Yankee starting pitchers with family connections in baseball

15 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

The Yankees have had either or both of some of the best brother pitching acts in baseball history.

Of course, every sport has family connections. The combination of genetics and shared good coaching from fathers and youth coaches, plus probably some sibling competition (and perhaps some sibling advice and modeling) result in lots of brother and father-son combos in every sport. I don’t know if baseball has more than other sports or if the combos are more prevalent among pitchers than other positions. It seems that way to me, though.

But I do know that lots of brother combos have taken the mound in the major leagues, and some of the best have stopped, at least briefly, with the Yankees.

I think because pitching requires such a combination of natural talent and technique, brothers tend to be either all pitchers or all position players. One exception, though, included a brief Yankee: George Brett‘s brother, Ken, pitched two games in relief for the 1976 Yankees.

Four of the top nine pitching brother combos in baseball history, according to Bleacher Report, included at least one brother who pitched at least briefly for the Yankees.

I’d say that three of the four brothers in the best two pitching brother combos pitched for the Yankees.

Perrys and Niekros

The Maddux, PerryNiekro and Mathewson brothers each have one brother with 300 wins.

But in the Maddux and Mathewson families, one brother accounted for all the pitching greatness. Christy Mathewson won 373 games and had 13 20-win seasons. Brother Henry never won a big-league game, but pitched in three and lost one. Mike Maddux, pitching mostly in relief, had only 39 wins and 20 saves. Greg Maddux, with four Cy Youngs and 355 wins, also was better than any of the Perry or Niekro brothers.

But I judge a family by the greatness of the pair (or group, if more than two are involved). The younger Perry and Niekro brothers each topped 200 wins), giving each pair of brothers more than 500 wins.

If you judge by combined wins, the Niekros would be first with Phil winning 318 games, 32 for the Yankees, and Joe winning 221, 14 for the Yankees. That’s 539 combined wins, 10 more than the Perrys (314 for Gaylord and 215 for Jim).

But I value peak performance and the Perrys have a big advantage there. Neither Niekro ever won a Cy Young Award and both of the Perrys did. Gaylord won in each league, for the Indians in 1972 and the Padres in 1978. Jim won for the Twins in 1970. Gaylord Perry won 20 games in five different seasons and led the league three times in wins and once in shutouts. Jim won 20 twice and led the league in wins twice (once with 18). Phil Niekro won 20 three times and led his league in wins twice and strikeouts once. Joe Niekro won 20 twice and led his league once in wins and once in shutouts. Phil also led his league four times in losses, including two 20-loss seasons (he was 21-20 in 1979). The Niekros had six All-Star selections (five for Phil) and the Perrys had eight (five for Gaylord).

It’s close, but I see a clear advantage for the Perrys. Alas, Jim Perry didn’t pitch for the Yankees and Gaylord pitched just 10 games for the Yankees (4-4) in part of the 1980 season.

The Niekros, on the other hand, had 46 Yankee wins, Phil playing two seasons and Joe playing one full season and parts of two others. They were Yankee teammates in 1985.

Joe’s son, Lance, played first base for the Giants for four seasons.

Coveleski brothers

Stan Coveleski, image from Wikimedia

Another high-ranking brother combo barely spent any time with the Yankees. Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski (five 20-win seasons for the Indians and Senators) and his brother Harry (three 20-win seasons for the Tigers) combined for more 20-win seasons than either the Perrys or Niekros. But Stan won only 215 career games and Harry just 81. Bleacher Report ranks them seventh among pitching brother combos. Harry didn’t pitch for the Yankees and Stan pitched only 12 games for New York in 1928, his final season. He was 5-1 but retired after the season.

Hernandez brothers

Finally we have a brother who contributed to a Yankee championship. Orlando “El Duque” Hernández may be the most underrated member of the Yankee dynasty of the late 1990s and 2000. If you were to name the key starting pitchers of that team, you’d probably name Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Roger Clemens and David Wells before “El Duque,” but for two championship years he was as formidable a pitcher as those Yankees had.

His 9-3 record in the post-season, with a 2.55 ERA, tells you more about El Duque’s value to the Yankees than his 12-4 and 17-9 regular-season records in the best of his six Yankee years. I was always confident when he took the mound in October. He was MVP of the 1999 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.

