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Brotherly love (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday December 5, 2006 1:19PM; Updated: Sunday December 10, 2006 11:34PM
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Other notable brother pairs in the NBA ranks: Horace and Harvey Grant, John and Jim Paxson, and the Barry brothers, Jon and Brent. But the brothers who stand tallest, statistically, were Dominique and Gerald Wilkins, who between them scored more than 38,000 points -- more than the current totals of Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant combined. Dominique was the superstar and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame this year. Gerald was just a solid player. Like the Matthews brothers in football, the Wilkinses never tasted a championship.

Baseball has a long history of brothers who made it to the majors -- some 350 sets and counting -- though determining the best of the best is a tough nut to crack. Greg Maddux (333-203) and Mike Maddux (39-37) didn't win as many games as Hall of Famer Phil Niekro (318-274) and his brother Joe (221-204), but the Maddux's winning percentage (60.78) was much better than the knuckleballers' (53). Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul combined for a record of 200-117 (63.09 percent) with the Gashouse Gang in St. Louis, but that stellar winning percentage can't stand up to the magnificent Martinez brothers, Pedro and Ramon, who have a combined 341-180 record and a winning percentage of 65.45 to date.

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Among position players, Bret and Aaron Boone have combined for 367 homers and 1,520 RBI. The Ripkens, Cal and Billy, had 451 homers and 1,924 RBIs. Problem with the Ripken numbers is that Iron Man Cal collected almost all of them. Billy was a lifetime .247 hitter with just 20 dingers and 228 RBIs, which just doesn't cut it when we're talking about the best brother combos in the history of sports.

The Alou brothers, Felipe, Matty and Jesus, were all solid outfielders in the 1960s, fleet of foot and skilled with the bat. They combined for 5,094 hits. But only Felipe had much power (206 homers). A better trio was the DiMaggios, Joe, Vince and Dom. Joe, the Yankee Clipper, was a three-time MVP, had a 56-game hitting streak, married Marilyn Monroe and wound up in the Hall of Fame. Both older brother Vince and younger brother Dom, who had a lifetime average of .298 and hit over .300 four times in 10 seasons, were also All-Stars, and as a trio they slugged 573 homers and had 2,739 ribbies, which in the pre-steroid era were pretty healthy numbers.

But they don't stand up to those put up by the Waners, Lloyd and Paul, Oklahoma boys who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from the late '20s until 1941. Lloyd had a lifetime average of .316 and had 2,459 hits. Older brother Paul batted .333 lifetime and had 3,152 hits. Both were elected to Cooperstown. The Waners should represent baseball.

Golf? I suppose Lanny and Bobby Wadkins win the nod over Jay and Jerry Haas as the top brothers on the PGA tour, though between the four of them they won just one major championship. Tennis? Well, unless you count the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena -- probably the best sister combination in sports history -- you're left with the Brat and his 'bro, John and Patrick McEnroe. Unless you count the Bryan twins, Mike and Bob, who play doubles. Kind of thin pickings from the court.

For reasons that elude me, the NHL is the league that has the most candidates for "best brother act in sports." The stereotype explains it by describing a couple of lonely Canadian farm boys playing hockey on a pond, too far from town to play on a team, learning to skate and stickhandle frozen horse apples in order to play keepaway from the other brother, learning to shoot against the side of a barn. Fast forward the calendar pages and you've got the next Gordie Howe.

Let me assure you, that stereotype doesn't exist. Even Canadian farm boys who can make up their own team, like the six Sutter brothers -- Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent, Ron and Richie, all of whom made it to the NHL -- learned the game on an indoor rink in town, just like their American counterparts. No one plays on a pond anymore. No one shoots horse apples. The backyard rink is alive and well, which is where Eric, Marc and Jordan Staal honed their skills on their sod farm in Ontario. (As did the Gretzkys in suburban Brantford, Ont.)

But how do you explain Bobby (610 goals) and Dennis (303 goals) Hull, both blessed with booming slapshots? Or Dave Dryden (MVP of the WHA in 1979) and Ken Dryden (six Stanley Cups), the only pair of brothers to oppose each other in goal in NHL history. Or the remarkable Czechoslovakian brothers, Marian, Petr and Anton Stastny, who successfully escaped from the Iron Curtain and brought their dazzling, freewheeling style to the Quebec Nordiques. Or Frank (533 goals) and Peter (288 goals) Mahovlich, the Big M and his little (6'5") bro'? It's something in the genes with hockey. Big brother has that certain something, little brother does, too.

Two sets of brothers really stand out from this sparkling list of candidates: Phil and Tony Esposito and Maurice and Henri Richard. All are in the Hall of Fame. Before Gretzky came along, Phil Esposito held the NHL single-season scoring record for both goals and points, and five times he led the league in scoring while with the Boston Bruins. Espo finished his career with 717 goals (5th all-time) and 1,590 points (8th all-time) and two Stanley Cups. His little brother, Tony, pioneered the butterfly style of goaltending that is now widespread throughout hockey, and won three Vezina trophies as the NHL's top goaltender. He finished with 324 wins and 70 shutouts -- an incredible total since he played in the era of high-scoring shootouts -- but was never able to backstop the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup.

The Richards? Well, they practically owned the Stanley Cup while playing with the Montreal Canadiens. Maurice "the Rocket" was the most exciting player of his era, and the first to score 50 goals in 50 games. A left-hand shot who played right wing, the Rocket was the star of the Canadiens team that won a record five straight Stanley Cups between 1956-1960, which many consider the best hockey team of all time. He was the first player to score 500 goals, and was so beloved and superior that the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its mandatory three-year waiting period after he retired in 1960, admitting Richard in 1961. The Hockey News recently ranked the Rocket the fifth best player of all-time.

Henri was 15 years his junior, and his game was much subtler than his dynamic older brother's. Nicknamed "the Pocket Rocket" because of his diminutive stature (5'7", 160 pounds), Henri was a center who twice led the NHL in assists. He was also a superb checker who was often asked to shut down the opponents' top scorer. But he had a knack of scoring big goals, including the deciding tally in Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup finals against the heavily favored Black Hawks -- against Tony Espo.

His results speak for themselves: in his 21-year career, Henri Richard played for a record 11 Stanley Cup champions. Only the Celtics' Bill Russell played for as many champions in professional North American sports. Like his brother's No. 9 jersey, Henri's No. 16 was hung from the rafters of the Montreal Forum when he retired, and when the Hockey News made up its list of the top 100 players of all-time, the Pocket Rocket was No. 29.

So there you have it: my nominations for best brother acts in the history of professional sports. I know whom I'd vote for.

What about you?

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