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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Greenbaum and Gerstein: Exploring genetics of professional athletes

For the longest time, I had no idea what ADRB2 meant and didn’t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. (Chasstises self)

With the major-league baseball season in full swing, the analysis of team and player statistics has begun. More than in other professional sports, statistics play a central role in even the casual fan’s enjoyment of the game.

Although fans already are awash with statistics, we might yet see even more data for each player on the sports pages as genes become a commonplace descriptor of athletic prowess.

In addition to tracking the standard statistics like RBIs, on-base percentage and batting averages, fans soon will become familiar with their heroes’ ACE, NRF1, ADRB2, NOS3, ACTN3 and AMPD1 genetic variants, which help predict the athlete’s potential and limitations. And, as genetic sequencing gets cheaper, athletes’ genetic information is likely to end up, like their weight, on the back of trading cards for the whole world to see.

Genetics has always been a covert component of professional sports. Notwithstanding the intense training, superhuman efforts and the all-too-frequent dabbling in performance-enhancing drugs, professional athletes are essentially a select group defined by their success in the genetic lottery.

Until now, however, these inherited abilities were seen mainly through the prism of the observable phenotype - the outward physical manifestation of the underlying genes. But as technology and our scientific understanding progress, more of these abilities will be traced back to the underlying genes.

Repoz Posted: May 01, 2010 at 10:18 PM | 27 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Ray (CTL) Posted: May 01, 2010 at 11:18 PM (#3519845)
What does this have to do with Arizona's new immigration law?
   2. John DiFool2 Posted: May 01, 2010 at 11:40 PM (#3519864)
Here's one conundrum which has always made me wonder: there hasn't been anything close to a successful descendant of a world-class golfer (unless you want to go back 150 years to Young Tom Morris). The closest has been Tommy Armour III, who never won anything and rarely contended. Yet in baseball they're all over the place. If we limit the definition of "world class" to those whose father/grandfather, as well as himself, appeared in an All-Star game (which is about double the number of pro golfers who win a tournament in any given year, but is the closest comparison I can think of), we've got the Bondses and the Griffeys for starters, 3 of the Alous, the Fielders, the Alomars, the Waners (even if one of them sucked) and even the Boyers if you think Clete's D should have been worthy of a slot or two.

Heck I can't think of any brothers (or even brothers/sister combinations) who both (all) became successful golfers. What makes this weird is that, in both sports, you'd think the offspring in question would each have the same set of inherent advantages: a successful model player right their your house, the genetics, the opportunity/playing time, the best equipment & facilities, etc. etc., yet in the golfing world you just don't see them. I can't think of any reason why this might be, but this post is better than leaving the topic blank I guess.
   3. mex4173 Posted: May 01, 2010 at 11:54 PM (#3519869)
Can throw the Boones and Bells as well.


edit: apparently the Hundleys too. Sarge and Sarge Jr. Neither younger LaRoche has made an all-star team, but there's still time.
   4. The District Attorney Posted: May 02, 2010 at 12:19 AM (#3519890)
What makes this weird is that, in both sports, you'd think the offspring in question would each have the same set of inherent advantages: a successful model player right their your house, the genetics, the opportunity/playing time, the best equipment & facilities, etc. etc., yet in the golfing world you just don't see them.
The obvious explanation here would be that the genetics don't matter as much because golf isn't a very athletically demanding sport, and the other stuff isn't enough by itself to ensure world-class-level performance. I mean, I'm a little surprised, but certainly not super-surprised.

the Waners (even if one of them sucked)
Hey, c'mon, Lloyd Waner didn't suck. Like, Craig Griffey... that's an example of someone who sucked.

(I did enjoy, in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, when James listed "Babe and Claire Ruth" as one of the most successful baseball families...)

Neither younger LaRoche has made an all-star team, but there's still time.
Well, Andy's hitting .333 and he's a Pittsburgh Pirate :-)

In the spirit of La Lob, don't forget Ron Davis' kid!
   5. Morty Causa Posted: May 02, 2010 at 12:54 AM (#3519925)
Hey, c'mon, Lloyd Waner didn't suck. Like, Craig Griffey... that's an example of someone who sucked.


