Skip to main content
Original Issue

Like Father, Like Son, Like...

Bret Boone and Jim Campanis are racing to become baseball's first genealogical triple play

Though more than a century old, baseball still awaits 1) the invention of a comfortable protective cup and 2) its first three-generation major league family.

Two-generation families, on the other hand, are about as rare as 6-4-3 double plays. From Berra (Yogi and Dale) to May (Pinky and Milt), from Smalley (Roy Jr. and Roy III) to Wills (Maury and Bump), there have been more than 100 father-son combinations. There have even been five grandfather-grandson pairs, in which the talent, like male-pattern baldness, skips generations.

So far, however, there have been no grandfather-father-son combos. But going into this season, two players stand poised to complete the elusive genealogical triple play. By coincidence, Bret Boone, 22, and Jim Campanis, 24, are both minor leaguers in the Seattle Mariners organization, which specializes in setting generational precedents: In 1990 the Mariners were the first team in baseball history to have a father and a son, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., on their roster at the same time. By stranger coincidence, both Campanis and Boone graduated from high schools in the Yorba Linda, Calif., area, and they have known each other since their early teens.

In fact, an early memory that Campanis (son of Jim Sr., grandson of Al) has of Boone (son of Bob, grandson of Ray) is of "walking into my kitchen and seeing this preppy-looking kid and thinking, What's he doing here?"

Like the other 100 or so adolescents in the room, Boone was waiting in line for his turn at the keg. It was a Saturday night in 1987. and Campanis's parents were gone for the weekend. The 19-year-old Jim had thought it would be a swell idea to "have a few people over." The police disagreed and broke up the bash several hours later.

Wasn't it a bit cheeky that Bret, a senior in high school, crashed the party of somebody he barely knew? Campanis smiles. "You have to know Bret," he says.

In discussions of Boone with his teammates, coaches and scouts, one theme recurs: epic cockiness. "The guy just doesn't think he belongs in the minor leagues," says Campanis affectionately. "He thinks he should be in the majors today." Adds Mariners vice-president of scouting Roger Jongewaard, "He is probably the most self-confident player I've ever scouted."

Boone finds all this three-generation talk tedious. He has been over it. That a reporter would want to talk about his involvement in some genetic quirk rather than about his prodigious talent irks him. "The way I am has zero to do with whose son I am," he says. "I'm not my dad. He did what he did. To me that means nothing." He practically spits out the words.

As if to stake out his own identity, Bret has become a player with as little as possible in common with his father. Despite Bob's size—6'2½", 210 pounds—he was a self-described "ping hitter" who had 105 career homers and a lifetime average of .254. Bret is only 5'10" and 180 but takes fierce pride in his power. The savage cuts he takes at the plate are studies in controlled violence. Last year he hit 19 homers in the minors.

And whereas Bob was a premier defensive catcher, a four-time All-Star who earned seven Gold Gloves, Bret, a middle infielder, "has question marks on him defensively," says Mariners general manager Woody Woodward. Says a big league scout of Bret, "He doesn't do anything easy except hit."

While Bret dismisses his baseball pedigree as irrelevant—"When you're facing that pitcher one-on-one, it doesn't matter who your daddy is," he says—Campanis revels in his, cannot separate himself from it even though the Campanises' baseball lineage is far less lustrous than the Boones'. Ray Boone, now 68 and still scouting Southern California for the Boston Red Sox, played the infield for 13 years in the majors, had four seasons with 20 or more home runs and hit .275 lifetime. Al Campanis, now 75, however, got just a whiff of a cup of coffee in the bigs: seven games at second base for the 1943 Brooklyn Dodgers. Jim Sr., a catcher with "stone hands," as he admits, was a journeyman for three different teams in parts of six seasons (1966-70, '73).

Jim did not have a childhood so much as he had an extended baseball clinic. His father had retired by the time he was eight, "I became his coach," says Jim Sr. Jim's grandfather, a walking repository of Branch Rickeyisms, cannot let a half hour pass without enunciating some baseball fundamental or another. "By the time I was playing in Little League," says Jim Jr., "I knew what it was to inside-out the ball, why it was important to hit to rightfield with a runner on second, how to hit a curve."

