I started thinking about family connections in the sports world as I reread Mike Piazza’s vivid memoir of his march upward to baseball stardom, eventually as a Hall of Fame catcher who was among the best hitters ever at that position. I recalled all the knocks he got regarding the fact that his father knew Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers manager with much clout. Both had grown up in the same spot near Philly, and yes, Piazza’s father had chutzpah. But his son deserved what he got, working obsessively at his craft.

As did another ballplayer, Cal Ripken, Jr., whose father managed in the Baltimore system and eventually became the Orioles’ skipper. Not only did that son make the team, but for a time so did his brother, Billy.

But there again, did Cal Jr. deserve his spot and eventual entry (like Piazza) into the Hall of Fame? Absolutely!

He, too, worked constantly at making things more effective not only for himself, but for others on his team. Sure he had physical equipment (being 6-foot-4 and strong), but he also supremely “thought” the game, and more than anything else, his character, not nepotism, led “Rip” to baseball’s heights.

Ditto for Barry Bonds, who learned from father Bobby but far surpassed that sometime star who was hurt by an affinity for the bottle. Mostly the younger Bonds improved by using his own head, particularly regarding the tough art of batting — at which the great Mike Schmidt says flatly that Barry B. was the best ever.

Pete Rose also imbibed a good deal from a dad who as a role model was only locally famous, being a regional football star with the old, pre-NFL Cincinnati Bengals. From that dad Rose learned to go through walls, so to speak, making him one of the most hard-nosed and unique ballplayers ever.

Yogi Berra’s Dale? No matter what, you do have to have talent to make it in the bigs, and the younger Berra did. Unfortunately, he was no Yogi character-wise. Cocaine reared its ugly, seductive head near the end of the ‘70s and into the ‘80s, and Dale unfortunately succumbed, making his career less stellar than it could have been. At least he cops fully to all that in a recent autobiographical account.

Moving to other sports for comparisons, there’s obviously a good example of this phenomenon in pro football, where one Archie Manning was amply surpassed by quarterbacking son Peyton, not to mention Eli, also possessing Super Bowl laurels. In hockey, Mark Howe’s memoir shows how much he paid via a slew of injuries (on the order of several shoulder separations, several broken this and several broken that) to become a top player in his own right, especially during the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and finishing in the city where he’d grown up. And where his dad, Gordie, was a Detroit icon who thankfully never flaunted his importance.

Nor did another golden age great at that sport, Bobby Hull, who was a Renoir on ice, but with a slapshot that hit goalies like anvils (as one put it). However, his handsome son Brett became a big star, too, in a way all his own. Brett learned in beer leagues out West and was less of a charismatic figure than his father, instead just flicking in goal after goal from the weeds, so to speak. And, of course, he's well remembered here for a heavily disputed one against the Sabres in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals.

About famed sports fathers: the great Henry Aaron once admonished his kids to remember that he was Hank Aaron and they weren’t. In other words, he was telling them to do their own thing and in their own manner.

The positives in fathers mentioned above is that, again, they didn’t crush their offspring, but simply provided good role models to “riff off.” In other words are there virtues to nepotism of sorts? Or in following the parental métier? As in the business world or that of skilled trades? No question.

For a while “do your thing” was enshrined as a truism in our culture, which often involved going different routes and in far-flung places. But sometimes it’s also worthwhile simply to follow in the familial furrow — if, again, on one’s own terms and in one’s own distinctive way.

B.B. Singer has taught at several area colleges including Niagara University.

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