Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'56 of the month: Johnny and Eddie O'Brien

True to form, I forgot to include a '56 of the Month post for March. Apparently, I was too busy or something. Excuses, excuses.

So, I am showing two '56 cards for April. And, as an added bonus, I am going to be uncharacteristically brief, because -- here's a surprise: I have no time.

Johnny and Eddie O'Brien were identical twins who grew up as young high school hotshots in South Amboy, N.J., also the hometown area of former major league managers Jack McKeon and Tom Kelly. Colleges came calling and the O'Briens were so desperate to play together that they took offers from Seattle University, because it was about the only college that was willing to provide scholarships for both.

All the way on the other side of the country, the O'Briens became basketball stars. They played on a team that defeated the Harlem Globetrotters. That got the attention of Branch Rickey, who was general manager of the Pirates at the time. Rickey offered the brothers fat bonus contracts (the brothers were terrific baseball players at Seattle U., too), and the O'Briens were off to careers as the most famous identical twins to ever play baseball.

They had this card to thank for some of their publicity, too:

One of the most iconic baseball card ever made (no, I don't own it).

Johnny and Eddie formed the second base-shortstop combo for the woeful Pirates in the '50s. Johnny fared OK at the plate and in the field. Eddie was below average in both. After a few years together and the Pirates going nowhere, Johnny and Eddie both tried pitching. There were flashes of success, but they were each quickly out of major league careers by the end of the decade.

Both went on to notable success elsewhere. Johnny entered politics in the Seattle area and later became the operations manager at the Kingdome. Eddie worked as athletic director at his college alma mater. He is famously portrayed in Ball Four as Jim Bouton's nemesis during his stay as the Pilots' bullpen coach in 1969 (he was nicknamed "Mr. Small Stuff" by players for his emphasis of things like how to wear sunglasses, where to eat sunflower seeds, etc.). Eddie later moved to Alaska and worked in shipping.

The two combined have 16 children and 25 grandchildren. Wow!

To this day, they are one of only two pairs of identical twins to play for the same team in the same game. The other, of course, is Jose and Ozzie Canseco.

I have wondered whether being an identical twin and an elite athlete is a curse or a blessing. I have brothers. The thought of playing on the field with them for 30-plus years is ... well, I don't know what to think. Sometimes it would be cool, sometimes you'd just like to be your own person, you know?

But you can't argue with forever holding a place in baseball history. The O'Briens will have that forever.


  1. IN 1957 Johnny O'Brien pitched in 16 games for the Pirates...the Pirates lost every single one.

  2. All those children and grandchildren...looks like they were more productive off the field than they were on it.