid, it was quite rare for big leaguers to be the sons of big leaguers. It seemed more common for baseball players to be brothers than father-son combos. I first noticed a sizable number of scions in baseball about 20 years ago. Adam Bellow wrote a book early in the last decade, In Praise of Nepotism, that toted up the statistics showing growing dynasticism in many fields, but I haven't looked at the numbers much since. Is this trend still growing in the baseball?

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Noticed Doug Drabek's son pitching for the Blue Jays a few days ago.

While sons of general officers have made stars since this nation's founding, it may be lesser known that many sons and daughters of civilian intelligence officers also get internships and eventually hired. But, of course, they are qualified, just like the ball players.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

1) As a member of the class of 2011 and a (recent) former college baseball player (pitcher), I feel obligated to inform you that the 20 year old shorthand you picked up from repeated viewings of bull Durham is a bit dated. No one calls going big time making "the show" anymore. We do, however, still dip like motherfuckers (griz).

2) How does an older dude like yourself manage such insane hours? Regardless of means, recklessly ignoring your circadian rhythm like this is absolutely terrible for your heart guy. Take some fish oils and pop a little melatonin around 8:00pm henceforth, brobama.

Big Bill said...

Interesting. And just a few days ago you were talking about "Girls", which is populated by the show biz kids of show biz parents. Do we see a trend here?

Anonymous said...

Before the 1980s, the best athletes had less incentive to have a sports career. Now, even the 500th best baseball player will be a millionaire. That alone would be expected to change the mix of competitors.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the trend, but these sons of former athletes seem like they would have major legitimate advantages in a field that doesn't have a lot of space for promoting people above their abilities. A big name can overcome a lot of talent issues in hollywood, but if you can't hit a curveball, there's no space for you in the majors.

They start with good athletic genes and their fathers were part of the first generations that earned generational wealth, not just a great living. Plus the dads would have the inside scoop and funds to pay for the best coaches, extra batting cage time, and bankrolling these kids as they struggle to make it.

Jerry said...

I don't know about baseball--I am not American--but the Adam Bellow book was disgusting. Bellow Jr. got to where he was (editor of a NY-something) in great part through daddy, certainly not by what he himself wrote, which was forgettable. Bellow Sr. was the major novelist, as stylist and thinker, of the second part of the 20th century in America. Writing a book on nepotism may be a good way to try to get out from under that kind of shadow, but it was also part of the distinct recent pushing of the envelope on various issues that in earlier times would have been dismissed as impossibly wrong. We can all fill in our own examples. Saul Bellow was a conservative (he pushed Allan Bloom to write The Book on modern higher education) so this betrayal by the son rankles all the more.

poolside said...

Former Astros outfielder Kevin Bass has two sons who played in the minors, one currently, and one son who is a pretty good high school player. But I don't know if any of them will make the majors.

Kinda on topic ... the son of Leroy Burrell (U.S. Olympian who set two world records in the 100-meter dash) won the Texas state championship in the same event yesterday. His mom was also a sprinter.

Of course, it's okay to talk about genetics when it comes to sports or music. Other stuff, not so much.

Thrasymachus said...

I think the difference is that these fields have become far more lucrative, thus providing more incentive to get your child into it. Back in the old days being a major league player didn't pay that much, so even if you had a lot of baseball talent maybe you would become (or encourage your kid to become)a doctor or a plumbing contractor. Now that it's millions of dollars a year, you do everything you can to get your kid on that gravy train, and you work to take advantage of every bit of Daddy's genetic gift and connections to get on it yourself. The same thing is true of investment bankers and artists.

pat said...

I think it's simpler than that. Baseball is no longer the default pastime for American boys. Some athletic boys simply won't think about it unless their father suggests it.

My guess would be that a large proportion of stars in minor sports like American soccer, or field hockey, or Modern Pentathlon got into that particular sport only because their fathers had.

Albertosaurus

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Bill James did an article on the Bonds, the Griffeys, and I think the Boones.

