I don’t have a son. I have two sweet daughters, and this is a good thing because boys are weird, always running around, breaking things, and punching each other in the beans. I wouldn’t know what to do with a son. Does the homeowner’s insurance premium increase? Probably. What a nightmare.
HOWEVER, people who have sons seem to love them very much. And there has to be so much pride that comes with watching your son make the major leagues for the first time, especially for the dads who were major leaguers themselves. There goes the chip off the ol’ block, and all that.
Father-son combinations in baseball are a grand tradition. However, Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger and his ex-Yankee dad, Clay, just might be the platypus of father-son combinations. They’re a total egg-laying freak of a two-generation family, and we should marvel at their unlikeliness.
Before I explain, it’s useful to categorize the previous categories of father-son baseball combinations.
Same sport, different major (ex. Tom Gordon, Dee Gordon)
This is a common one, where the dad is a pitcher and the son is a hitter, or the dad is a catcher, and the son is a shortstop with wildly different skills. Bob Boone was a catcher, and his sons were infielders, and the same went for Yogi and Dale Berra. Tony Armas was an outfielder and an anatomy lesson, and Tony Armas, Jr. was a pitcher and an anatomy lesson.
Tom Gordon and Dee Gordon are my favorite example because they’re both so notable and memorable in different ways. The elder Gordon had a fastball/curveball combination that made adults weep, and the younger one is one of the fastest players in baseball. It’s like a dad being one of the best safecrackers in the world, then having a son who grows up to be one of the best getaway drivers in the world. Same genre, vastly different skills!
Weaponized version of the father (ex. Bobby Bonds/Barry Bonds)
The other classic example is Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr., and you don’t need a very detailed explanation to get the idea behind this category. Player is very good, has a son, and that kid grows up to be Player 2.0, better in every way.
It doesn’t always have to be as dramatic as Bonds and Griffey, either. José Tartabull was a fringe player, and Danny Tartabull was an All-Star. Randy Hundley was basically a poor man’s Todd Hundley, just decades earlier.
Lance McCullers has a chance to be in this category with some good luck and health. His pops was pretty good, but he couldn’t stay healthy. The second generation has something to build on.
Expectations are a jerk (ex. Tony Gwynn/Tony Gwynn, Jr.)
Yeah, this is a tough category. Baseball is hard. There’s no shame in being merely great enough to be a major leaguer. It’s an instant, remarkable accomplishment to make the majors!
Alas, there are some players who have to realize at some point that they’ll never be as good as their dads. Tim Raines, Jr., for another example. Pete Rose, Jr. I was this close to blaming this all on the suffix, but Cal Ripken ruined that theory. This is not a very fun category, though. It’s so easy to forget just how hard it is to make the majors in the first place.
Perhaps my all-time favorite for this category, though, is Earle Mack, who was Connie’s son. His dad was a catcher and a manager. He was a catcher and a manager. Connie played 11 seasons. Earle got 16 at-bats over three seasons, and his dad had to manage the team for him to get even that many.
Connie managed for 53 years, stopping when he was 87. Earle managed parts of two seasons when his dad got sick, and it was widely assumed that he would continue managing the Athletics when his dad retired, except Connie managed for another decade after that.
In retrospect, it probably would have been more fair if he were a pitcher and a broadcaster.
More of the same (ex. Cecil Fielder/Prince Fielder)
This is a slightly extreme example, because it’s well-established and completely bonkers that both Fielders finished with exactly 319 home runs. Prince Fielder was the better of the two, but it was still close.
Jose Cruz was one of the most underrated players of his time, and he was better than his son, Jose Cruz, Jr., but they both had similar positions and tools. Same goes for Gary Matthews and Gary Matthews, Jr., as well as Eric Young and Eric Young, Jr.
The best chance for a modern entry into this category currently belongs to Cam Bedrosian, who is an excellent reliever, just like his old man. Another decade of excellence, and he’ll have a very similar career. The symmetry is comforting, somehow.
Cups of coffee (ex. Jay Pettibone/Jonathan Pettibone)
One last time: Making the majors is hard. Out of millions of young boys who dream of being big leaguers one day, these two actually did it. And it’s kind of nice how one of them isn’t showing the other one up with a big, fancy career.
This is, unsurprisingly, the most common category. There was a Jeff McKnight and a Jim McKnight. Clyde Mashore had roughly the same career as Damon Mashore. They both finished with exactly eight home runs, too, but somehow everyone cares about the Fielder factlet more.
Those are the established categories. They’re nice and simple, and you can sort most father-son combinations into one of them.
Which brings us back to Clay Bellinger and Cody Bellinger. The father wasn’t exactly a small man. He was 6’3, which is certainly tall enough to get a height-based nickname around town. Here comes big Clay, they would whisper.
Except Clay Bellinger played like a 5’6 player. He moved all over the diamond, spending more time in the outfield than anywhere else. He somehow managed to hit .193/.257/.363 for his career, even though he was active from 1999-2002, which was one of the most robust offensive eras in baseball history.
Cody Bellinger is also a tall man, except he plays like a disgruntled minotaur, not a utility player. He has the most violently powerful swing in Dodgers history, give or take, which is saying something for a team that also employs Joc Pederson. It’s too early to say he’ll be an All-Star — he’s just 21 — but he looks like he’ll be an excellent player for a decade, at least.
While this could technically fall under the Griffey/Bonds category, those dads had amazing careers. A weaponized version of Clay Bellinger is, like, Nick Punto. The closest we’ve come to a son taking his father’s unremarkable career and shooting it with gamma rays is Roberto Alomar, who played the same position as his father, Sandy Alomar, Sr., but did it well enough to make the Hall of Fame.
Except the elder Alomar played for 16 years, which is its own kind of remarkable. He’s a very poor comp for Clay Bellinger.
This is a new category, then, if everything works out like it’s supposed to. This could be the weaponization of a dad’s career that transcends other weaponizations. This could be the biggest quantum leap over a father’s career in baseball history.
No pressure, kid. Most prospects work out, if not all of them, so you’re probably safe.
We have a long way to go before creating this new category, but fathersonologists around baseball are keeping a close eye on this Bellinger kid. He has the chance to be really special when it comes to baseball esoterica.