MLB: The ultimate father-son baseball game

Imagining a baseball game between the best father-son combinations in MLB history, along with a couple of grandfather-father-son combinations.

One of the fun end-of-season activities for kids and parents on youth baseball teams is the team barbecue. For me, it usually included a kids-against-the-parents softball game. I played in a few when I was young. We, the kids, were young and strong and confident. There was no way our ancient parents could beat us, or so we thought. Of course, to us, 35-40 years old was ancient. In hindsight, it’s amazing how 40 goes from being ancient to young as your own age inches its way towards 50.

Aside from the occasional hamstring pull by an overzealous parent, these games were fun for everyone. The parents ended up being much better than we thought they’d be. They could actually hit and run and throw. They had sore arms and tired legs the next day, but they still got out there and played.

With today being Father’s Day, it got me thinking about the ultimate father-son baseball game. There have been some very good father-son combinations in MLB history, along with a few grandfather-father-son combinations. There have been three generations of Boones in baseball, from grandfather Ray to father Bob to sons Bret and Aaron. The Bells also have three generations of players, from grandfather Gus to father Buddy to sons David and Mike.

Two of the best father-son duos are Bobby and Barry Bonds, and the Ken Griffeys, Senior and Junior. The Griffeys even got to play alongside each other in parts of two seasons with the Seattle Mariners. Griffey the younger manned centerfield, while his dad played in left. This led to one of the great moments in the history of the team when they hit back-to-back home runs in a game in 1990.

With these multi-generation combinations in mind, I thought it would be fun to put together a fictional fathers-against-the-sons baseball game using MLB players. In baseball paradise, we can gather these players together. Of course, they would all be in their prime, like the players who emerge from the Iowa cornfield in Field of Dreams. Fathers (and grandfathers) would play on the Fathers team and the sons and grandsons would be on the Sons team.

For the Fathers team, Bob Boone puts on the tools of ignorance and settles behind the plate. He played 19 years in the big leagues with three teams, but was best known for his time with the Philadelphia Phillies. The grandfather of the Boone family, Ray, will start at shortstop for the Fathers team. He had a 13-year MLB career, playing third base, shortstop, and first base.

The Sons team will have the Boone Brothers. Bret will DH and Aaron gets a spot on the Sons bench. Bret Boone had an interesting career. During his first nine seasons, he averaged one home run every 34.8 plate appearances. Then he exploded for 37 home runs and a league-leading 141 RBI with the Seattle Mariners in 2001. In that huge season, he averaged one home run every 18.6 plate appearances and his forearms looked like Popeye.

This was in 2001, a few years before MLB started testing for PEDs. Jose Canseco mentioned Boone in his book Juiced as an “obvious” PED user because of Boone’s small frame and big arms, but there’s never been proof that he was. Canseco might have just been jealous of Boone’s great acting skills in this beef jerky ad:

The catcher for the Son’s team is Sandy Alomar, Jr., with brother Roberto starting at second base and father Sandy Alomar, Sr. playing second for the Fathers team. Roberto is the best of the Alomars. He was an All-Star for 12 straight years from 1990 to 2001 and won the Gold Glove Award in 10 of those seasons. He was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. For Sandy Alomar, Sr. and Jr. to get into the Hall of Fame, they’ll have to buy a ticket.

A pair of Fielders will play first base, with Cecil Fielder on the Fathers team and Prince on the Sons. One of the cool things about this father-son duo is that they finished their careers with exactly the same number of home runs, 319. Also, Cecil’s single-season high in home runs was 51. Prince’s best home run season was 50.

At third base, we find the Bells, father Buddy on one side and son David on the other. Grandfather Gus didn’t make the starting lineup but may get a chance to pinch-hit for the Fathers team later in the game. Buddy is the best of the Bells. He had an 18-year career and more than 2500 hits. There was one other Bell in the family, but Mike only played 19 games in the big leagues so he didn’t make the cut.

The shortstop for the Sons team is Dale Berra, who’s father, Yogi, is the DH for the Fathers team. Yogi was a Hall of Fame catcher who is considered one of the five or six best catchers in the history of baseball. He played 18 years with the New York Yankees and won 10 World Series rings. He then won a few more as a coach after his playing days were over. He won so many World Series rings he could start a jewelry store.

Dale, on the other (ringless) hand never won a World Series title and was a backup for most of his 11-year career. Baseball skill might not have been passed down from father to son, but Dale did have a little bit of the Berra wit. He was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying, “You can’t compare me to my father. Our similarities are different.”

There’s a ton of talent in the outfield of this game. The Fathers have Ken Griffey, Sr. in left, Bobby Bonds in center, and Felipe Alou in right. They were all good MLB players, but they would have hard time keeping up with their sons in this game. Ken Griffey, Jr. is one of the top 20 outfielders in baseball history and Barry Bonds is in the top three based on what he did on the field. Moises Alou wasn’t as good as Bonds or Griffey, but he had an impressive career in his own right.