As the salaries went up, it became a career move for sons to follow. If your Dad was a starting NL 2nd baseman in the 40's but nothing more, what was the son's incentive to take a job that he knew from personal experience would keep him away from family so much? But at career earnings in the millions, the calculation is different.

Anonymous said...

I recall noticing the scions more like 25-30 years ago, Boone, Berra, Law, Skinner, and Bonds come immediately to mind. One possible factor would be that this results from expansion begetting more opportunities beginning in 1961 and continuing rapidly through 1968 from 16 to 24 teams, then more slowly, but now at 30.

Some, like Law, appear to have had the door opened for them then developed late (while Art Howe had to get picked up at an open tryout in his 20s, giving up his job as a Westinghouse Engineer to take another shot). I recall others like Clemente and Rose who just couldn't cut it at the higher levels. Most were not as accomplished as the father so they might not have made it in a 16 team league. It is still a pretty ruthless meritocracy.

I would expect a 20 to 30 year generational lag so it sort of fits.

According to Moneyball, Billy Beane likes the son's for former players. So they may get more chances.

Henry Canaday said...

Speaking of nepotism in literature, where it is much more common, Chris Buckley spoke at the Local Lefty Bookstore last night about his new satirical novel. I have skimmed and enjoyed Buckley’s books about his parents but have never been able to work up an interest in his novels, as their plot summaries make them sound like something that might have been written by Art Buchwald, a humorist whose columns were funny in the 1950s and still, for some reason, published by “The Washington Post” 40 years later.

Chris has, in milder form, the speech habits of his father, sounding English, a bit effeminate and posh, at least to my primitive American ears. Oddly, these traits in exaggerated form in the young William Buckley were less annoying than the milder versions are in his son.

Or maybe it’s just that Chris laughs at his own jokes, a habit that annoys me. I prefer Laconic Jewish Deadpan delivery, of which Alan Meltzer and the late Herb Stein, both of the American Enterprise Institute, were masters.

Herb’s son, Ben Stein, is very smart and witty, but there are levels of comic excellence beyond the reach of us larval members of the boomer generation. Maybe you had to endure both The Depression and Hitler to attain to them.

Sean said...

You need to read more Steven Jay Gould (on baseball). Statisics don't reveal things like the physical size required to be competitive has increased, so has the genetic potential. And sons know they likely have above average genetic potential from dad. The old time players couldn't live with those today - in any lucrative sport.

Power Child said...

I remember something in Dubner/Levitt's Superfreakonomics about this. It was something like "Want to be a major league baseball player? Practice helps a lot. So does having talent. But what helps you about 500 times more than practice, talent, or anything else? Having a dad who was a major league baseball player."

Anonymous said...

"Want to be a major league baseball player? Practice helps a lot. So does having talent. But what helps you about 500 times more than practice, talent, or anything else? Having a dad who was a major league baseball player."

ALL of those... and hanging around for a time at spring training and in a major league clubhouse as some kids do with their father must surely contribute.

Anonymous said...

http://www.examiner.com/article/star-ledger-admits-to-censoring-race-savage-post-concert-mob-attacks

Anonymous said...

So many Americans have been brainwashed and are so bereft of moral meaning in their lives that their idea of being a 'good American' is getting all puritanically supportive of homosexuality. When puritanism is used to support homosexuality, you know there's something wrong. Politically correct morons think homosexuality is the cleanest healthiest thing in the world when 'gay sex' between men is just ewwwwwww.

Auntie Analogue said...

Another factor in the increase in filial representation has been that over the last 50 years MLB has expanded several times, thus opening two and three times the number of opportunities for MLB dads to groom their sons for the increased number of open player slots. This was not possible before the several expansions. Further, the more players there are in an expanded league, the more scions those players will have to groom and to connect well with teams for MLB careers.

