Got Your Back, Bro

Sept. 11, 2006
Sept. 11, 2006

Table of Contents
Sept. 11, 2006

From the Editor
SI Players: Life On and Off the Field

Got Your Back, Bro

Baseball brought once-distant brothers Jeff and Jered Weaver closer-too close, in fact, for a franchise that would soon only have room for one of them

What looked to bea study in sibling rivalry-brothers bumping each other off the same majorleague roster, back and forth-has become something even more interesting. Nowthat Jered Weaver is enjoying a history-making rookie season with the LosAngeles Angels and older brother Jeff is struggling for the St. LouisCardinals, there is additionally the matter of birth order to reconsider. Notonly that. This, really, is a seminar on all kinds of family dynamics. Justwhat does it mean to be a kid brother these days? What is the role ofcompetition among children? Who loved whom best?

This is an article from the Sept. 11, 2006 issue

Also: What thehell is Jered throwing out there?

This last topic isthe more pressing, certainly the more mysterious. Ever since he knocked Jeffout of the rotation and clean into St. Louis (the story line going fromBrothers in Arms to O Brother, Where Art Thou? as soon as the switch was madein June), Jered has been a frustrating puzzle for American League batters. Whenhe helped shut out the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 18 to improve to 9-0 and equalWhitey Ford's 56-year-old record for best career start among American Leaguers(Hooks Wiltse went 12-0 out of the box for the 1904 New York Giants-there'syour major league mark), the 23-year-old lowered his ERA under 2.00 and boostedhis reputation for unflappability. With runners on the corners, no outs in theseventh and 44,072 people on their feet at Angel Stadium, he mowed down theMariners-throwing curves on 3-and-2 counts! He cannot be flapped.

"Now," hesaid after the game, laconic in the way required of any shaggy-haired duderaised in the vast valley north of Los Angeles, "I've got to start thinkingabout how to get that 10th win."

Jered'ssuccess-whether it's a once-around-the-league novelty act or the breakthroughof an honest-to-God talent (box, page 85)-has, for the moment, eclipsed theremarkable circumstances of his ascension. It is not often that a player isshuttled to the minors (after winning his first four big league starts, noless) to preserve his older brother's spot in the rotation, or that the youngerbrother then returns, five weeks later, to usurp the older brother's position,ultimately exiling him to a different league. It was a delicious situation, foranybody not named Weaver. "It was rather unique," admits Gail Weaver,the boys' mother, who was set to enjoy some one-stop parenting in Anaheim, onlyto end up having to suffer an awkward moment or two when her sons' careersstarted interfering with each other.

In fact, it wasnever that awkward, or not as awkward as it should have been. Jered, a prizedprospect out of Long Beach State, was supposed to be cooling his heels on thefarm this year, making up for the time he lost in a lengthy contract holdoutthat was finally resolved in May 2005. It didn't occur to the Angels thatthere'd be any roster confusion when, last February, they signed Jeff to aone-year, $8.3 million deal. It did occur to Jeff, who'd just had two middlingseasons with the crosstown Dodgers, that his presence could complicateconversation at the dinner table when everybody got together again, and he wasquick to clear it with little bro. "I knew that he was going to have achance to be in the rotation this year at some time," says Jeff. "Ididn't really want to step on his toes."

He called Jered,who, of course, was all for it. "That'd be awesome!" the younger Weaverreplied, thinking of the possibility of finally playing on the same team withhis big brother, his idol all those years. Through most of their lives thesix-year age difference had been substantial enough that they'd never reallygotten to know each other. "I mean, he's 16, I'm 10," Jered explains."He's going to take me in the car?"

Says Jeff,"[My buddies and I] were too cool for that-couldn't have the little brotheraround." When their relationship wasn't based on distance, it was based onintimidation. "I would always have to throw my weight around," Jeffsays. "Always wrestling around, trying to show him who's boss."

Moreover, they hadlittle in common, not until Jeff blossomed into a dominant pitcher at FresnoState. He was a late bloomer, making the team as a walk-on (he pitched fewerthan 30 innings in high school in Simi Valley), while Jered was more precocious(although he was originally a catcher in high school). "Thank God westarted having some similar interests," says Jeff. "Totally."

Once Jeff made itin the major leagues, beginning with the Detroit Tigers in 1999, followed by aseason-and-a-half stint with the Yankees in New York, Jered became a morewelcome tagalong, visiting him for a week at a time, hanging out at YankeeStadium, shagging batting practice. They even went on vacations together,spending eight days in the Bahamas, their age difference dissolving in theirmutual devotion to baseball. And now that they might have a chance to play onthe same team, well, that really would be awesome.

And it was, whenJered was called up from Salt Lake City on May 26 to join Jeff in the rotation."We'd talk on the phone every other day before [then]," says Jered,"and now here he is in the same clubhouse. Man, I was so glad we were ableto get that close."

But before theWeavers could be installed in the Brothers Hall of Fame-Ringling, Marx, Dr.Joyce-the situation began to disintegrate. Jered was doing his part, but with2005 Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon coming off the disabled list, theAngels reluctantly broke the pair up, sending Jered back to the minors on June16. Jeff was quick to console Jered, telling him he'd be right back up."Just keep working at what you do," Jeff said.

