The History of Canadian Baseball Brothers

I heard an interesting baseball trivia question the other day – which baseball brothers had the most combined career home runs? 

As someone who grew up in Toronto, my mind automatically went to Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar (210) and his older brother Sandy Alomar Jr. (112) – nope.

The Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire (583) and Jose Canseco (462), are apparently not genetic “brothers,” so they don’t count.

Yankee great Joe DiMaggio (361) and Red Sox legend Dom (87) came to mind and when I discovered there was a third DiMaggio, Vince (125), I was certain this was the answer – nope.

The answer was actually the Aaron’s, Hank (755) and Tommie (13).

Now if you struggled to answer that here’s an even more obscure question – which Canadian brother combo has the most home runs? 

There have been five Canadian brother combos in baseball history and only three set of hitters. The answer is Arthur and John Irwin who had a whopping 8 combined home runs in 5,140 at-bats between 1882 – 1894.

With top prospects Josh and Noah “Bo” Naylor and Tristan Pompey (brother of Dalton), the Irwin’s 124-year record could soon be passed (Dalton already has the Pompey’s at three).  So here is a look at the history of Canadian baseball brothers.

THE 19th CENTURY CANADIAN BROTHERS

THE IRWIN’S (Toronto, Ontario)

Arthur Irwin (1890-1894) .241/.299/.305, 5 home runs, 396 RBI

John Irwin (1881-1892) .246/.308/.326, 3 home runs, 93 RBI

The Irwins were the first set of Canadian brothers in baseball history and in 1882 they were teammates on the Worcester Ruby Legs of the National League.

Older brother, Arthur was the better of the two and in 1989 he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1884 he was part of the NL Pennant winning Providence Grays.

His 396 RBI is still 16th all-time among Canadians and his 405 wins as a manager is second most. Another fun fact about the eldest Irwin is he is credited with the invention of the fielder’s glove after he refused to sit out with a couple broken fingers.

John’s career was not quite as impressive. He never caught on as an everyday player in the NL and spent much of his career as a journeyman between the numerous professional leagues that existed in the late 19th century. Like his brother, he started managing after his playing career, but never advanced past the collegiate level.

THE WOODS (Dundas, Ontario)

Pete Wood (1885, 1889) 9-16, 4.51 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 46 K

Fred Wood (1884-1885) .065/.122/.065, 0 home run, 1 RBI

As the stat line would suggest the Woods were not the greatest brother combo. Both had negative WAR and they only played 60 games.

The two were teammates in 1885 for the Buffalo Bisons.

THE DEAD BALL BROTHERS 

THE FORDS (Milton, Nova Scotia/Brandon, Manitoba)

Russ Ford (1909-1915) 99-71, 2.59 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 710 Ks

Gene Ford (1905) 0-1, 5.66 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 20 Ks

Like the Aarons, the Fords had one exceptional brother and one less than exceptional brother. Both were pitchers and their combined 99 wins are by far the most in Canadian baseball brother history.

Russ Ford’s 99 wins are still fifth all-time among Canadians, and his 26 wins in 1910 are the most by a Canuck in a single-season. His 8 shutouts in 1910 is still an MLB record for rookie pitchers.

He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

There is not much to say about his older brother Gene. He played in seven games for the Detroit Tigers in 1905. His baseball career went from 1902-1908 but 1905 was his only big league cup of coffee.

BROTHERS OF THE ’90s (1990s)

The Butlers (Toronto, Ontario)

Rob Butler (1993-1999) .243/.309/.321, 0 home runs, 21 RBI

Rich Butler (1997-1999) .223/.280/.351, 7 home runs, 22 RBI

The Butlers stand one home run shy of the Irwins Canadian brothers long ball record.

Rob is the only Canadian to win a World Series with a Canadian team. In the 1993 Fall Classic, the eldest Butler went 1-2 with a single in two plate appearances helping his hometown club to their second straight Championship.

Rich had a similarly short MLB career, with cups of coffee in Toronto and Tampa but unlike Rob, he didn’t win any rings.

