How Chris Gwynn and Billy Ripken Lived in the Shadow of Their ‘Pretty Extraordinary Brothers’

All baseball fans know who Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. are. They are two of the best players of the late 20th century and are Hall of Famers. Both men left lasting legacies on the game that would be hard for just about anyone to match — especially for players with the same last names.

Gwynn and Ripken each had brothers who made it to the majors and had to live in their brothers’ shadows, a difficult feat considering who their brothers were. Chris Gwynn and Billy Ripken have talked about what it was like to play the same sport as their older and much more famous siblings.

The careers of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.

The elder Gwynn and Ripken brothers both enjoyed long and successful careers in the majors.

Tony Gwynn

Gwynn spent his entire 20-year career with the Padres, compiling a career .338 batting average with 135 home runs and 1,138 RBI. He stole 319 bases, including a career-high 56 in 1987. But it was his ability to put the ball in play and avoid strikeouts — he averaged just 29 per season — that was what made Gwynn the player that he was; he hit .394 during the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Cal Ripken Jr.

Ripken’s most famous accomplishment in baseball was breaking Lou Gehrig’s long-standing consecutive games played record, ultimately playing in 2,632 straight contests for the Orioles. He played for Baltimore all 21 seasons he was in the majors, hitting .276 with 431 home runs and 1,695 RBI. He was also a good defensive shortstop, earning two Gold Gloves at the position.

Chris Gwynn and Billy Ripken in the shadows

Chris Gwynn and Billy Ripken had to live in their brothers’ shadows throughout their major league careers. ESPN tells us the younger Gwynn played for three teams, compiling just 263 hits over 10 seasons.

The younger Ripken brother had a slightly more distinguished career, with nearly 400 more hits than Gwynn in 12 seasons. Ripken played for four teams, including with his big brother on the Orioles from 1987-92.

Billy said in his ESPN interview that he feels both he and Chris had “unfair comparisons or pressures” put on them because of their surnames. He also recalls people frequently telling him that he’s never be as good as Cal. His response to that? “Yeah, no kidding.”

The Gwynn brothers


How Did Cal Ripken Jr. Stay Healthy and Play Over 2000 Consecutive Games?

The Gwynn brothers played a lot of wiffle ball growing up in California. They played so much, in fact, that they wore out the balls and had to come up with alternatives, like wrapping socks in rubber bands or waiting for ripened figs to fall to the ground.

The Dodgers took Chris with the 10th pick in the 1985 draft, but they were a good team at the time and didn’t have time to break in young players, so he didn’t get much of a chance to play with the team. He ended his career in 1996, playing alongside Tony on the Padres.

Chris knows that he had a lot to live up to sharing the Gwynn name with Tony. Former pitcher Tim Belcher, who played with Chris told ESPN that he and Billy “have pretty extraordinary brothers who probably go out of their way to make them feel equal,” even though in reality the younger brothers paled in comparison to their older brothers’ baseball careers.

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference