Vladimir Guerrero was a Hall of Famer. His son, still near the beginning of his big league career, is doing things even his father never did
Vladimir Guerrero possessed prodigious power, quick hands to get around on any pitch, and a terrific ability to make contact and send the ball to all parts of the field.
This, of course, isn’t about Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Blue Jays superstar who had his second career three-home run game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. No, it’s about his father, the original Vladdy, the one who paved the way for his son and whose plaque is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Baseball is a game of fathers and sons, of fathers passing on their love of the game to the next generation. There have been several families that sent multiple generations to the big leagues, from the Griffeys, the Bondses, and even three-generation families like the Boones and the Bells. None of them, though, are quite like the Guerreros.
Vlad Sr. built a reputation as one of the best hitters of his time over a 16-year career spent mostly with the Expos and Angels. He was the 2004 American League MVP and nine-time All-Star. Only six batters in MLB history have hit at least 440 career homers and finished with an average above .315. Five of them are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Jimmie Foxx. Guerrero is the other, a career that was rewarded with his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
For all those baseball families that came before them, Guerrero is the only Hall of Famer whose son is eclipsing what he did. More than a decade after his father last appeared in an MLB game, Vlad Jr. is following closely in his father’s footsteps, showing that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Guerrero household.
They aren’t the same type of player. Guerrero Jr. is a little bulkier, Guerrero Sr. a little taller. The elder Guerrero was known for his willingness to swing at any pitch, whether in the dirt or above his head, and hit it with power. His son is more selective and patient at the plate. In 2021, Guerrero Jr. walked in 12.3 percent of his plate appearances. His father only matched that walk rate in one of his 16 years in the big leagues.
Their demeanors are also different. Guerrero Sr. was a man of few words, even among his Latino teammates. His nickname growing up in the Dominican Republic was “el mudo,” the mute. Guerrero Jr., meanwhile, is gregarious and talkative. He’s emerged as a leader in the Blue Jays clubhouse, his personality bringing together his teammates.
But, in so many other ways, they are the same beyond the No. 27 on the back of their jerseys. Guerrero Jr. played his 350th career game on Wednesday. The numbers of father and son through the same number of games are remarkably similar. Senior hit 71 homers, Junior 76; both had 221 RBI. Vlad Sr. has the edge with a .306 average and .905 OPS, compared to .290 and .892 for his son, respectively.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. making his own way in the big leagues and escaping his dad’s shadow
Guerrero Jr., though, is already doing things on the field that his father never did. Vlad Sr. played more than 2,100 games in the big leagues but never had a three-homer game; Junior now has two of them. Vlad Jr. is already a perennial MVP candidate at just the age of 23; when his father was the same age, he had played only 99 games and had 12 home runs.
From the age of 23 through to the end of his father, Vlad Sr. appeared in more than 2,000 games and added 437 of his 449 home runs. He hit .319 with an OPS above .930 over the last 14 years of his career.
For most sons, getting out of the vast shadow cast by a father who put up those numbers and exceeding expectations put on them simply because they share the same name would be too much to handle. Not for Vlad Jr., who is quickly showing he has the potential to be even better than his Hall of Fame father.
He showed why on Wednesday night in the Bronx. His first homer was a shot to straightaway center field that narrowly cleared the wall. His second was an almost unbelievable combination of bat control and power; Yankees ace Gerrit Cole threw him a 98 mph fastball that darted in on his hands, only for Guerrero to get the barrel of his bat around the ball and send it into the left-field bullpen 427 feet away. His third landed in the second deck.
Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr. also had two three-homer games in their careers. Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron only had one. Vlad Sr. never did it. Vlad Jr., at the age of 23, is in the company of legends.
Guerrero Jr. still has a long way to go before he matches his father’s career. But, 350 games into his career, he’s right there on the same path, following the example his father set.
For the first time, a Hall of Famer doesn’t have to only hope that his son follows him to the big leagues. This one might even prove to be better, eclipsing everything his father did until the day when he joins him in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.