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Baseball ’89: Brothers

BEN WALKERMarch 23, 1989

Undated (AP) _ The Hershisers knew all about the Cansecos long before Orel blew away Jose in the World Series. The families had met before, with a much different result.

It happened a few years ago, in an instructional league game on an isolated field in Arizona.

Ozzie Canseco, a baby bull in the Oakland organization, dug in against Gordie Hershiser, a promising pitcher in the Los Angeles farm system.

″He hit a ball so far off me it landed in a potato patch,″ Gordie recalled. ″It must have gone 450 feet. I didn’t even watch it. I just waited for the umpire to throw me a new ball.″

The Hershisers and Cansecos are part of an ever-growing number of brother combinations in pro ball.

Cal and Billy Ripken, Greg and Mike Maddux, Pascual and Melido Perez, and Roberto and Sandy Alomar are all in the majors.

Tony and Chris Gwynn, Steve and Dave Sax, Marty and Tom Barrett and Pete and Steve Stanicek each have been in the big leagues. Juan Bell, George’s sibling, might soon join them.

The list of top players with brothers currently in the minors is increasing: Tony Pena, B.J. Surhoff, Jose Lind, Gary Pettis, Mookie Wilson are some of them.

The number of current big names with brothers who once played in the minors is staggering, more than 35 in all. Among them: Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, Robin Yount, Gary Carter, Joe Carter, Carlton Fisk, Keith Hernandez, Rick Sutcliffe, Ron Darling, Dave Righetti, Dave Stieb, Mike Witt, Bill Buckner, Kevin Bass, Oil Can Boyd, Harold Reynolds, Terry Steinbach, Claudell Washington and Eddie Murray, who had four.

Since the time Ozzie homered off Gordie, all of the Hershisers and Cansecos have made nice progress.

Orel and Jose, you already know about. They’ve become among the best in baseball.

Gordie and Ozzie also are improving. But like most brothers of big stars, they have not shined on their own quite yet. Not that they mind.

″People ask if the pressure is too great, if I can live up to the name. I just look at him as my brother,″ Gordie said. ″If I were to be envious or jealous of Orel, I would put too much pressure on myself. I wouldn’t be able to perform up to Gordie Hershiser’s standards.″

Those standards, by the way, aren’t too shabby. Gordie, 25, went 7-0 with a 2.31 earned run average at Salem, Ore., the Dodgers’ Class A club. That’s despite two arm operations.

″I think it might be tough for him, but he might get a longer look, too,″ Orel said. ″I hope he gets his chance on his own merits and that he stays healthy.″

Ozzie, 24 and almost Jose’s identical twin, split time in Class A and AA in the Athletics’ system. He hit 15 homers, drove in 80 runs and stole 16 bases.

Ozzie’s size and playing style is the same as his brother and so are his mannerisms; he is constantly twisting his neck, just like Jose.

″We’ve never been rivals,″ Ozzie said. ″I’m very happy for him. We try to help each other. Maybe because of the way they saw him develop, the organization might stick with me a little longer.″

Ozzie, a former pitcher converted into an outfielder, got set back in spring training because of a wrist injury. He will probably start the season in Double-A as will Gordie Hershiser, although they won’t be in the same league.

″In some ways, the expectations might be too high,″ Jose Canseco said of his brother. ″But the attention might help him. He’ll get a full shot.″

Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson promises Ozzie will be judged fairly.

″We’re not catering to Jose because we brought Ozzie to camp. We’re not just doing Ozzie a favor,″ Alderson said. ″We wanted him, and that’s why we signed him in 1986 after the Yankees released him.″

Dodgers general manager Fred Claire knows the dilemma that brothers face. He has Gordie Hershiser and Chris Gwynn in his system.

″The toughest thing for the brother of a major leaguer is the attention that comes with it,″ he said. ″It’s always there and they never seem to be able to get far from it.″

Chris Gwynn broke into the big leagues in 1987 with Los Angeles and got three hits in his first three at-bats. But he has been able to break into the Dodgers’ lineup or break free from the shadow of his batting champion brother, who plays for San Diego.

″Everywhere we went, it was Tony this and Tony that. ‘Did Tony help you with this or that?’ they all say. I’ll take it all in stride,″ said Chris, who at 24 has a similar build and batting stance as his 28-year-old brother.

″We played against each other in the back yard and when I pitched to him, I always looked at what he did because he was always a great hitter,″ said Chris, who batted .299 at Class AAA Albuquerque last season. ″But I’ve always had to work at what I do. A lot of what Tony does comes naturally.″

Claire said in cases like Chris Gwynn and Gordie Hershiser, he tries to avoid comparisons to the more famous brother.

″You talk to the player about being himself, not about his brother,″ Claire said.

With the Hershisers, it might be easy. Orel, 30, is 6-foot-3, weighs 192 pounds and throws sliders and fastballs. Gordie, 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, does not resemble his brother and pitches differently, relying on forkballs and changeups.

″Orel looks more like a Hershiser than I do. I’m more from my mother’s side of the family,″ Gordie said. ″But people tell me I look more like a major-league pitcher. He doesn’t look like one when you see him off-the-field in his khaki pants and pink polo shirt.″

The entire Hershiser family is close. The brothers spent a lot of time together in the off-season and often dined with their parents at the Dodgers’ spring training camp in Vero Beach, Fla.

″I’m always asking Orel questions. Our discussions aren’t so much about how to get people about, but instead about mechanics - what do you do with your lead elbow, how do you grip a certain pitch,″ Gordie said.

Gordie isn’t afraid to give the Cy Young winner and World Series MVP some advice, either.

″I tell him he’s got a lousy changeup, that he gives it away. There are times when he lunges and tries to push it up there,″ he said. ″He listens, too. I saw him a couple of days ago working on something I told him.″

″Last week, I saw him sneak into an intrasquad game that I was pitching. That night at dinner, he said, ’what was that pitch you struck out the left- handed hitter with? That was nasty,‴ Gordie said. ″It was one of my changeups.″

The Cansecos also share information, the brothers’ version of insider baseball trading. Because Ozzie had been a pitcher most of his life, Jose does most of the teaching when it comes to hitting and fielding.

At an intrasquad game this spring, Ozzie hit a double over Jose’s head in right field. The next batter flied out to Jose, who faked a leisurely throw back to the infield and instead made a strong relay that almost caught his brother off second base.

They laughed about it then and talked about it later.

″It was one of those little things I told him he has to be aware of,″ Jose said. ″You have to know who your outfielders are and what they can do. Those are the kinds of things I can tell him to help out.″

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