I think the Cardinals have given us the perfect reason to avoid nepotism, in all businesses, at all costs. Just the presence of former Redbird outfielder Chris Duncan on a team that employs his father as a pitching coach was a potentially toxic mix from the beginning, and continues to cause problems more than a month after his departure.
Let’s go back to the Cody McKay experiment in 2004. He was a good guy, a good teammate, and had a good enough spring to come north with the big club. But the perception among fans was always that he was on hand simply because his father was a coach. McKay only hit .230 with the Cardinals and eventually was sent down, but fans still remember his name. Safe to say, if he were Mike Mahoney, he’d be remembered by Cardinal fans like they remember, oh, Mike Mahoney.
Duncan was a first round pick of the Cards, and a guy that hit more than 40 homers in his first 500 at bats. He was on his way to being a terrific major league player, but injuries hampered and eventually stalled his progress. Several of those injuries were never revealed by the ballclub, Duncan kept playing, and many fans determined, rightly or wrongly, that he was playing because of nepotism.
In July, a day after Tony LaRussa blasted Cardinal fans for their treatment of Chris, he was shipped to Boston for Julio Lugo. While C. Duncan was a whipping boy, it’s hard to dispute the numbers that have been pointed out…a .236 batting average with eleven homers in 482 at bats over the last two years, with a .361 slugging percentage. For a power hitter, those numbers simply aren’t good enough. In 150 fewer at bats this year, Rick Ankiel has just one less homer and five fewer extra base hits than Duncan had in ‘07-’08 combined.
Dave Duncan, rightfully so, feels bad about the way his son was treated by fans and, I’m sure, the fact that they aren’t on the same team any more. And he’s blaming those fans and, specifically, media for Chris’ departure. After enjoying a good working relationship with the media for most of his thirteen years here, he has quit talking to the media. If Chris weren’t his son, would this have happened? No way.
I rarely get to talk to Dave any more because of our schedules, but I like him…and can understand why he’s angry. If it were my son, I’d probably be irrational and lash out, too. But I wonder if he is as bothered when the media points out the struggles of Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick or Todd Wellemeyer. I’m guessing not, because those guys aren’t his sons.
So the answer for the Cardinals, and everyone else, is this. Unless your child is already a superstar…Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., or Cal Ripken Jr., come to mind…don’t bring him to your team or take a job with a team. There are plenty of other players to draft. There’s a reason for nepotism policies. Don’t draft a scout’s, manager’s, general manager’s or coach’s son. Because unless he IS a superstar, he’ll be the most scrutinized guy on the team, and can ruin relationships inside and outside the organization.