Oh, Brother

Young B.B. Bonds and Craig Griffey are seeking to join celebrated sibs in the majors to form the latest of baseball's fraternal combos
March 21, 1994

Come walk in Barry Bonds's shadow. Last season, when it seemed his image couldn't loom any larger after he had signed the richest contract in baseball. Bonds won a third National League MVP award, added a fourth Gold Glove and led the San Francisco Giants to within one victory of the playoffs. Walk in his shadow? Bonds even collects bases on balls in larger-than-life numbers: He was walked intentionally 43 times in 1993, two short of tying a major league record. Imagine what it's like to try to hit, steal a base or throw a runner out from center-field, knowing you're always being measured against the best player in the game.

Bobby Lee Bonds II, who is known as B.B., knows all about walking in Barry's shadow. When B.B. hit a home run for the San Diego Padres' Class A farm team in Waterloo. Iowa, late last season, a guy sitting behind home plate, two-fisting a couple of hot dogs and a beer, yelled, "Hey, Bonds, now you only need 40 more to catch up to your brother!" That's the way life can be if you're a baseball-playing brother who shares a last name like Bonds. Canseco, Griffey, Gwynn, Maddux or Ripken.

"Kids have to find their own direction in life," says Bobby Bonds Sr., who spent 14 years in the majors, was a three-time All-Star and is now the Giants' hitting coach. "B.B. was tired of hearing all the comparisons with his dad and brother. He just wanted to be B.B. He stopped playing baseball before high school, but he never lost interest in the game."

Then Bobby Sr. corrects anyone who carelessly refers to his brood as a "baseball family," as it implies that baseball is the sole bond in the Bonds family. "We're not a baseball family," he says. "We're a family first. We just happen to play baseball. There's a difference. You can't make someone play the game. The only thing that was puzzling to me was that B.B. had so much talent and he wasn't using it."

Barry, almost six years older than B.B., was the prodigy. He always seemed to have a direction in life, to know where the road up ahead would curve. He was a three-sport star in high school, a baseball standout at Arizona State and then the first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985. B.B. turned out to be the prodigal son, his road map not as clearly marked as Barry's. Though he was considered the best natural athlete in the family, he drifted out of sports during high school because he didn't want to practice. Why practice, he reasoned, when you're already better than everybody else? He studied martial arts instead.

After graduating from high school in Redwood City, Calif., in 1988, B.B. went from job to job—bagging groceries, taking drink orders in a bowling alley, replacing roofs, cleaning carpets, busing tables at a fish-and-chips joint.

When Barry heard that his kid brother was lost and in need of a compass, he summoned B.B. to the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton. Fla., in March 1989. It had been two years since the two brothers had seen each other, and they hadn't spent much more than a Christmas meal together since '82, when Barry left for college and B.B. was 12.

Barry promised his brother a weekly salary and a monthlong job that would require him to use a bat, a bucket of balls and his natural skills. The first morning at camp. Barry showed B.B. the batting cage and told him to go to work. Four hours later Barn returned to Unci B.B. still taking cuts.

"Damn, man, you still hitting?" Barry asked.

"I love this game," said B.B., his hands blistered and bleeding. "Why did I give it up?"

The following fall B.B. enrolled in junior college and took up baseball again. Three years later the Padres selected him in the 18th round of the 1992 free-agent draft. Now he's a 24-year-old centerfielder, a leadoff batter with speed who has to cut down on his strikeouts. At the start of last season B.B. was batting .300 at Waterloo, but he went into the first big slump of his career and couldn't shake it off. He wound up hitting .248, stealing 30 bases and striking out 124 times.

In the off-season B.B. went to his father for batting advice for the first time, and Bobby corrected a hitch in his son's swing. Now B.B.'s in the Padre camp in Peoria, Ariz., trying to make a move up. "I don't think he'll be in the minors much longer—two years, maybe," says Barry. "He's quicker than me and has a better arm."

Barry is at ease, even downright chatty. when he talks about his younger brother—in total contrast to the disdain he often shows reporters when he is asked about his own career. He gushes over B.B.'s natural talent and says he stands ready to advise and assist his younger brother in whatever way he can. Says Barry, "He can always come to my house if he wants to go over anything."

There have been 338 brother combinations among the some 14,300 players who have played in the major leagues, according to the 1993 edition of Total Baseball. Among the more famous and successful sets of siblings were the three DiMaggios, Joe, Vince and Dom, all outfielders; knuckleballers Phil and Joe Niekro; and the three Alous. Felipe. Matty and Jesus, who on Sept. 15, 1963, formed the San Francisco outfield for one inning. However, it is far more common for only one brother to excel. Ever hear of Tommie Aaron? Tommie and his younger brother Hank hold the major league record for home runs by siblings, with 768. Tommie hit 13 dingers: Hank chipped in with 755.

