Oh, brother: Uptons stand to be unique combination
It hasn't often happened that brothers have had simultaneous success as teammates
B.J. and Justin Upton always believed they would play at least one season together as teammates during their Major League careers.
However, they never though it would happen so soon, nor that they'd be in a position to form one of the best brothers-as-teammates tandems in Major League history. Yet that's exactly where outfielders B.J., 28, and Justin, 25, find themselves heading into Spring Training with the Braves.
The Uptons will be one of about 100 sets of brothers to have played as teammates, but they will do so under different circumstances than most who came before them. Not only did many of them feature one brother who had a significantly better career than the other, but a majority of them played together for just one or two seasons as their careers winded down.
Neither circumstance seems to apply to the Uptons, who are both under contract with the Braves through the 2015 season and sport the rare blend of speed and power.
B.J., signed as a free agent, is coming off a season with the Rays in which he hit a career-best 28 homers, to go along with 31 stolen bases and 78 RBIs. Younger brother Justin, acquired in a trade with Arizona, is already a two-time All-Star and averaged 22.8 home runs and 19.3 stolen bases per year over the past four seasons.
"We've talked about playing together since we were kids, but the way our contracts and ages worked out, I never dreamed it would happen this early in our careers," B.J. said. "I'm excited to play some good prime years with [Justin]."
In fact, few brothers have ever had this type of opportunity. Of the nearly 100 sets of brothers to play as teammates, only 15 played three or more consecutive seasons together and only a handful of those pairs experienced simultaneous success as teammates.
The benchmark of success for brothers as teammates was undoubtedly set by Hall of Famers Paul and Lloyd Waner, "Big Poison" and "Little Poison," who played 16 seasons together, starting with the Pirates from 1927-40. They also played together with the Braves in '41 and Dodgers in '44.
Paul, who was 23 when Lloyd (21) joined the Pirates, led the National League three times in batting average, while also leading twice each in doubles, hits, runs and triples. He won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1927 and was in the top 10 of voting four other times.
His younger brother did his best to keep up, leading the NL in triples in '29 and hits in '31. Lloyd also finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice, including finishing sixth as a rookie in the season Paul won the award.
The other notable brother duos who played at least three consecutive seasons together and contributed somewhat equally during their time as teammates were Dizzy and Paul Dean (1934-37 Cardinals), Mort and Walker Cooper (1940-45 Cardinals) and Rick and Wes Ferrell (1934-37 Red Sox and 1937-38 Senators).
No other brother pitching combination won more games in a single season than the 49 the Deans posted in 1934. They also have the second-highest win total (47 in '35), well ahead of the third-highest mark held by Gaylord and Jim Perry.
The Perrys played two seasons together at the back end of older brother Jim's career, winning a combined 38 games in 1974 with the Indians.
"It's competitive," Gaylord said, though the Hall of Famer stopped short of calling it a sibling rivalry. "You're always trying to win. We handled the situation pretty well, I thought."
With the Uptons, Justin has the only two All-Star nods to date. Both players have already recorded multiple 20-homer, 20-steal seasons in their young careers and both hope to benefit from the rivalry of playing side-by-side in the Braves' outfield.
"It won't be a clash," said their father, Manny Upton. "But it will be where it will be competitive. When they come home for Christmas, somebody has to have bragging rights at the house. It will be fun. I'm looking forward to it."
More often than not, those bragging rights have been pretty clear-cut -- more along the lines of Hank and Tommie Aaron or Cal and Bill Ripken than Paul and Lloyd Waner. Hank hit a then-Major League record 755 career home runs, while Tommie hit 13. Cal owns the all-time record of playing in 2,632 consecutive games over an 18-season span. His younger brother played in 912 total games over a 12-year career.
Felipe Alou and Matty Alou were teammates with the Giants from 1960-63, and were joined briefly by youngest brother Jesus in '63 before Felipe was traded to the Braves. All three played together in the outfield in parts of three games, too. Felipe was the early star among them, hitting 25 homers and making the All-Star team in '62, while Matty was mostly a defensive replacement. Matty would later win the 1966 NL batting title and lead the Majors in hits in 1969, both for the Pirates. Felipe and Matty were briefly reunited with the Yankees in 1973.
Plenty of other formidable brotherly duos have played together as teammates -- including Joe and Phil Niekro, Roberto and Sandy Alomar, Aaron and Bret Boone and Pedro and Ramon Martinez, among others. Yet none of those pairs ever played together for more than two straight seasons.
So while the concept of sharing a clubhouse with a brother isn't all that uncommon in the Major Leagues -- John and Jordan Danks are currently White Sox teammates -- the idea of two siblings making significant, long-term contributions to one team is almost unprecedented.
Assuming the Upton brothers remain with Atlanta for the duration of their current contracts, and potentially beyond, it's not unreasonable to suspect they could put together a run that could rival that of the Waners.
That idea isn't on either brother's radar, they say, but then again, neither was the expectation of playing together as teammates before reaching the age of 30.
"I didn't think it would happen this year," Justin said. "You don't get that lucky. But for us to have that chance now, it's tough to really put into words how it feels. We're just excited about it and really looking forward to it."