If any of the starting outfielders need a break, each team has a Cruz ready to step in. Jose Cruz, Sr. played 19 years in the show, mostly with the Houston Astros. His son, Jose Cruz, Jr., played 12 years with nine different teams, but fewer than half of them as a regular starter. Advantage to the father. The elder Cruz also had a distinctive batting style that featured a front leg lift, which adds some cool points to his career.

The Stottlemyers and Trouts will handle most of the pitching. Mel Stottlemyer will start for the Fathers and Todd will start for the Sons. Despite playing fewer seasons, Mel pitched more innings and won more games than his son. He was the better pitcher, but it was Todd who earned two World Series rings for his contribution to the Toronto Blue Jays’ back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993.

Dizzy and Steve Trout will be ready out of the bullpen for the Fathers and Sons. Dizzy Trout was quite a character. His real name was Paul but he gave himself the nickname Dizzy because he wanted to be famous like Dizzy Dean, who was a much more famous pitcher at the time. According to his SABR profile, Dizzy Trout even created a myth about how he got the name:

He said he was caught in a storm at the Toledo ballpark and spotted an awning on the center field wall, a good place to duck out of the rain. He ran toward it, but smashed head-on into the bricks because the awning was painted on the wall. For that, he claimed, teammates began calling him Dizzy.

 Steve Trout was a tall, left-handed pitcher who started and relieved during his career. Because he was left-handed and had a father called Dizzy, it was assumed that Steve was as flaky as his dad. He wasn’t, but he did have his moments. He also had one of the worst debuts ever for a Seattle Mariners pitcher. On April 6, 1988, Trout started against the Oakland A’s. He got the first two batters out, then walked five straight hitters and mixed in two wild pitches and a throwing error.

The final additions to this game required a little bending of the rules. Casey Candaele was a utility guy who played eight different positions during his nine-year career in the Major Leagues. His mother, Helen Callaghan, was not an MLB player, of course, because there has never been a female player in the Major Leagues. She did play centerfield for five seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The movie A League of Their Own is about the AAGPBL.

With the rosters set, here is the starting lineup for the Fathers:

LF Ken Griffey, Sr.

CF Bobby Bonds

DH Yogi Berra

1B Cecil Fielder

RF Felipe Alou

3B Buddy Bell

SS Ray Boone

C Bob Boone

2B Sandy Alomar, Sr.

SP Mel Stottlemyre

RP Dizzy Trout

BN Jose Cruz, Sr.

BN Gus Bell

BN Helen Callaghan

And for the Sons:

2B Roberto Alomar

LF Barry Bonds

CF Ken Griffey, Jr.

1B Prince Fielder

RF Moises Alou

2B Bret Boone

C Sandy Alomar, Jr.

3B David Bell

SS Dale Berra

SP Todd Stottlemyre

RP Steve Trout

BN Jose Cruz, Jr.

BN Aaron Boone

BN Casey Candaele

Unfortunately, even in this mythical world, there were some father-son combinations who couldn’t make the game. The Kendalls, Fred and Jason, didn’t show up. Jason recently wrote a book that would have allowed him to take the “cranky old ballplayer” banner away from Goose Gossage except that few people actually read the book.

Mickey and Michael Brantley and Jose and Robinson Cano couldn’t make it because Michael and Robinson are currently playing in the big leagues. Dave and Adam LaRoche refused to play unless Adam’s son Drake could play. He’s not (yet) a big leaguer, so they were out of luck.

When it comes to which team would win this ultimate father-son game, it’s easy to look at the Sons team and see the two best players on the field, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr., along with one of the dozen or so best second baseman to ever play, Roberto Alomar, and think they would win easily. Then you look at the Fathers team and see one of the top catchers ever, Yogi Berra, and a top-20 third baseman, Buddy Bell. The Fathers also have an advantage at shortstop and third base, along with a big advantage at pitcher.

Comparing the 13 players on each roster using Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is designed to value everything a player does on the field, the teams are very close. The Sons team has a very narrow edge in WAR: 504.7 to 503.9. Casey Candaele accounts for 4.1 WAR and we don’t have any value for his mom, Helen Callaghan, so the Fathers team actually has a slight advantage when you adjust for the Candaeles. It’s close enough that the teams are essentially even.

Whatever the outcome, it would be a fun game to watch. Can Ken Griffey, Jr. rob his father of a home run? Would Bret Boone ground out to his grandfather at short, Ray Boone? Maybe the game would come down to Jose Cruz, Jr. pinch-hitting against Dizzy Trout or Casey Candaele batting against his mom with the game on the line?

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