For Duncans, baseball is a family affair - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

By Tony Massarotti

For Duncans, baseball is a family affair

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Getty Images - Things have been great for Shelley Duncan and the Duncan family since he was called up to the Yankees. Getty Images - Things have been great for Shelley Duncan and the Duncan family since he was called up to the Yankees.
More than any other sport, it seems, this is a family game. Baseball has bred the DiMaggios, the Griffeys, the Ripkens and the Bondses, Bells, Boones, Perrys, Reuschels and Deans. Now, to the union of families, we add another.

The Duncans.

Of course, we are not speaking of Mariano (no relation) or of Tim --- should his be spelled Dunkin? -- but rather of Dave, Chris and now Shelley, the latest to arrive in the major leagues. Shelley Duncan may have a debatably effeminate first name, but let there be no doubt: He hits like a man. In his first five games with the New York Yankees since being called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League, the youngest Duncan is batting .294 with three home runs, seven RBI, an .824 slugging percentage and a 1.192 OPS. He also became the first man since Dave Kingman to hit three home runs in the first three games of his career.

OK, so Shelley is 5-for-17 and will be 28 years old later this year, making him, at least in profile, the classic Four-A player and/or late bloomer. (Chris Duncan, who plays for the Cardinals, turned 26 in the spring.) But when the Shelley Duncan arrived in Kansas City on Monday with his New York Yankees teammates, the game qualified as a Duncan family reunion with Chris, father Dave (the St. Louis pitching coach) and mother Jeanine all in attendance at Kauffman Stadium.

But Mom, what about my game?

``It's not overwhelming,'' Shelley Duncan told Newsday when asked about the explosive start to his pro career. ``I'm really trying to stay focused on what I have to do each day.''

Of course, as things stand, patriarch Dave remains the most accomplished member of the family, though (at this stage) only because he has had the advantage of time. Dave Duncan played all or parts of 11 seasons as a major league catcher, finishing with the robust career batting average of .214. Duncan did hit as many as 19 home runs in one season (1972) and finished with 109 home runs for his career, and he was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1971.

Still, Papa Dunc has built most of his reputation in baseball since his playing career ended, as a pitching coach and trusted aide to Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. At this stage of their respective careers, it is simply impossible to mention one without the other. Duncan served as La Russa's pitching coach in Oakland and traveled with the manager when La Russa went to St. Louis, and there is not a tandem of manager and pitching coach throughout all of baseball that is perceived as having a more trusting relationship.

As much as Leo Mazzone was to Bobby Cox in Atlanta -- and Mazzone is now in Baltimore, of course -- Duncan has been more to La Russa.

In recent seasons, of course, the emergence of Chris Duncan (Baby Dunc?) has only strengthened the Duncans' place in baseball, to the point where he must now be considered one of the most intriguing young power hitters in the game. In 280 at-bats over 90 games last season, Chris Duncan belted 22 homers and slugged .589; this year, through 270 at-bats, he had hit 19 home runs and slugged .559. Duncan strikes out a lot and draws more than his share of walks, a player built in the traditional slugger's mold if ever there was one.

La Russa being La Russa, of course, the left-handed-hitting Chris Duncan has played primarily against right-handed pitching, against whom he has been enormously successful. As luck would have it, Chris' older brother (that would be Shelley) just happens to be a right-handed hitter who, like his brother, plays the outfield, which can't help but make you wonder if it wouldn't behoove the Cardinals to inquire with the Yankees about the newest Duncan in baseball.

After all, who better to platoon with (particularly under a father's eye) than your own brother?

And as we all know, two Duncans (three, if you count Dad) are clearly better than one.

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