A quarterback and shortstop at Valencia High, Jim Jr. sought to play both sports at USC. Choose one, said Ted Tollner, then the Trojans' football coach. It was no contest. "I love football, and I miss it," says Jim, "but baseball's my life. It's my trade, it's what I know."

Jim, now 6'1" and 200 pounds, grew two inches and put on 25 pounds in 1986, his first year at Southern Cal, outgrowing his position, which had been shortstop. Ever do any catching? his coaches asked. Oh, yes, for many years, he lied. A year later Jim caught for the North Pole Nicks of the Alaska League—"Our mascot was Santa Clans," he says—to polish his catching skills. "It was ugly at first, but I learned a lot."

That summer was one of a series of Carnegie-esque self-improvement steps Jim has taken. He spent last winter playing for Los Mochis Cañeros of the Mexican Pacific League. An average athlete who, in Jongewaard's words, "pretty much gets the maximum out of his ability," Jim needs every edge he can get.

Those edges present themselves at odd times and places. Last spring Jim, Bret Boone, Bob Boone and one of Bob's brothers decided to pile into Bob's pickup and head for Las Vegas. After gambling the night away, the foursome piled back into the truck for the drive home. To keep Hob awake, Jim peppered him with questions about catching.

For three hours, as the mile markers on 1-15 clicked past and the sun appeared in the rearview mirror, Bob expounded on his craft. "He talked about framing the strike zone, stealing strikes, getting the ball out of your glove, positioning your feet for different pitchers," says Jim, who devoured the discourse. When he got home, before collapsing from fatigue, Jim wrote down the finer points of the lecture on index cards. "If I'm feeling uncomfortable behind the plate," he says, "I'll take those cards out and read them."

None of the Boone boys—Bret has two younger brothers, Aaron, who plays third base for USC as a freshman, and 12-year-old Matt—has been allowed to catch. Some parents won't let their children play football. Bob Boone, who caught 2,225 games in the major leagues, has refused to let his sons don the tools of ignorance. Does he fear for their health over the long run? Has he been worried that they would suffer by comparison with him?

"That has nothing to do with it," says Bob, now the manager of the Tacoma Tigers, Oakland's Triple A affiliate. "Every coach they ever had tried to make catchers out of them. You catch because you have to. The more valuable guys, the athletes, play in the middle infield."

Despite batting .500 his senior year at El Dorado High, Bret lasted until the 28th round of the 1987 June draft. Instead of signing a pro contract, he went to Southern Cal, determined to show the scouts how grievously they had underestimated him. He started as a freshman and hit .326, but the next season his average dipped to .273. Says Jongewaard, "His coach told me that after his freshman year Bret didn't want to be there. He wasn't happy just to do a good job, he wanted to be spectacular. So he ends up overswinging, striking out, popping balls up that he should have hit hard."

Following his junior year, in which Bret bounced back to bat .313, the Mariners selected him in the fifth round. Bret, who had expected to be taken in the first or second round, was crushed.

The consensus is that Bret has done a lot of growing up since then. "He used that disappointment as fuel," says Southern Cal coach Mike Gillespie. Indeed, if the decline of the helmet-throwing tantrums for which he was famous at USC is any barometer, Boone has matured appreciably. Despite entering professional baseball two years after his former USC teammate, Bret has since caught up with Jim. They were also teammates—and Southern League All-Stars at their respective positions—at Double A Jacksonville last season.

So who'll win the race to The Show? The word around the Mariners camp is that Bret and Jim have made a small wager. Any truth to that? "No, not really," says Bret, smiling beatifically. Then Suzi Riggins, Bret's girlfriend, chimes in. "You mean the BMW?" she says, oblivious to Bret's clenched teeth. "What I'd like to know is, how is the loser going to be able to afford it?"

"I think the loser should get the car," says Jim's wife, Lisa, "as a consolation."