Liván Hernández, 10 years younger, outdid his brother in post-season MVP trophies, winning them for the Marlins in the 1997 National League Championship Series and World Series, with two wins in each series. He was 7-3 in the post-season in his career.

Neither brother ever won 20 games, but Liván won 178 for his career, pitching for nine different teams. El Duque won 90 games, 61 of them for the Yankees. He played most of his career in Cuba, not joining the major leagues until he was 32.

Bleacher Report ranks them as the ninth-best brother combination. If you value post-season success, championships and/or their play in Cuba, they would rank higher.

Stottlemyres

Mel Stottlemyre, discussed at more length in the post on 20-game winners, is one of the few major leaguers to father two major leaguers, pitchers Mel Jr. and Todd. Neither had nearly as successful a career as their father, but that was a pretty high bar to clear.

Reuschel brothers

Rick Reuschel and his Cub teammates signed this baseball, which my father gave my mother in the 1970s.

Rick Reuschel and his Cub teammates signed this baseball, which my father gave my mother in the 1970s.

Now we’re back to brothers who didn’t spend much (or any) time with the Yankees. Rick and Paul Reuschel rank 11th in Bleacher Report’s ranking of brother pitching combos.

Rick was the more successful brother, winning 214 games, including a 20-win season for the Cubs in 1977 and winning 19 for the Giants in 1988. He played part of 1981 for the Yankees, going 4-4.

Paul Reuschel signed the same ball. Was probably 1976 or '77, when the brothers were Cub teammates. Dad got the ball in the off-season when some Cubs visited Kankakee, Ill., on some sort of promotion.

Paul Reuschel signed the same ball.

Paul, the older brother, was nowhere near as successful, playing only five years and winning just 16 games. They were Cub teammates 1975-7. My parents moved to Kankakee, Ill., in 1976. Some Cubs visited Kankakee on some sort of promotion in ’76 or ’77, and my father went, getting a ball autographed by all the Cubs for my mother, a lifelong Cub fan. The ball includes both Reuschel brothers’ signatures.

Leiter brothers

Al and Mark Leiter rank 12th, just behind the Reuschels, in the Bleacher Report brother rankings. Both brothers pitched just briefly for the Yankees.

Again, the older brother was less successful. Mark made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1990 at age 27. He just went 1-1 in eight games and was traded to the Tigers before the next season.

He spent three seasons primarily as a starter but never had a winning season with double figures in wins. He led the National League with 17 losses for the Phillies in 1997. The next season, he moved to the bullpen, saving 23 games and winning seven for Philadelphia, not a great season for a closer, but Mark Leiter’s best season. I didn’t include him in the post on successful starters and relievers because he wasn’t a successful starter.

He had a losing career record, 65-73, with 26 saves.

Al Leiter was recognized as a promising pitcher when he broke in with the Yankees in 1987, but he won only seven games before they traded him to the Blue Jays in 1989 for Jesse Barfield, who was only 29, but already in decline.

Leiter went on to win 148 games in 11 seasons for the Blue Jays and Mets (though the Yankees beat him in the clinching Game Five of the 2000 World Series).

Leiter’s best season was probably 1998, going 17-6 for the Mets, with a strong 2.47 ERA and finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting.

Al had control issues, leading his league twice in walks and once in wild pitches.

After a brief stint with the Marlins, Al Leiter ended his career with the Yankees, going 4-5 and getting a post-season relief win against the Angels in his last major league appearance. He still works for the Yankees as a broadcaster.

More on Al Leiter in my post on the team of best players who played for both the Yankees and Mets.

Weaver brothers

Jeff and Jered Weaver didn’t use many Yankee wins to reach 14th in Bleacher Report’s brother rankings.

Jeff was an overrated prospect when the Yankees acquired him from the Tigers in 2002 in a three-team, seven-player deal. He won only 12 games in two disappointing years before moving on to the Dodgers in a deal for Kevin Brown.

He pitched better for the Dodgers, but retired with a losing 104-119 record.

Jered (again the younger brother) has been much better. At age 32, he’s 138-79, with a 20-win season and three All-Star selections, pitching his whole career for the Angels.

