These Yankee Brothers Are Worth Remembering
These Yankee Brothers Are Worth Remembering
By Paul Semendinger
January 31, 2021
Note – This article by our Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Paul Semendinger, an excerpt from his very popular new book The Least Among Them, was originally shared on these pages and was updated and recently featured in “Here’s The Pitch” the newsletter of the IBWAA.
In the history of baseball, there have been a host of brothers who played Major League Baseball. The largest sibling contingent were the five Delahanty brothers (Ed, Frank, Jim, Joe, and Tom). In the 24 years between 1888, when Ed Delahanty played his first big league game, and 1912, when Jim Delahanty played his last game, there was always at least one member of this family playing in the majors.
Ed Delahanty was the most famous of the brothers. He was one of baseball’s earliest superstars and possibly the greatest player of the 1890s. “Big” Ed Delahanty batted over .400 three times and led the league many times in various batting categories.
In 1903, Ed Delahanty’s season, career, and his life, were cut short when he died tragically at Niagara Falls. The circumstances surrounding this death remain one of baseball’s great mysteries. In the middle of the night, he either fell or jumped from a train into the raging Niagara River and was swept over the falls.
Of the five baseball-playing Delahanty brothers, Frank was the only one to play for the Yankees franchise. In the early days of baseball, Frank Delahanty played for the New York Highlanders in 1905, 1906, and 1908. In 138 games as a Highlander, Frank’s lifetime batting average was .242.
Many players in Yankees history have had at least one sibling who also played in the major leagues. The most famous of those are probably the DiMaggio brothers. The three brothers were the great Joe DiMaggio, a Yankee from 1936 through 1951; Dominic DiMaggio, a member of the Red Sox from 1940-1953; and Vince DiMaggio, who played for five National League clubs between 1937 and 1946.
Bob Meusel (Yankees) and Irish Meusel (New York Giants) were brothers who battled against each other’s teams in the 1921, 1922, and 1923 World Series.
Other Yankee Hall of Famers who had big league siblings include Bill Dickey, Stan Covelski, Joe Sewell, Paul Waner (a Yankee for only one day in his storied career), and Gaylord Perry. Ken Brett and Wes Ferrell were two Yankees whose brothers (George Brett and Rick Ferrell) have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
There were even a few brothers who both played for the Yankees at points in their careers.
In 1912, the Highlanders had brothers Tommy and Homer Thompson, who played together in the same game. On the last day of the 1912 season, Homer Thompson was the Highlanders catcher for one half-inning. In that inning, Homer had two chances. On one, he made an error. On the other, he recorded a putout.
Homer never had a chance to bat. That was Homer’s only big-league appearance. Brother Tommy, a pitcher, also appeared in that game, as a pinch-runner. While they didn’t appear on the field at the same time, they had both dressed and appeared in the same MLB game for the same team. It was the first time that occurred in the history of the Yankees franchise.
Marcus Lawton and Matt Lawton both played for the Yankees, but not together. Marcus Lawton made his debut with the Yankees in 1989. Sixteen years later, in 2005, brother Matt played briefly for the Yankees.
In the late 1980s, one of the Yankees’ prized pitching prospects was a left-hander named Al Leiter. After some injuries, Al Leiter was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, where he began a solid 19-year career pitching for the Jays, Florida Marlins, and the New York Mets. Leiter appeared in two All-Star Games (1996, 2000) and was a member of two World Series champion pitching staffs in Toronto and Florida.
In 2000, Al Leiter pitched against the Yankees in the World Series. It was Al Leiter who took the loss for the Mets in the decisive Game 5 that earned the Yankees their 26th world championship. In 2005, Al Leiter returned to the Yankees to close out his major-league career. In 1990, Al’s brother, Mark Leiter, also pitched briefly for the Yankees.
Then there were Donzell and Darnell McDonald. The McDonald brothers both had very brief Yankee careers. Donzell, an outfielder, appeared in five games in 2001. His brother, Darnell, appeared in four games with the Yankees in 2012.
The Perez brothers, Pascual and Melido, just missed being teammates. Pascual (Perimeter) Perez was a flamboyant right-handed pitcher who enjoyed an 11-year career spent mostly in the National League. Unfortunately, his promise was cut short by injuries and drug problems.
After seemingly returning to health in 1989, Perez was signed to a lucrative free-agent contract with the Yankees, who had high hopes for his rebirth. It wasn’t to be. Pascual Perez pitched as a Yankee between 1990 and 1991 winning only three games and losing six.