[Or Tommy Aaron

Not to mention:

[announcer, voice of Vin Scully] That'll bring up Babe Ruth the fourth. 'Course he's no Babe Ruth the third, but the franchise is very excited about this illegitimate great-grand Bambino! And what's this? He's pointing to the right-field bleachers, probably at a dying little boy.
   6. bobm Posted: May 02, 2010 at 01:01 AM (#3519929)
Or Mike Glavine.
   7. Rich Rifkin Posted: May 02, 2010 at 01:14 AM (#3519939)
Or the DiMaggios.
   8. jwb Posted: May 02, 2010 at 01:33 AM (#3519961)
Dom and Vince both played in multiple All-Star games and got some MVP down ballot votes. Tommy Aaron and Mike Glavine. . . didn't.

Edit: I don't expect to see much of Michael Garciaparra, either.
   9. mex4173 Posted: May 02, 2010 at 01:35 AM (#3519962)
I thought the original post specified multiple generations, though it also includes the Waners, so who knows.
   10. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: May 02, 2010 at 01:49 AM (#3519968)
Does anyone have a definitive count of the number of Steve Garvey's kids who have made it to pro ball playing under their mom's last names?
   11. zachtoma Posted: May 02, 2010 at 01:55 AM (#3519972)
Wow, Craig Griffey sucked so much that I was surprised to learn of his existence just now.
   12. Morty Causa Posted: May 02, 2010 at 01:59 AM (#3519973)
I thought the original post specified multiple generations, though it also includes the Waners, so who knows.


Which, in view of the article being about genetics, would stand to reason: one is just as close, genetic-wise, to a sibling as to a parent.

Dom and Vince both played in multiple All-Star games and got some MVP down ballot votes. Tommy Aaron and Mike Glavine. . . didn't.


Yeah, both Dom (esp. Dom) and Vince were pretty good players, especially if you also consider defense. It's just that Joe is so great, he dwarfs them. But, Bill James in (I think) the NHBA cites Vince claiming that Joe was the third best defensive outfielder of the DiMaggio brother. James does some analyzing and confirms that Dom was better than Joe as a centerfield, but I think he concludes that Joe was a little better than Vince. Still, that's saying a lot about Vince's quality as an outfielder.

Two other brother who were both quality players: Dizzy and Paul Dean. Funny, both of 'em's career was short-circuited by arm injuries, but for a couple of years there they were a damn good tandem.

Then there's Cal and Billy Ripken.
   13. Rally Posted: May 02, 2010 at 03:02 AM (#3520013)
Does anyone have a definitive count of the number of Steve Garvey's kids who have made it to pro ball playing under their mom's last names?


Yes. Sean Forman maintains a website dedicated to keeping track of them.
   14. Rich Rifkin Posted: May 02, 2010 at 04:01 AM (#3520048)
"there hasn't been anything close to a successful descendant of a world-class golfer"

There are two in recent times I can think of (thanks to Google): Brent Geiberger (2 PGA tour victories) is the son of 29-time winner Al Geiberger (with 11 of those on the PGA tour, including a major); and Guy Boros (1 PGA tour win) is the son of Julius Boros (18 wins, 2 majors). Also, Kevin Stadler (son of Craig) could win at some point on the PGA tour. He's just 30-years-old and has 9 professional titles to his credit.

"Heck I can't think of any brothers (or even brothers/sister combinations) who both (all) became successful golfers."

The Molinari brothers, who play on the European PGA Tour, are very good. They both played in the Masters, this year. ... As to brother-sister combos, the best I can think of is Hank Kuehne (who, interestingly, is going to marry Venus Williams and have some athletic kids) and Kelli Kuehne, who plays on the LPGA Tour. Neither of the Kuehne's, or their brother Trip, is a top pro, but both are successful.