The Angels beganto rethink their decision, though, as Jeff's struggles persisted. Really, whichWeaver belonged on this club? "Jered needed to be with the team," saysmanager Mike Scioscia. "And even with Jeff throwing the ball better, weonly had one move to make."

So they floppedWeavers, recalling Jered on June 30 and designating Jeff for assignment. Fivedays later Los Angeles off-loaded Jeff, his 6.29 ERA and a sizable chunk of theroughly $4 million that remained on his contract onto St. Louis. "That wasa tough choice," says Los Angeles general manager Bill Stoneman,"almost as tough as optioning Jered out when he's 4-0. But they made iteasier. They couldn't have taken it any better."

The entire familytook it pretty well. "Jeff was disappointed, I was disappointed," saysGail, "but that's just baseball. It's a business." She wasn't worried abit about ill feelings between the brothers. "They wouldn't let this comebetween them. Baseball brought them together; it wouldn't take themapart."

Jered says themove wasn't so surprising, anyway. "We'd talked about it; we knew somethingcould happen," he says. "Not that big of an issue." Jeff, who'dbeen booed at Anaheim and had heard "Bring back Jered!" chants when hestruggled on the mound, was stoic. "When I saw how well he was pitching,and I was struggling to get into a groove," Jeff says, "I knew it was apossibility. It's tough because you wanted to have it last and continue to havea chance to pitch with him, but at the same time it's a business." That's abig brother for you.

Jeff has been upand down since going to St. Louis (2-4, 5.34 ERA), although, with Los Angeles71/2 games out of first at week's end, he is the Weaver more likely to bepitching in October. The Angels seem to think he was a victim of bad luck whilethe team was still trying to come together. And they're confident that Jeffwon't be remaindered on the pile of Irrelevant Brothers (Tommie Aaron? BillyCarter? Prince Harry?). He has a rubber arm that can give a team 200 innings ayear, after all. In any case, he continues to help the Angels behind thescenes. When the Angels visited the Yankees in mid-August, Jeff phoned Jeredwith a scouting report on his old team. "I told him he had to throw inside:He can't just leave stuff over the plate, because of those short porches downthe lines." Jered pitched six innings of three-hit ball for the win and hadAlex Rodriguez complaining afterward, "He had, like, two or three differentfastballs. It was hard to get a feel for him."

There is somequestion as to how many more 9-0 streaks Jered will have after he has beensimilarly scouted. There are signs that opponents are catching on: 11 daysafter being shut down by the kid, the Mariners, for example, belted four homersoff him in a 6-4 Angels' loss, Jered's second in a row after the record-tyingstart. "We'll see," says Scioscia of the future. "But I think thiskid's for real." Scioscia could think of only one other phenom who broughtit the way Jered does, "and I had the advantage of watching him through mymask." That kid, Fernando Valenzuela, with Scioscia catching him for theDodgers, proved to be better than just a flash in the pan.

There is noJeredmania in Anaheim, although his starts are beginning to get some notice.Certainly he's become an object of interest, the leave it to weaver signspopping up here and there. And even if he didn't get hitters out, there's thematter of his presence, his mound antics.

Jered says thathe's streamlined his "routine" quite a bit since he left Long BeachState, where he essentially conducted a class of calisthenics before taking themound each inning. "It got kind of goofy," he admits. Now he just doesa few dips and stretches behind the mound before etching the initials of hislate grandparents in the dirt behind the rubber. As far as hitters areconcerned, he can take all the time he wants. Because when he delivers, theball coming across his 6'7" body, his locks flopping like poodle ears, thepitch can be pretty hard to pick up. Deceptive is a word that everybody seemsto agree upon. He has a major league fastball, but maybe not a Big Unit one. Hejust fools you.

If there'sanything that might give hitters hope, it's a news report from early in springtraining. Jered was partying with some college teammates, got cited for publicintoxication and spent a night in the Long Beach city jail. He promised that,from then on, he would "just go out and have your few and make your wayhome." What was most encouraging (for hitters) was not that Jered proved hecould make a mistake, but that he was so fascinated by his night in jail."I wouldn't say it was cool," he said during spring training, "butit was a trip to see people you've never even seen on Cops."

But if there's anyincipient wackiness here, it's likely to be corrected by big brother in one ofhis every-other-day phone calls, reminding the kid of his place in theclubhouse, in the game, on the road. This kind of brotherly love, in place ofthe more reliable sibling rivalry, cannot be good news for opponents. With thetwo Weavers watching each other's backs, family dynamics don't favor thehitter.

Jeff still helps the Angels behind the scenes. Herecently called Jered with a SCOUTING REPORT on his old team the Yankees.


For a gallery on other brothers currently in themajors, go to

PHOTOPhotographs by Todd Rosenberg IT WASFATE
As Little Leaguers, Jeff (far left and inset, left) and Jered received thefirst clear signs of their baseball destinies.
From their manes to their mechanics, the Weavers are spitting images in everyway but one: their recent fortunes.