One of the nice things about baseball and sports in general is that for the most part, it is merit based and nepotism is irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter who your parents are. If you can play, you will play and it you can’t, daddy can’t help you.
Ken Griffey Jr, Roberto Alomar and Barry Bonds didn’t get to where they were based upon people respecting their dads. The sons of Ted Williams and Pete Rose didn’t get anywhere in the major leagues.
Now every once in a while, a team will burn a late draft pick as a favor to someone. Every once in a while it will pan out. Remember how Mike Piazza was drafted because his dad was a friend of Lasorda’s? They found a Hall of Famer by accident!
But the Cardinals burned a first round draft pick in 1999 to pick the son of their pitching coach, Dave Duncan. I don’t care how much you respect Duncan, you do not use a first rounder as a favor.
Keep in mind, the Cardinals got the pick because Delino Deshields left St. Louis for Baltimore. Between Pedro Martinez and Chris Duncan, Delino Deshields keeps popping up in acquisition stories.
Duncan looked like a flop at first, batting .214 for the Johnson City Cardinals. Then he worked his way up the ladder.
By 2001, he was starting to hit homers for Single A Peoria. By 2004, he was a decent hitter in AA. In 2005, he was a solid AAA power hitter who made his first cameo in the major leagues.
It wasn’t nepotism. It was power.
In 2006, he split time between Memphis and St. Louis. When he was recalled to St. Louis on May 21st, his first game of the year, he homered. He later homered on June 5th. Soon he kept homering… a lot. For a stretch in August, it seemed like he smacked a homer a day.
In fact in 2006, only David Ortiz and MVP Ryan Howard homered more per at bat in the major leagues. In the end he would hit 22 homers in 280 at bats.
The Cardinals stumbled into the post season in 2006 but made the most of their October. In the NLCS, Duncan homered in the Cardinals Game 5 win over the Mets. In the World Series, he would double, drive home a run and score in the Cardinals Game 1 victory.
Duncan would start the Game 5 clincher as both he and his father took home a ring that year.
His remarkable rookie year saw him post a .952 OPS and played a part in winning a title.
In 2007, Duncan homered 21 times but in 432 plate appearances. He would never reach his 2006 production. 2008 led to his demotion. Nepotism doesn’t keep you in the bigs if the production is down. A neck injury ended his 2008 season.
By 2009, the Cardinals were productive but Duncan was not. As St. Louis would go on to win the Central, Duncan was dumped to Boston in the Julio Lugo deal.
He would not play for either the Red Sox nor the Nationals on the major league level and his big league career ended in 2009.
Duncan’s post playing career has had highs, including his becoming a sports personality on ESPN Radio in St. Louis. But he also had a brain tumor in 2012 and chemotherapy.
The good and the bad in baseball and life do not care who your dad is. In the end, Duncan earned his way on the field and earned his ring. And like so many things in life, it was fleeting but worth savoring.