"you'd think the offspring in question would each have the same set of inherent advantages: a successful model player right their your house, the genetics, the opportunity/playing time, the best equipment & facilities, etc. etc., yet in the golfing world you just don't see them. I can't think of any reason why this might be ..."

I have a guess.

For one, I think the offspring tend to have much less motivation/hunger than their dads had. Unlike baseball, a team game, where you are pushed by your teammates and multiple coaches and you practice and play games with them, golf takes a lot of individual fortitude to get great and stay great. It takes hours and hours, usually alone, every day, of practicing on the driving range, more hours practicing chip and sand shots, more hours practicing putting, etc. It's a lot of boring sh!t. The son of a wealthy golfer might love to play 18 holes 3-4 days a week with his rich friends, but he likely has less drive to pass up the week at Vail to ski with them, the scuba trips to Tahiti, and the social life at the country club where he lives.

As to genetics, I do think it is a huge factor in golf. It separates the near greats from the super elite. I doubt it is any one gene. It's some combination of genes which allows someone to have a great amount of power and have extraordinary hand-eye coordination to drive the ball 350 yards accurately; and to have tremendous touch with iron and wedge shots and the ability to control a putter. The son of a golfer, whose mother was a fashion model, might not get all of his dad's genes. No one with Byron Nelson-like talent was marrying a dog like Babe Zaharias. Great golfers marry hot chicks who don't play golf. (Baseball players are the same, in that regard. But maybe the sons of great ballplayers who then made it to the majors did have athletic mothers. I know that is true of Barry Bonds's mom.)

As to brothers, they don't have the same genes, unless they are identical. (Why Ozzie Canseco sucked is beyond me.) If golf success depends on having some unusual combination of genes, it makes sense that if one brother got all of those genes, the other brother only got some of them. And that might be enough to make the difference. There have been a number of brothers who played on the PGA tour (like the Sutherlands, for example). But never have both of them been hugely successful, and that might be due to the lesser of them lacking some of those genes his brother got.

Finally, I think an expanding talent pool is part of the equation. If a son of a pro golfer happens to be highly motivated and has all the coaching and opportunity to be great, but only gets some of his father's genes, he is likely to be bested by the son of some rich farmer or the son of a retired Army colonel who by chance got better genes and had the same opportunity and perhaps even more drive. For every one great golfer from days of yore who have sons who golf, there are thousands of other dads with great genetics who have sons and give them the chance to become great golfers. Those dads might have been pros if they had the chance. Or maybe those dads married very athletic moms.

As it happens, the son of a rich farmer who grew up near me, Nick Watney, is a top PGA pro. He has two tour wins on the PGA and finished 7th this year at the Masters. He learned to play golf from his father and from his uncle, both of whom were good. (His uncle, Mike Watney, played on the PGA tour.) It's probable that Nick (just like all the other current PGA tour players who are not the sons of former golf greats) has better golf genes than the sons of former players. The golf sons may be genetically better than 99% of the general population. But 1% of our entire nation is still millions. It is from that group that you will find the hundred or two hundred golfers who are just a little better than the sons of the former golf champions.
   15. Morty Causa Posted: May 02, 2010 at 05:26 AM (#3520082)
Nice post, that.

At the highest level of play, whatever the sport, the dividing line between stratas of excellence is pretty fine when it comes to deciding exactly what the deciding factor is. When an Olympic sprinter loses by half a step, what's that? Ted Williams always maintained that people made too damn much of his hand/eye coordination, his great eyesight, alway insisting that the discipline and hard work he put into controlling the strike zone, figuring the pitch, and seeing the ball was always being slighted. But, then, maybe a predisposition to do work at all that is genetic, too.
   16. Fly should without a doubt be number !!!!! Posted: May 02, 2010 at 05:37 AM (#3520086)

Which, in view of the article being about genetics, would stand to reason: one is just as close, genetic-wise, to a sibling as to a parent.


