A few days ago, we introduced our loyal readers to the Fabulous Bankhead boys. A group of five brothers who left their mark on the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues.
Today, we spotlight another family whose roots began in the Negro Leagues and would also spread to the Majors. It started with Grandfather Sam Hairston, who began his career as a catcher for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1944.
Hairston Legacy: Deep Roots In Baseball History
After winning the Negro League American League’s Triple Crown in 1950, Hairston would become the first African-American player signed by the Chicago White Sox. His two sons, Johnny and Jerry, would go on to become Major Leaguers. Both would also put time in the Windy City; Johnny briefly with the Cubbies and Jerry with the White Sox.
The legacy would culminate in a third generation of Hairstons, turning the family into one of the longest traditions of African American ballplayers. Jerry Jr., a second baseman by trade, began his career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1998.
By 2004, his brother, Scott would debut in the Majors for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ironically, both would eventually play in the Windy City as well following a “family tradition”.
Sam was born in Crawford, Mississippi, on January 20, 1920. After one season in Birmingham, Sam Hairston was traded to the Indianapolis Clowns for another catcher, Pepper “Rocking Chair” Bassett.
It was with the Clowns that he would have his greatest success.
From 1947-49, Hairston was a consistent .300 hitter (.361, .319, and .307 respectively). He made his lone All-Star appearance for the West in the 1948 East-West Classic as a pinch hitter.
But 1950 was the year Hairston is remembered for. In an abbreviated season, (70 games) he hit .424 with 17 homers and 71 RBI to win the league’s Triple Crown. That winter, he signed with the Chicago White Sox.
After hitting .286 for Colorado Springs of the Western League, Hairston was called up to the majors on July 21, 1951. His stint in the pros was brief, but his baseball career didn’t end. Hairston would play another nine years in professional baseball. He returned to Colorado Springs the next season and was named the Western League’s MVP in 1953.
That season, his .310 batting average and 102 RBI helped lead the Sky Sox to the pennant. Two years later, Hairston would win the league’s batting crown with a .350 average while driving in 91 runs.
Hairston Family Business: Baseball
All three of his sons would partake in the “family business”. Sam’s oldest son, Sam Hairston, Jr. was born in 1943. He played one year in the minors for the Gulf Coast League White Sox in 1966.
After Sam Sr’s playing career ended, he would become a scout for the White Sox. Hairston would pass away on October 31, 1997. But not before seeing his two other sons, Johnny and Jerry eventually reach the majors as well.
Ironically, both of them would put in the majority of their days in the Majors in Chicago.
THE SECOND GENERATION
After a standout career at Southern University, Johnny Hairston was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 16th round of the 1965 free agent amateur draft. Four years later, Johnny made his debut with the Cubbies on September 6, 1969.
Much like his grandfather previously, Johnny couldn’t dent a Chicago lineup that included Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. Unfortunately, he too saw his major league career end abruptly. John registered one hit in just three games for the Cubbies. John played his final year in pro baseball in the minors in 1971 playing for the Birmingham A’s and the Wichita Aeros.
However, a year later, on the advice of Sam, the White Sox would draft Jerry Hairston in the 3rd round of the 1970 amateur draft. Three years later, Jerry would make his debut on July 26, 1973, with the Chisox.
This time, a member of the Hairston clan would be given a chance to show what he could do. He hit a modest .271 in 60 games with Chicago.
After four unproductive seasons in Chi-Town, he was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1977 and then drifted to the Mexico League. After being re-acquired by the White Sox late in 1981, he became one of the game’s best pinch hitters.
Hairston led the AL in pinch-at-bats each year from 1982-1985. When he was released in 1988, his 93 career pinch hits put him in a tie for 12th all-time. Hairston would later come back in 1989 to get his 94th and last career pinch hit. Hairston, who won a batting title while playing in the Mexican League, remains the White Sox’s all-time leader in pinch hits with 90, hitting .258 in 349 plate appearances as a pinch hitter with 8 home runs.
Overall, during his 14-year major league career, Jerry Sr. hit .258, with a .362 on-base percentage, and collected 30 homers. He eventually retired from baseball in 1989.
THE THIRD GENERATION
When Jerry Jr. made his debut with the Orioles, the Hairstons joined the Boone’s (Ray, Bob, Bret, and Aaron) and Bell’s (Gus, Buddy, and David) as the only families to have three generations of major leaguers.
Known for his versatility, Jerry Jr. played every position except pitcher and catcher during his 16-year baseball career. He played for various teams including the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.
He was a member of the Yankees’ World Series title team of 2009 who defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, giving him his only World Series ring. Following his retirement in 2013, Jerry Jr. would join the Dodgers pre and post game broadcasting crew on Spectrum SportsNet LA.
As for Scott, he would be drafted by Arizona in the third round of the 2001 MLB Draft. Similar to his brother, Scott began his career as a second baseman in his debut season in the desert. He would eventually become a notable pinch-hitter during his career which spanned just over a decade.
Along with the D-Backs, Scott would play for the San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Washington Nationals. He would become a fan favorite in San Diego because of his clutch home runs and late-inning heroics.
During his time in San Diego, Scott hit three walk-off home runs for the Padres, in addition to other walk-off hits. From 2007 to 2009, he hit 12 home runs in late and clutch situations (at-bats in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck).
Scott would hit a home run to break a 6–6 tie in the top of the 13th inning against the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 National League Wild Card tiebreaker game at Coors Field. The Rockies would eventually win the game in the bottom half of that inning.
In a final crowning achievement for the family, Jerry Jr. and Scott played for Mexico as teammates in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Their mother was born in Mexico, making the brothers eligible to play for the Mexican squad.
Sam’s grandchildren would play professional baseball. Johnny’s children, John Hairston, Jr. and Jason Hairston both played in the Minor Leagues. John was born in 1967 and was drafted by the White Sox in 1985 but did not sign.
After college, he signed with the White Sox and began his career in 1989 with the Gulf Coast League White Sox, as Sam Jr. had done 23 years earlier. Jason was also drafted in high school (in the 1994 amateur draft by the Baltimore Orioles) but instead attended college. He was drafted out of Washington State University in the 1997 draft by the Atlanta Braves. He spent the 1997 and 1998 seasons in the Braves’ minor league system.
One thing is very clear. Given the talents of these men, the Hairston family is one name that has left an indelible mark throughout the baseball world. Somewhere, Grandpa Sam is smiling down on his legacy.
NOTE: The Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, The Negro Leagues Book, The Baseball Sociologist, and The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues all contributed to this story.