The next season Melido Perez joined the Yankees. While he wasn’t a star, Melido Perez pitched four seasons (1992-1995) in pinstripes. Interestingly, in their careers, both Pascual Perez and Melido Perez pitched rain-shortened no-hitters. Melido’s no-hitter came on July 12, 1990 against the Yankees.
In 1905, in addition to Homer and Tommy Thompson, there were three other brother combinations who were teammates on the Yankees at the same time, some only briefly.
The brother teammate combination (other than the Thompsons) who played together for the shortest amount of time as Yankees were Bobby and Billy Shantz. Bobby Shantz was a solid left-handed pitcher who enjoyed a successful 16-year career in the major leagues.
In 1952, while pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics, Shantz won 24 games against only 7 losses and was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player. He was also an All-Star in 1951 and 1952. Just before the 1957 season, Shantz was traded to the Yankees.
Bobby Shantz would spend four seasons in pinstripes, appearing in 138 games, mostly as a relief pitcher. He was a member of the 1958 world championship team.
Brother Billy Shantz did not have as distinguished a major league career. A catcher, Billy Shantz arrived in the majors in 1954. With his brother, he was also a member of the Philadelphia A’s.
In 13 games during the 1955 season, Bobby and Billy Shantz formed a pitcher-and-catcher battery. Their best game together came on April 29, 1955. On that day, Bobby hurled a complete game 6-0 shutout, scattering only three hits against the Yankees.
During the 1955 season, Billy Shantz returned to the minor leagues where, except for one brief game in 1960, he spent the remainder of his career.
The Yankees organization acquired Billy Shantz in 1959. In 1960, the Yankees brought Billy Shantz to the Major Leagues. He appeared in one game and while Bobby was also a member of the 1960 Yankees, he did not pitch in that game.
At the tail end of the 1985 season, two brothers who both happened to both be knuckleball pitchers, served as members of the Yankees’ starting rotation. Future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, a five-time All-Star, came to the Yankees after pitching for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. After the 1983 season, the 44-year-old pitcher signed a free-agent contract with the Yankees.
During the last few weeks of the 1985 season, the Yankees swung a trade with the Houston Astros for the other knuckleball-throwing Niekro brother—Joe. While his career was not quite at the level of his brother, Joe Niekro had won 195 games at the time of the trade.
On October 6, 1985, Phil Niekro pitched a four-hit shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays, but neither the complete game nor the shutout was the big story as with this accomplishment, Niekro became only the 18th pitcher in baseball history to win 300 games.
This story also has human interest side. At the time of the game, Phil and Joe Niekro’s father was sick in the hospital. In the bottom of the ninth inning, just before the final out was recorded, Joe Niekro went to the mound with the news that their father had just been taken out of intensive care. Phil and Joe Niekro are the only brothers to be in uniform together on the same team for a pitcher’s 300th win.
There was one other set of brothers who were Yankees teammates. Outfielders Felipe and Matty Alou played together on the Yankees in 1973. There was also a third big- league brother, Jesus Alou, but he never donned pinstripes.
As remarkable as it might be that the Yankees had two brothers patrolling in the outfield at the same time, the San Francisco Giants actually did them one better. During the 1963 season, when Jesus was a rookie, all three Alou brothers played in the outfield at the same time, in the same game, as teammates, on three different occasions (and in one game against the New York Mets, came up in the same inning and produced three consecutive groundouts).
For most of 1973 season, Felipe and Matty Alou played together on the Yankees. During that season, Felipe had an ancillary role in baseball history. That was the season the designated-hitter position was born. On that day, Ron Blomberg was penciled into the lineup as the designated hitter, becoming the first DH in baseball history, partially because he had a tender hamstring but also because Felipe Alou got the nod as the Yankees first baseman — a position Blomberg also played.
In 1973, the Yankees spent much of the season battling for the division lead. They were in first place through August 2. Yet, the team could not maintain its winning ways.
After a difficult August in which the team won only nine games while losing eighteen, the team dropped to fourth place. On September 6, 1973, both of the Alou brothers were sold by the Yankees. Felipe was sold to the Expos, Matty to the Cardinals.
In discussing baseball-playing brothers, it must be noted that there were two Least Among Them Yankees who had big league siblings. Elvio Jiminez’s brother Manny played 429 games for the Kansas City A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs. Floyd Newkirk’s brother Joel pitched in a total of three games for the 1919 and 1920 Chicago Cubs.
This modified passage comes from the book The Least Among Them, a wonderfully unique history of the Yankees that was published in October 2021. This book was recently recognized in National Review Magazine as one of the Best Books of 2021. Dr. Semendinger is an elementary school principal in New Jersey and also a pitcher in two wood-bat baseball leagues. He’s 53 years old but feels certain that the major leagues will come calling for him soon.