Jim and Lisa would love some new wheels. They had just moved into their first home, in Tempe, Ariz., and Lisa was due any minute to deliver the child they had conceived, as far as they can tell, on their honeymoon, which consisted of private moments stolen on a six-game road trip last July through several of the quaint cities of the Southern League.

Jim had developed a powerful crush on Lisa in the spring of 1989. She was an auditor at the Tempe Comfort Inn, where the Mariners minor leaguers stayed during spring training. While always pleasant to Jim, she had a personal guideline—never date a ballplayer—and had no intention of making an exception for him. After three weeks of being spurned daily, Jim asked his father, who was visiting, to intercede. Jim Sr., who is the general manager of a car dealership in Fullerton, Calif., marshaled all his salesmanship on his son's behalf. Finally, "as a courtesy to his father," Lisa agreed to go out for coffee with Jim. "I didn't have nearly as bad a time as I expected to," she says.

They were engaged eight months later. When choosing the date and site of the wedding proved difficult—the families couldn't agree—the couple made an announcement: "We're getting married on the field. Come if you want." So they were hitched, Bull Durham-style, at home plate before a game at Jacksonville's Wolfson Park on June 30. Jim hit a home run in the game. His best man, former USC roommate Dave Latter, came on in relief for the Huntsville Stars and got the loss; Boone, who was an usher, had the game-winning hit. Says Jim, "Dave hates it when I tell that story."

And now Lisa and Jim are homeowners. "There she is," said Jim, showing the place off to a visitor one recent afternoon. "I would show you the inside, but we're locked out." Lisa—and the house keys—were at the doctor. Then Jim had a brainstorm. Circling around back, he got down on all fours and wriggled through the dog door.

"That's the difference between him and me," says Jim Sr., who is known as Big Jim by the Campanises. "I'd have kicked the door in, then gone out and bought a new lock. Jimmy is smart."

Al, who had been a member of the Dodger front office for 40 years, also was thought to be a bright light—until he made his fateful appearance on Nightline during Jim's sophomore season in college and uttered his now infamous suggestion that blacks "may not have some of the necessities" to hold management and front-office positions. Within 48 hours he had been forced to resign as the Dodger general manager.

The weekend after Al resigned. USC played at Arizona State. The raucous abuse showered on Jim Jr. by Sun Devil fans tapered off after he doubled in his first at bat. Later, Trojan shortstop Rodney Peete, now a quarterback for the Detroit Lions, told him with a smile, "Don't worry, Campy, I still love you."

"It meant a lot," says Campanis.

Even though he was a third-round pick out of USC, Campanis, who hit .248 with 15 home runs for Jacksonville last season, has made slower progress through the minors than Boone. For one thing, there is a larger crowd in front of Campanis. Dave Valle and Scott Bradley are the primary catchers for the Mariners. Chris Howard is the catcher for the Triple A Calgary Cannons and stands to be promoted before Campanis, who figures to start the year in Jacksonville. Boone, on the other hand, was moved from second base to shortstop early this spring. Mariners coaches say he is likely to be the Cannons' every-day shortstop. Says farm director Jim Beattie, "Bret may have the opportunity [to join the Mariners] this year, and Jim may not."

If that's the way it goes, says Lisa, "we're going to be in the market for a matchbox BMW."

Still, the Campanises are conceding nothing. "You know what they say about catching," says Al. "You're only a foul tip away from a promotion."

Of course, once this friendly rivalry is decided, another will emerge: Which will be baseball's first four-generation family? The Campanises are off to a commanding lead. Last Friday, Lisa gave birth to eight-pound, six-ounce James Alexander Campanis III. "I understand they're going to call him Alex," says the lad's great-grandfather.

The race is on.



The Boone bunch: Grandpa Ray was a power hitter; dad Bob was a "ping hitter"; and son Bret has been a big hit, but not in the field.



[See caption above.]



The Campanis clan: Grandpa Al played only seven games; dad Jim caught, but not well; and son Jim had 15 homers in Double A last year.



[See caption above.]



Which rookie will get to the Mariners first, catcher Campanis (left) or infielder Boone?