THE ZIMMERMANS (Kelowna, British Columbia)

Jeff Zimmerman (1999-2001) 17-12, 3.27 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 217 Ks, 32 Saves

Jordan Zimmerman (1999) 0-0, 7.88 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 3 Ks

Like the Irwins, Fords, and Aarons, the Zimmermans were a one-sided brother combo. Jeff was a former all-star while his younger brother Jordan played in only 12 MLB games.

Like many Canadian pitchers, Zimmerman’s career was sidelined by recurring injuries. The Kelowna-native started his professional career playing independent league ball for the Winnipeg Goldeneyes. After going 9-2, with a 2.82 ERA, and 140 strikeouts in 1997, the Texas Rangers decided to give the undrafted 24-year old a minor league deal. Zimmerman spent one season in the Rangers system and was with the big league team by 1999.

In his rookie season, he made 65 appearances, with a 2.36 ERA, and 67 strikeouts and made his only all-star appearance. In 2001, Zimmerman emerged as the closer for the Rangers and saved 32 games.

In 2002, Zimmerman was injured in Spring Training and the 29-year old would never fully recover. He attempted to make a comeback with the Mariners in 2008, but it didn’t stick.

Despite being drafted five years before his older brother joined the Rangers system, Jordan was the less successful of the two. The Zimmerman’s were the last Canadian baseball brothers.

THE NEXT SET OF BROTHERS 

The Pompey’s (Mississauga, Ontario)

Dalton Pompey (2014 – present) .221/.289/.372, 3 home runs, 10 RBI

Tristan Pompey – drafted by Miami Marlins 2018 -3rd Round (89th overall)

Most Canadian baseball fans recognize Dalton’s name, a former top prospect for the Blue Jays.

The eldest Pompey was handed the center field job out of Spring Training in 2015, but struggled out of the gate and never earned his way back into a starting role.

He does have a place in Blue Jays folklore as he became a stolen base wizard in the 2015 postseason. He went four for four in steal attempts and batted 1.000 in one plate appearance.

But injuries and offensive inconsistencies have kept him from returning to the MLB. And as the Rule-5 Draft approaches the Jays could lose Dalton to a team that would be willing to take a chance on him.

In his MLB Pipeline profile, Tristan is referred to as being, “more advanced and more physical than his sibling at the same stage of their careers.” The 21-year old is currently the Marlins 16th rank prospect after being taken 89th overall in this year’s draft.

According to MLB Pipeline, we shouldn’t expect to see Tristan until around 2021 (assuming he makes it to the MLB). The Pompey’s seem the most likely to be the next set of brothers because, unlike the Naylors, they are already halfway there.

THE NAYLORS (Mississauga, Ontario)

Josh Naylor – drafted by the Miami Marlins 2015 – 1st Round (12th overall)

Noah ‘Bo’ Naylor – drafted by the Cleveland Indians 2018 – 1st Round (29th overall)

The Naylors are the 11th set of brothers in MLB history to be drafted in the first round and the only Canadians. Josh and Noah are two of only 13 Canadians to be drafted in the first round.

Josh is currently the San Diego Padres 15th ranked prospect and the 5th ranked position player. Offensively he seems to be on the brink of the Majors after hitting .297/.383/.447, with 17 home runs in 2018 at Double-A. But his main barrier seems to be Eric Hosmer, who is blocking Naylor at first base in San Diego. Regardless, he will likely see some MLB action in 2019.

Noah recently helped Canada to a U-18 bronze medal at the Pan Am Baseball Championship. The 18-year old is projected to have a similar offensive impact as his older brother, but his defensive ability as a catcher could see him reach the Majors earlier than the 2022 prediction by MLB Pipeline.

Whether the Pompey’s and Naylor’s can join the list of Canadian baseball siblings should become clear over the next few years. The Irwins Canadian brother home run record looks safe for now but with Tristan Pompey and the Naylors climbing towards the Majors, the 124-year record may not live on for much longer.

(Cover Photo: MLB.com)

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A graduate of Centennial's Sport Journalism program. Grew up a Montreal Expos fan but now focus on my hometown Blue Jays. Have been blogging about the Jays and Canadian Baseball since 2015.

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