A Starting Lineup for Father’s Day
Jose Manuel Mota started hanging around the ballpark when he was 2. He wore his old man’s mitt, which stretched halfway to his elbow, and swung his old man’s bat--or, rather, dragged it behind him, along the clubhouse floor. That’s what his father remembers.
Jose had not yet reported into life’s lineup back when Manny Mota was passing through a bunch of minor league bus stops, blue-highway towns such as Michigan City and Danville and Harlingen and Tacoma.
He was present, though, for some of the six years Papa spent ripping singles for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and for most of the 12 1/2 seasons in Los Angeles, where well into his 40s Manny Mota continued on his way to becoming baseball’s pinch-hitter supreme.
“He was a batboy,” says Manny, now the Dodgers’ first-base coach and hitting instructor, flashing back to his oldest boy’s childhood. “Fourteen years old, 12, I am not sure. But he got to watch the games and talk to everyone, and he listened and he learned what to do.
“Everyone helped him. Tommy Lasorda helped him try out for the coach at Cal State Fullerton. Al Campanis gave him a jump rope and told him how it would help make him more, you know, help him to move better. He got help from many, many people.”
Jose Mota went to Fullerton and became a first-rate second baseman. He was good enough by the end of his third year to be claimed by the Chicago White Sox in the early part of the recent major league player draft. There is a chance, his father said, that Jose will sign a contract with the White Sox before the week is out, which would be, as it happens, perfect timing.
“Yes, I know--Father’s Day,” Manny Mota said. “You know what this is? This is my gift to him. “
The gift is his heritage. The genes and chromosomes. The background and advice. The access to the ballparks and ballplayers. The talent that just plain rubbed off.
Manny Mota believes that if he has given any or all of those things to his oldest son, he has given him a present that is worth more than anything he might receive Sunday, on a day when children are supposed to honor their fathers. At the Mota house, this one could be Son’s Day.
There is another nearly grown son, Andres, Andy to some of his friends, who is 19 now, almost exactly a year younger than Jose and almost exactly the same sort of player, a second baseman who is bound for Fullerton. The closest thing to a difference is that Andres has spent some time at a junior college and is just now getting prepared for the university. Perhaps he, too, will have the right stuff for the majors.
“He already was drafted,” Manny said. “By Kansas City. But I say no; too young. He still has much to learn. We will see how Andres does this next season, then decide if he is ready.”
So many big league fathers have passed through this gate. Just as oil men often sire young geologists, or bankers bring up little tellers, or Sinatras produce Sinatra Jrs., modern ballplayers have been known to procreate and play catch with the kid and eventually requisition brand new bubble-gum cards for the family scrapbook. Except for the economic realities of the bottom line, the lyric from “Keep Your Sunny Side Up” still applies: “If you have nine boys in a row, baseball teams make money, you know.”
Several father-son acts have popped up over the years. None on the same roster, so far as we know, but at least there have been generations with very brief gaps. Buddy Bell’s dad played big-league ball. So did Ozzie Virgil’s. So did Vance Law’s. Tito Francona’s kid plays for Montreal. Roy Smalley and son have shared both position, shortstop, and name. Same with the Dick Schofields.
Sometimes, fathers and sons have ended up on the same premises. A novelty existed in New York for a few weeks when Yogi Berra managed his son the infielder, Dale. After triples, Cal Ripken Jr. gets patted on the rump by Baltimore’s third-base coach, his old man. Haywood Sullivan can watch with binoculars from his perch in the Boston front office whenever his son, Marc, comes to bat.
There have been dozens of brother combinations in baseball, from Dizzy and Daffy Dean to Phil and Joe Niekro. Sometimes, one brother was far rich and more famous than the other, as with Hank and Tommie Aaron, or Richie and Hank Allen, or Tony and Billy Conigliaro. How this would fall in a psychological of sibling rivalry, only a shrink knows for sure.
Eddie Murray’s brother, Richard, is still in the minors, trying to make it. So is Billy Ripken, brother of Cal. Bill Buckner’s brother, Jimmy, bounced from farm club to farm club for years.
In the same draft in which Jose Mota was picked by Chicago, Chris Gwynn, whose brother Tony won the National League batting title for San Diego last season, was taken by the Dodgers. Another club drafted the son of Bobby Bonds. One of Mel Stottlemyre’s sons went as well.
Some clubs no doubt will hold father-son games Sunday, where tykes in baseball suits get to run up the score on their dads. Catching up to the old man in real life is never easy, though.
Skip Caray, the broadcaster of the Atlanta Braves, got his first job on a radio station because his father, unbeknown to Skip, rigged it with a local station boss. Since then, Skip has made it on his own, but must follow in the footsteps of a man, Harry Caray, whose descriptions of St. Louis and Chicago games over the years have been surpassed only by his ability to visit most of those cities’ night spots between games.
Not long ago, Skip Caray took his own young son to an amusement park. The kid ran him ragged. Next day on the air, Skip said he had learned the hardest truth of his life: “I can’t keep up with my father during the night or my son during the day.”