When the Brewers traded Domingo Santana for Ben Gamel back in December, my very first thought was Huh, that last name, face, physical build and general aesthetic profile vividly reminds me of former Brewer Mat Gamel, and this guy has the same last name. That’s where my train of thought derailed and the focus returned to my sandwich, or an upcoming meal, most likely.
This has happened a few dozen times since. Seeing Ben Gamel, thinking about Mat Gamel, and making no other effort to connect the two. Onward with life.
Baseball is a sea of dull and funny names, similar physical characteristics, overlapping skillsets, predictable archetypes, repetitious motions and patterns, routine; an orderly chaos with a meditative aura. There’s a meandering drone to baseball that’s irreplaceably charming (and utterly repellent to your second-tier friends). When Chris Young pitches to Chris Young, a baseball fan will tend to notice. But hey—there are a lot of Chris’s and a lot of Youngs. And there are a lot of baseball players. Makes sense. We’ve seen stranger, probably. The tendency is to roll with it.
All of this is meant to defend my apathy in seeking the truth about the Gamels. Like most internet readers 1) the headline grabs me 2) I’ll skim for the cliff notes and 3) move along. If you’re reading this sentence you’re already a far more dedicated peruser than me.
I just learned these two really are brothers:
Undoubtedly there are numerous writers and broadcasters who have made mention. Up until now I have missed them all. I can only find one article making a half effort to highlight their brotherhood with a couple quotes from Ben about it (it can be hard to get a quote out of Mat).
How can such a phenomenon fly so far under the radar? I suppose the answer is it’s just not too much of a phenomenon.
There have actually been many brothers in baseball.
With nearly 400 sets of brothers who have both played in the major leagues, you could argue this objectively isn’t as interesting as I find it. There are all sorts of former and multiple present Brewers with brothers who have also put in big league time.
Notable MLB brothers including at least one Brewer:
- Oswaldo and Orlando Arcia
- Jemile and Rickie Weeks
- Tommie and Hank Aaron
- Chris and Sal Bando
- Glenn and Trevor Hoffman
- Larry and Robin Yount
- Javier and Jose Valentin
- Rich and B.J. Surhoff
- Gary and Ron Roenicke
- Eric and Corey Patterson
- Maicer and Cesar Izturis
- Dane and Garth Iorg
- Mike and Ken Macha (poppycock…)
Despite the data I remain flabbergasted. It’s very difficult for one person to reach the major leagues. Two people from the same household? Seems unlikely. Call it genetics, call it sibling rivalry—whatever it is, it’s not enough to ease my awe.
Mat Gamel, explained—for newer Brewers fans.
In June of 2005 the Brewers selected third baseman Mat Gamel in the 4th round the MLB draft. Before long Gamel climbed the prospect ladder right up behind the wave of Brewers legends debuting in the mid-2000s: Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, pitcher Bill Hall, Corey Hart—the whole lovable gang. In 2008 as CC Sabathia carried the Brewers to its first postseason birth in about a thousand years, Gamel put together a call-me-up campaign between AA and AAA, totaling a .325/.392/.531 slash line across 595 PA. He earned a cup of coffee in September with the big boys.
Gamel got a shot in 2009. In 61 games at third base he slashed a serviceable .242/.338/.760. His 2010 season was delayed by a torn shoulder muscle and the Brewers had to move on—he only wound up with 17 PA for the Brewers. In 2011 the Brewers pushed their chips in with Casey McGehee at 3B after his stellar 2010. Gamel put up his own stellar season in AAA in 2011 right behind him, getting meaningful reps at first base in light of Prince Fielder’s likely departure at the end of the season.
Brewers fans everywhere were thrilled to make some memories and reach the NLCS—but the Mat Gamel fans couldn’t help but quietly tear a few hairs out amid the din of enthusiasm as Casey McGehee scuffled to a miserable season at the plate. But Gamel would get his chance in 2012. Things were finally coming together.
After 21 games in 2012, Gamel blew out his ACL. After a year of rehab he blew it again in February 2013. The Brewers lost him on waivers to the Cubs. The Cubs dropped him, and he signed a minor league deal with the Braves. His knee failed him again before the 2014 season began. In 2015, Gamel, now 29, was signed and released by the Yankees in the span of about a week. An arduous painstaking ascent into the MLB spotlight was followed by painful physical descent throughout what should have been a smooth-swinging lefty’s prime years in the middle of a MLB batting order.
At his best, Gamel was the heir apparent to Prince Fielder. But his best never got a chance.
Sorry to re-live that.
Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth.
As miserably as the Mat Gamel saga concludes, watching his younger brother Ben step towards the left handers’ batter’s box with a gait and disposition charmingly reminiscent of his older brother nuzzles the nostalgia fuzzies and reminds us of what almost was. I can’t speak to what Mat feels watching his brother become a meaningful contributor for his former employer, but I’d like to think he gets a kick out of it if nothing else.
To my knowledge there are no other Gamel brothers out there. But if there is, you can bet he’ll be in a Brewers uniform soon enough. And none of them will make much of a fuss about it.