Still, what are the odds that two kids who shared the same bedroom and the same Wiffle bat will both make it to the bigs? "That's a house bet, right there," says Mike Maddux, a New York Met relief pitcher who, like his younger brother Greg of the Atlanta Braves, resides in Las Vegas and knows a little about long odds.

And what is the likelihood that two kids who once wrestled each other on the living-room carpet might some day play on the same rug in a major league ballpark? Last week Seattle Mariner centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. predicted that his brother Craig, who played centerfield in Class A ball last year and is Junior's junior by 18 months, would be playing alongside him in the Seattle outfield next season. Craig dismisses that boast as "brother talk." But for Junior, who at 24 has already played in four All-Star games, that major league reunion is simply inevitable. Ken Griffey Sr. wound up his 19-year playing career with the Mariners in 1991; when his wife, Birdie, informed Ken Jr. that the Mariners planned to make Craig a courtesy pick late in the 1991 draft, Junior said, "Cool. I got a chance to play with my father. Now I'll play with my brother."

To anyone else, that didn't seem remotely possible at the time. In high school, Craig played football and ran track; he then went on to be a special teams player for Ohio State as a walk-on. But after he suffered a stress fracture in his back during his sophomore season, he decided baseball might be a safer sport. He dropped out of school, and the Mariners did him a favor by choosing him in the 42nd round of the draft—though he hadn't played the game since the eighth grade, when Junior was a pitcher and Craig was his catcher.

Craig started last season at Class A Appleton and then was promoted to Class A Riverside, where he hit .241 and stole 10 bases in 58 games despite being hampered during much of his time there by a sprained ankle. He batted .375 in the Arizona Instructional League this winter.

"It's tough to say whether he'll make it to the major leagues on merit," says Dave Myers, who was Craig's manager in Riverside. "He still has a long way to go. Craig has above-average tools and can really run. And he'll get extra opportunities because of the way he spells his last name."

Predicting whether any player in Class A will reach the majors is no more exact a science than forecasting six more weeks of winter based on a groundhog's shadow. Predicting whether B.B. Bonds or Craig Griffey will reach the majors may be easier—but not much, given that there's no clear pattern among the brother combinations that are already there.

"It's in the blood," says Robbie Alomar, the Toronto Blue Jays' 26-year-old second baseman, whose father, Sandy Sr., spent 15 seasons in the big leagues and whose older brother, Sandy Jr., is the Cleveland Indians' catcher. "I really believe that I was born just to play baseball." Though Sandy Jr. has been beset with injuries the last three years, the Alomars are currently the game's most successful pair of brothers, having played in seven All-Star games combined.

However, the gene theory unravels when you look at the case of the Cansecos. The difference between twin brothers Jose and Ozzie is two minutes, one inch, 20 pounds, 245 home runs, 776 RBIs and 1,008 games in the majors. After a six-game stint with the St. Louis Cardinals early last season, his third such cup of coffee in the majors, Ozzie—the older and smaller Canseco—was sent back to Triple A; in June he decided to retire from baseball. In the off-season, after Ozzie decided he wanted to give it one last shot, his agent persuaded the Milwaukee Brewers to sign him to a minor league contract. The Brewers, who are in need of power hitting, hope Ozzie, who has clouted 105 home runs in 648 games in the minors, will be able to help them this year; nevertheless, he will likely start his 12th season in the bushes. His more famous sibling is sympathetic.

"Following a brother who has already been in an All-Star Game, won a World Series, been an MVP is a tough, tough situation," says Jose, who has done all of those things. "You have to be mentally strong."

Being a twin brother makes it doubly difficult. Though Jose is in camp with the Texas Rangers in Port Charlotte, Fla., and Ozzie is with the Brewers in Chandler, Ariz., Ozzie can't walk from his hotel to the supermarket without hearing, "Look, there's Jose Canseco!" When one fan asked for an autograph, thinking he was Jose, Ozzie tried to explain to her that he wasn't who she thought he was. "C'mon, Jose, stop lyin'," the fan said.

"It's difficult to explain my existence as Ozzie Canseco on a daily basis," he says with a sigh.

A sense of identity can prove elusive for any ball-playing brother who's carving out a career while trying not to judge himself against a more successful sibling. As Chris Gwynn, a platoon outfielder for the Kansas City Royals and the younger brother of four-time National League batting champ Tony, says, "It's like in high school when you have a real smart brother or sister, and every teacher expects you to be that good." The difference is, in baseball everyone who follows the game is reading your report card.

Tony, who plays for the Padres, acts as his brother's p.r. agent, constantly cele brating the fact that Chris hit .300 for the Royals last season and criticizing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who originally drafted Chris in 1985, for the lack of playing time Chris received in his two full seasons in L.A. Tony also questions the Royals' off-season acquisition of the volatile Vince Coleman, who apparently will start ahead of Chris in leftfield.