Not really. One can share, theoretically, 0% to 100% of their genetics with a sibling. With a parent, it's always 50%. So the average is the same, but the standard deviation is a lot higher for sibling than parent.
   17. Morty Causa Posted: May 02, 2010 at 05:44 AM (#3520088)
I stand corrected. Thanks.
   18. rfloh Posted: May 02, 2010 at 07:01 AM (#3520098)
The obvious explanation here would be that the genetics don't matter as much because golf isn't a very athletically demanding sport, and the other stuff isn't enough by itself to ensure world-class-level performance. I mean, I'm a little surprised, but certainly not super-surprised.


This line of thought assumes that only athletic / physical demands are influenced by genetics, but things such as motor learning, pattern learning, the learning and mastery of technique of a physical action, are not (as much). Or to put it another way, you're assuming that genetics plays little to no role in someone being a klumsy klutz at dancing, who always steps on his /her partner's feet.
   19. tjm1 Posted: May 02, 2010 at 07:10 AM (#3520099)
It would be fascinating to see what a major league scouting department would do if they had gene sequences for all the players they were thinking about drafting.

I also wonder this: I would guess that there are about 100-150 active ballplayers who have made an all-star team. How many active golfers are there who have won a major tournament? I'd guess the number is a lot smaller.
   20. Harlond Posted: May 02, 2010 at 02:27 PM (#3520144)
On the brother golfer front, Lanny Wadkins had some big wins, and while his brother Bobby didn't win on the PGA Tour, he did finish second 6 times and he won on the European tour and the Senior tour.

Curtis Strange had a twin brother Allan who didn't play on the tour but I hear is a pretty good golfer.
   21. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: May 02, 2010 at 02:50 PM (#3520158)
Why Ozzie Canseco sucked is beyond me.

Passing on the obvious snark, I will just point out that it is still the "observable phenotype" that matters, and it always will be.
   22. John DiFool2 Posted: May 02, 2010 at 02:56 PM (#3520160)
Thanks Rich-I knew I was forgetting somebody (Walrus Jr. at least). tjm1, that's why I was only concerned with guys who won just a regular tournament-yes even that is a faulty comparison.

Ozzie Canseco didn't make it because he was originally a pitcher who switched to the outfield too late to get any significant development time to catch up to his brother.
   23. Rich Rifkin Posted: May 02, 2010 at 05:50 PM (#3520250)
FWIW, it's not just golf which doesn't compare with baseball when it comes to father-son excellence. For every Phil Simms-Chris Simms pair, there are a dozen or more of those sets in baseball. I copied this list, which, to me, is just amazing. It does not include that grandfather-grandson sets or the great number of uncle-nephew or cousins combos:

Bobby Adams
Mike Adams

Sandy Alomar
Roberto Alomar

Sandy Alomar, Jr.

Felipe Alou
Moises Alou

Ruben Amaro
Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Angel Aragon
Jack Aragon

Tony Armas
Tony Armas, Jr.

Earl Averill
Earl Averill

Mike Bacsik
Mike Bacsik

Jim Bagby
Jim Bagby, Jr.

Floyd Bannister
Brian Bannister

Jesse Barfield
Josh Barfield

Clyde Barnhart
Vic Barnhart

Charlie Beamon
Charlie Beamon

Buddy Bell
David Bell

Mike Bell

Gus Bell
Buddy Bell

Dave Bennett
Erik Bennett

Yogi Berra
Dale Berra

Charlie Berry
Charlie Berry

Joe Berry
Joe Berry

Bobby Bonds
Barry Bonds

Ray Boone
Bob Boone

Bob Boone
Aaron Boone

Bret Boone

Pedro Borbon
Pedro Borbon, Jr.

Fred Brickell
Fritz Brickell

Earle Brucker
Earle Brucker, Jr.

Mike Brumley
Mike Brumley

Don Buford
Damon Buford

Jeff Burroughs
Sean Burroughs

Dolph Camilli
Doug Camilli

Al Campanis
Jim Campanis

Jose Cano
Robinson Cano

Cam Carreon
Mark Carreon

Joe Coleman
Joe Coleman

Eddie Collins
Eddie Collins, Jr.