Pérez brothers

Mélido Pérez was, sadly, the best pitcher in the fourth-place Yankee starting rotation in 1992, going 13-16 with a 2.87 ERA. He had a winning record, 9-8, with a higher ERA in 1994, when a strike cost the first-place Yankees a shot at their first post-season in 13 years. He retired after the following season, 78-85 for his career and just 33-39 in four Yankee seasons.

Pascual was the best of the Pérez brothers, but not for the Yankees. He and Mélido barely missed being teammates, with Pascual pitching for the Yankees in 1990-91 and Mélido starting in 1992. Pascual was the oldest of three major-league brothers from the Dominican Republic. He was an All-Star team in the midst of a 15-8 season for the Atlanta Braves in 1983. He was 14-8 the next year, but never matched those numbers again and retired at 67-68.

Pascual is perhaps best known for the time he got lost in Atlanta, circling the community three times on Interstate 285 and arriving at the ballpark late.

Carlos, the youngest Pérez brother, pitched only five years, none of them for the Yankees. He was an All-Star his rookie year, for the Expos, but, like his brothers, he retired with a losing record, 40-53.

Their cousin, Yorkis Pérez, was a middle reliever and spot starter for the Cubs, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Astros and Orioles, pitching 337 games (66 of them starts) over nine years, with a 14-15 record and one save.

Fowler brothers

Art Fowler had an undistinguished career as a pitcher for nine years, the first three years starting at least 20 games a year. He debuted at age 31, played until he was 41, and went 54-51 with 32 saves for the Reds, Dodgers and Angels. His brother, Jesse, 24 years older, pitched only 13 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1924.

The brothers never pitched for the Yankees and wouldn’t deserve mention here, except for Art’s pitching career. As Billy Martin‘s pitching coach and drinking buddy, Fowler was a four-time Yankee coach.

As Nancy Snell Griffith wrote in Fowler’s SABR bio, “his philosophy of pitching was simple: ‘Throw strikes…. Sometimes, big league pitchers overdo it. You can’t throw the ball harder than you can throw it. Some of ‘em used to try to throw it hard and couldn’t get it across the plate.’[6]

Griffith explained Fowler’s effectiveness for the Yankees:

During their first tenure with the team, Tommy John and Ron Guidry reached their career highs in innings pitched. The Yankees won the World Series in 1977 and 1978. In 1978 Ron Guidry won the Cy Young Award, going 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA. Guidry called Fowler the best pitching coach he ever worked under.

Don Gullet remembered that Billy “really used to let Fowler have it if the pitchers screwed up…I was having trouble throwing strikes so Martin sent Fowler to the mound. He said, ‘Billy told me to tell you that Babe Ruth is dead. That ain’t Babe Ruth up there so throw strikes. Please, Gully, throw strikes or Billy is really gonna be pissed at me.’”[9]

In earlier stops with Martin at Detroit and Texas, Fowler coached Mickey Lolich and Ferguson Jenkins to 25-win seasons, matching Guidry’s total in 1978. He and Johnny Sain are the only pitching coaches I can think of who can claim coaching three 25-game winners with three different teams.

Other Yankee pitchers’ family ties

  • Tom Underwood went 13-9 for the 1980 Yankees and 86-87 for his career. His brother, Pat, was 13-18, pitching mostly in relief, in four years with the Tigers. Their combined 99 wins ranked them 20th in Bleacher Report’s brother pitching combos.
  • Doug Drabek, who won a Cy Young Award for the Pirates after leaving the Yankees, is the father of Kyle Drabek, a White Sox pitcher who has appeared in just three games this year.
  • Dennis Rasmussen, who won 18 games for the 1986 Yankees and 91 games in a 12-year big-league career, is the grandson of Bill Brubaker, an undistinguished middle infielder who played mostly for the Pirates in the 1930s and ’40s.

Who else?

Have I overlooked any Yankee starting pitchers with notable family connections in baseball (or another sport)? Or do you think another brother combo pitched better than the Perrys and Niekros? Or another combo who pitched better in the post-season than the Hernándezes?

Other Yankee family ties

Of course, many non-pitching Yankees had brothers, fathers, sons, grandfathers who played in the majors. But that’s another post for another day.

Also in this series

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

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18 responses

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