"Chris should be playing every day," says Tony, 33. "He is 29 years old; he hit .300 last year. What more does he have to do? At this stage of my career, I've accomplished everything individually that I possibly can. I'm now more concerned that my brother gets a chance to make it up here. I want his shadow to be as big as mine, so when people compare us, it's not based on my 500 at bats and Chris's 287."

A case could be made that of all the brothers playing in the big leagues today, the Mets' righthander Mike Maddux was dealt the worst hand. While Mike has struggled just to hang on in the game, brother Greg, another righty, who's younger by five years, won the National League Cy Young Award twice by the time he was 27.

During nine seasons in the Philadelphia Phillie and Dodger organizations, Mike was plagued by injuries to his pitching arm; and whenever he got a chance to pitch in the majors, he was mostly ineffective. After the 1990 season nobody wanted him, so he wrote to each big league team asking for a tryout. He wound up paying his own way to the San Diego training camp the following spring and made the roster as a reliever.

"I was down-and-out," Mike recalls. "I went from nowhere to somewhere." And how did it feel to land a job? "I'd like-to say I felt like a million bucks," he says. "but I'll have to say $109,000, since that was the salary I was making at the time—the major league minimum." Acquired by the Mets in a trade before the '93 season, Mike has not been back to the minors in three seasons.

Perhaps the expert in performing in the shadow of a famous brother is Billy Ripken, who for five full seasons played second base and second fiddle to shortstop Hal Jr. in Baltimore. Further complicating Billy's task was having his father, Hal Sr., as his manager when he came up to the Orioles in 1987.

When light-hitting Billy became Baltimore's starting second baseman in 1988, here were the usual insinuations that he vas there only because of his family ties. Although solid on defense. Billy was injury-prone, and he was released by the Orioles after the '92 season. He won a roster spot with the Texas Rangers last season but went on the disabled list twice more; this spring he is in an uphill struggle or a job. And always there is the specter of Cal Jr.

"The first thing is, I'm not him, I won't ever be him. I can't do the things he can do," Billy says of his older brother, who is a two-time American League MVP and has started every Oriole game since May 30, 1982. "Once you realize that, you don't have to worry about things. The good thing about this game of baseball is that it takes all kinds of players."

"I really miss not seeing Billy, even the little things like eating dinner together and sitting next to each other on the bus," Cal Jr. says. "On the field we would do things without words since we know each zither so well. You only realize how special something is after it is taken away."

It seems a cruel fate that the younger brother—Cal is 33 and Billy 29—might be forced to retire even as the older brother's iron-man streak continues. "My man's a superstar," Billy says. "Me? When I'm through with this game, all I'd like for people to think is, That Billy Ripken, he was a pretty damn good player himself. I'll be all right with that."

Next off-season, Cal and Billy will still play basketball three times a week at Cal's home in Reisterstown, Md. Greg and Mike Maddux will still meet five times a week at their golf club in Las Vegas. Ozzie and Jose Canseco will still belong to the same bowling league in Miami. Robbie and Sandy Alomar will still &>o home to Puerto Rico and play Winter League baseball for a team managed by their father.

And come next season, if Craig Griffey isn't playing alongside Ken Jr. in the Seattle outfield? "That's fine, too," says Junior. "I tell him, "When baseball is over, I still have you and you still have me.' That's all that matters."

PHOTOAPBrotherly bunches, past and present: (clockwise from top left) Vince, Joe and Dom DiMaggio; Matty, Felipe and Jesus Alou; Jose and Ozzie Canseco; B.B. and Barry Bonds; Craig and Ken Griffey Jr.; Joe and Phil Niekro; Robbie and Sandy Alomar Jr. (with dad Sandy Sr.); and Tommie and Hank Aaron. TWO PHOTOSMARK KAUFFMAN[See caption above.] PHOTOV.J. LOVERO[See caption above.] PHOTOSCOTT CLARK[See caption above.] PHOTORONALD C. MODRA[See caption above.] PHOTOPETER READ MILLER[See caption above.] PHOTOJEFFREY LOWE/ONYX[See caption above.] PHOTORONALD C. MODRAAfter Barry (above) put B.B. to work in the batting cage, the younger Bonds returned to baseball. PHOTOV.J. LOVERO[See caption above.] PHOTODAVID LIAM KYLEThe Gwynn brothers, Padre Tony and Royal Chris, developed batting eyes as youngsters that made both .300 hitters last season. TWO PHOTOSCOURTESY OF THE GWYNN FAMILY[See caption above.] PHOTOJOHN BIEVER[See caption above.] PHOTOJERRY WACHTERAfter the Orioles broke up the Ripken double-play combination, Billy (7) took a job in Texas. PHOTOSCOTT E. WACHTER[See caption above.]

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