Ed Connolly
Ed Connolly, Jr.

Jimmy Cooney
Jimmy Cooney

Johnny Cooney

Mardie Cornejo
Nate Cornejo

Red Corriden
John Corriden

Ed Crosby
Bobby Crosby

Bill Crouch
Bill Crouch

Jose Cruz
Jose Cruz, Jr.

Mike Darr
Mike Darr

Jerry DaVanon
Jeff DaVanon

Steve Dillard
Tim Dillard

Herm Doscher
Jack Doscher

Dave Duncan
Chris Duncan

Shelley Duncan

Dick Ellsworth
Steve Ellsworth

Jim Eschen
Larry Eschen

Bill Fahey
Brandon Fahey

Cecil Fielder
Prince Fielder

Tom Fletcher
Darrin Fletcher

Joe Flynn
John Flynn

Tito Francona
Terry Francona

Len Gabrielson
Len Gabrielson

Charlie Ganzel
Babe Ganzel

Larry Gilbert
Charlie Gilbert

Tookie Gilbert

Peaches Graham
Jack Graham

Fred Green
Gary Green

Tom Grieve
Ben Grieve

Ken Griffey
Ken Griffey, Jr.

Steve Grilli
Jason Grilli

Ray Grimes
Oscar Grimes

Ross Grimsley
Ross Grimsley

Tony Gwynn
Tony Gwynn

Sammy Hairston
Jerry Hairston

Johnny Hairston

Jerry Hairston
Jerry Hairston, Jr.

Scott Hairston

Larry Haney
Chris Haney

Jim Hegan
Mike Hegan

Ken Heintzelman
Tom Heintzelman

Clarence Heise
Jim Heise

Wally Hood
Wally Hood, Jr.

Bruce Howard
David Howard

Tim Hulett
Tug Hulett

Randy Hundley
Todd Hundley

Pat Jacquez
Tom Jacquez

Julian Javier
Stan Javier

Johnny Jeter
Shawn Jeter

Ernie Johnson
Don Johnson

Rankin Johnson
Rankin Johnson

Fred Kendall
Jason Kendall

Bob Kennedy
Terry Kennedy

Marty Keough
Matt Keough

Don Kessinger Keith Kessinger
Lew Krausse
Lew Krausse, Jr.

Bill Kunkel
Jeff Kunkel

Joe Landrum
Bill Landrum

Max Lanier
Hal Lanier

Dave LaRoche
Adam LaRoche

Andy LaRoche

Vern Law
Vance Law

Bill Laxton
Brett Laxton

Thornton Lee
Don Lee

Dutch Lerchen
George Lerchen

Glenn Liebhardt
Glenn Liebhardt

Freddie Lindstrom
Chuck Lindstrom

Jack Lively
Buddy Lively

Connie Mack
Earle Mack

Harl Maggert
Harl Maggert

Willard Mains
Jim Mains

Charlie Malay
Joe Malay

Barney Martin
Jerry Martin

Clyde Mashore
Damon Mashore

Nelson Mathews
T.J. Mathews

Gary Matthews
Gary Matthews, Jr.

Wally Mattick
Bobby Mattick

Dave May
Derrick May

Pinky May
Milt May

Jim McAndrew
Jamie McAndrew

Dave McKay
Cody McKay

Jim McKnight
Jeff McKnight

Hal McRae
Brian McRae

Frank Meinke
Bob Meinke

Willie Mills
Art Mills

Rene Monteagudo
Aurelio Monteagudo

Gene Moore
Gene Moore

Guy Morton
Guy Morton

Manny Mota
Andy Mota

Jose Mota

Walter Mueller
Don Mueller

Bill Narleski
Ray Narleski

Julio Navarro
Jaime Navarro

Dick Nen
Robb Nen

Chet Nichols
Chet Nichols

Joe Niekro
Lance Niekro

Ron Northey
Scott Northey

John O'Donoghue
John O'Donoghue

Frank Okrie
Len Okrie

Ed Olivares
Omar Olivares

Bob Oliver
Darren Oliver

Diomedes Olivo
Gilberto Rondon

Patsy O'Rourke
Joe O'Rourke

Jim O'Rourke
Queenie O'Rourke

Tiny Osborne
Bobo Osborne

Steve Partenheimer
Stan Partenheimer

Tony Pena
Tony Pena

Tony Perez
Eduardo Perez

Herman Pillette
Duane Pillette

Mel Queen
Mel Queen

Tim Raines
Tim Raines, Jr.