Also, the demise of the reserve clause opened the door further to well-placed offspring, owing to decreased owner power over players' negotiated contracts and yet made owners keener to profit from the prestige factor in hiring "name" player-sons-of-name-players as a fan draw based on notional tradition, passing-of-the-torch-ism, if you will. This works handsomely for owners and son-players alike, especially in MLB promotional events, the prime one here being Old Timers Day games at which the father plays with the Old Timers on the same day his son plays in the scheduled season game.

And, given the publicity-ticket sales value of having a name player's son on the squad, if the son of a name player has skills equal to those of aspirant players whose dad didn't play MLB, which of those players do you expect owners - and, indeed, MLB and sports media talking heads - will favor?

CJ said...

This kind of nepotism isn't really nepotism, because if Kyle Drabek doesn't stop falling off the mound and start throwing more strikes he's going to be back in triple A (or maybe AA since the minors don't work the way they used to). Very very different from Hollywood or publishing.

Posters are correct that with 30 MLB teams and every player who sticks a millionaire, there's more incentive to become a baseball player than there was. Everything has become much more professionalized, and players need both a lot of natural talent and a serious professional commitment. Ditto for most other sports. The days of Ball Four and Slap Shot are gone.

chucho said...

It looks like there are about 40 or so active players.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_second_generation_Major_League_Baseball_players

John Doe said...

I have found myself much more interested in baseball as I get older. Maybe it's just because the Orioles are winning again this year and I'll lose interest in a few weeks when they tank.

Anyway, with all the recent suicides of former NFL stars, I wonder if we'll see a resurgence in interest in baseball. It's a SWPL dream sport. It's more integrated than any other major sport, you make good money, and you don't get concussions and kill yourself at 43.

There isn't much physical contact between players, so aggressive minorities don't scare away white people. It's not too cold like ice hockey, so black people actually play the game too. It's the perfect professional sport. Or it would be, if the games weren't so boring.

Anonymous said...

Sean, YOU need to watch more highlights. Today while getting my hair cut I saw the 5'8" Dustin Pedroia go 3 for 5 with 3 RBIs last night, as well as 5'10" Gio Gonzalez win his fourth game.

There's a large file associated with baseball called "intangibles". It's a much larger file than in most other sports, which is the point of Moneyball.

rob said...

Barry Bonds, eh? Was his father on drugs, too? Having an in to the PED dealers would be a nice perk.

Also, the environment changed: used to be, every kid played baseball at least a bit. Certainly enough to figure out if he had talent or not. There's a lot more environmental variance now.

Anonymous said...

The expanded opportunities cited by Auntie is wrong. There are few per capita MLB now than 50 years ago. Plus, 30% of the major league spots are taken by Caribbeans today. Nice try.

Tony said...

Football also has some father/son combos with the Peytons being the most famous. However its rare in music for a son to follow his father to greatness.

CJ said...

chucho said... It looks like there are about 40 or so active players.

Good find. Each MLB team has a 40-man roster, and there are 30 teams, so that means a total of 1,200 current major league players. That means 40 descendants of previous pros versus 1,160 who are not, a ratio of 1:29. The Caribbean/Latino thing changes little; there have been Latin Americans in pro baseball for at least 80 years, and they have kids too.

One may therefore conclude that nepotism in major league baseball is nothing to worry about.

Anonymous said...

Nick Swisher is another good example of a son-of-a-major-leaguer making it. Moneyball focuses on Swisher's defining characteristic: overweening confidence that he'll make it in MLB despite seemingly ordinary athletic gifts.

Seeing Pops getting the job done in MLB day after day would certainly be helpful in developing that kind of confidence. And since baseball requires a certain amount of confidence and daring to succeed, this might turn out to be a significant advantage in addition to inherited physical gifts.

Anonymous said...

It helps to have contacts, and a recognizable last name.

Of course talent is necessary, but getting in front of someone that can hire you is probably the most difficult part, unless you are spectacular.

Anonymous said...

I bet sons of pros get a lot of free batting practice which is key to getting noticed.

I have no knowledge to confirm the pro side, but I've noticed that sons of high school and some college coaches DO in fact get a lot of ground balls and swings against the practice pitcher while hanging around before or after practice.