Fred Rath
Fred Rath

Walt Ripley
Allen Ripley

Pete Rose
Pete Rose, Jr.

Ralph Savidge
Don Savidge

Dick Schofield
Dick Schofield

Joe Schultz
Joe Schultz

Diego Segui
David Segui

Earl Sheely
Bud Sheely

Dick Siebert
Paul Siebert

George Sisler
Dave Sisler

Dick Sisler

Bob Skinner
Joel Skinner

Roy Smalley
Roy Smalley

Chris Speier
Justin Speier

Ed Spiezio
Scott Spiezio

Ed Sprague
Ed Sprague

Ebba St. Claire
Randy St. Claire

Dave Stenhouse
Mike Stenhouse

Joe Stephenson
Jerry Stephenson

Ron Stillwell
Kurt Stillwell

Mel Stottlemyre
Todd Stottlemyre

Mel Stottlemyre

Billy Sullivan
Billy Sullivan

Haywood Sullivan
Marc Sullivan

George Susce
George Susce

Steve Swisher
Nick Swisher

Chuck Tanner
Bruce Tanner

Jose Tartabull
Danny Tartabull

Pablo Torrealba
Steve Torrealba

Ricardo Torres
Gil Torres

Mike Tresh
Tom Tresh

Hal Trosky
Hal Trosky

Dizzy Trout
Steve Trout

Al Unser
Del Unser

Max Venable
Will Venable

Ozzie Virgil
Ozzie Virgil

Howard Wakefield
Dick Wakefield

Dixie Walker
Dixie Walker

Harry Walker

Ed Walsh
Ed Walsh

Gary Ward
Daryle Ward

John Wathan
Dusty Wathan

Dennis Werth
Jayson Werth

Jo-Jo White
Mike White

Maury Wills
Bump Wills

Bobby Wine
Robbie Wine

Joe Wood
Joe Wood

Clyde Wright
Jaret Wright

Del Young
Del Young
   24. PerroX Posted: May 02, 2010 at 06:25 PM (#3520262)
Genetics is an obvious determining factor on a physical level, but there are so many variables beyond genetics that determine success and failure in life. Beyond sports, even if there is a genetic link with alcoholism and depression, how do you separate those out from the environmental impact of being raised by a depressed or alcoholic person?

And while professional success brings advantages to offspring, they rarely have the same drive to succeed because of that privilege. If you want to keep to statistics, what percentage of pro athletes have no ancestors who were pro athletes?
   25. Walt Davis Posted: May 02, 2010 at 08:43 PM (#3520343)
But 1% of our entire nation is still millions.

Or as a friend of mine put it -- in China, when you're one in a million, there are over 1,000 people just like you.
   26. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: May 02, 2010 at 08:54 PM (#3520347)
It does not include that grandfather-grandson sets or the great number of uncle-nephew or cousins combos:


Just wanted to stick my head in and note that it apparently also doesn't include pairs where the father was active in the Negro Leagues and the son played in MLB. The one such example of which I know is Lyman Bostock Jr. and Sr., but there are probably others.

If the younger Bostock hadn't been murdered, it seems likely that he and his dad (who played in the 1941 East-West All-Star Game) would be on the list of multi-generational All-Stars as well. His play was certainly up to the standard.
   27. The District Attorney Posted: May 02, 2010 at 09:01 PM (#3520351)
The one such example of which I know is Lyman Bostock Jr. and Sr., but there are probably others.
The Bobby Estalellas...

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