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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Hair-raising Legacy
Hairston name dates back to Negro Leagues
By Ken Mandel
MLB.com

  • Jerry Hairston Jr.'s career record
  • Jerry Hairston Sr.'s career record
  • Sam Hairston's Major League stats


    Last season, Jerry Hairston Jr. hit .233, but managed to steal 29 bases for the Orioles.
    Jerry Hairston Jr.'s relatively short journey through the minors totaled 735 at-bats before his six-game, seven at-bat debut with the Baltimore Orioles at the end of the 1998 season.

    Grandfather Sam Hairston's journey took considerably longer, beginning in Birmingham, Alabama with the Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, three years before Jackie Robinson shattered baseball's color barrier. Hairston eventually played in the Majors, the first African-American to play for the Chicago White Sox in 1951.

    Jerry Jr. proudly continues the Hairston legacy, in Babe Ruth's birthplace, manning second base for the Orioles. One of three, third-generation baseball families in the Majors, Junior is the sole one with direct Negro League ties. A feared catcher, Sam won the Negro American League's Triple Crown in 1950, hitting .424 with 17 home runs and 71 RBIs in a 70-game season.

    "My family was the first black family to have two generations and we're the only black family to have three," said Junior. "That really kind of shakes me knowing that I'm the last link (as of now) to the Negro Leagues. That's why I play so hard.

    "I try to respect players, respect the opponent and respect the game because that's what it's about. I've been very fortunate to have great people around me in the course of my life."

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    Great people like his grandfather -- who at age 77, hit fungos to the then-college sophomore, and pronounced him "ready to go" -- and his father, Jerry Hairston Sr., who carried Sam's torch for 14 Major League seasons, mostly with the White Sox. He instilled their grandfather's wisdom in Junior and his brother Scott Hairston, a recent Arizona Diamondbacks draftee.

    "He had a major influence on me," said the 25-year-old Junior of his grandfather. "All his children -- the three boys he had -- played professional baseball, and two of them played in the Majors. He was influential in their lives and taught them the value of hard work. Every male in his family played professional baseball."

    Sam's Major League career as the first African-American member of the White Sox spanned four games and five at-bats, fewer than Junior had in his September 1998 call-up. Sam doubled in his first at-bat to drive in two runs, despite having to borrow a bat from Cuban great Minnie Minoso, at the time the other non-White White Sox.

    Sam played nine more seasons in the minors, including stops in Colorado Springs, Sacramento, Calif., San Antonio, Texas and Charleston, S.C., and spent some winters in Venezuela. Before that, he played for two Negro League teams -- the Indianapolis Clowns and Birmingham Black Barons, where in the late 40s he helped teach a young rookie named Willie Mays some tricks.

    Junior debuted almost a year after Sam died, though his grandfather saw him work out before the draft, and had glowing reviews. Now that Junior's in the bigs, does he feel he owes his grandfather anything?

    "If I were to say that in his presence he'd be upset," he said quickly. "He'd say, 'You don't owe me anything. You grew up a good person to carry the Hairston name and that's your main priority.' ... As far as being a ballplayer, I want to give myself every opportunity to be the best player that I can be. In that aspect I feel I owe him something.

    "That's what I'm trying to do. My grandfather didn't really have the opportunity I have. I'm not the most talented player in the Major Leagues. I work hard and I'm gonna be good. I'm gonna work until it kills me. I know hard work pays off. I love baseball. It has been great for my family."

    According to Senior, it would be nice if his son could continue the tradition in Chicago, like he did, though he wants Junior to be happy.

    "I wanted to get drafted by the White Sox," said Senior. "I really lived out a dream because my dad wasn't able to complete his Major League career and a lot of that was due to being born too soon. He definitely was a great player. I was able to take the torch a little bit further. He was really proud of that and I was proud to be in that position because I knew he got a big kick out it."

    Senior mainly remembers hearing stories of his father's successes and failures. He recalled going to games with his mother and having to sit in the left-field bleachers -- the "blacks only" section.

    "My mother didn't like to go to games often," Senior said. "That was why."

    Stories like that, even after Robinson broke through, would seem enough to make the many players who couldn't compete angry and bitter. Sam Hairston didn't fit that bill.

    "If you were a player in the Negro Leagues you could have been a very bitter man, but a lot of them aren't," said Junior. "My grandfather was never bitter. My grandfather should've received a lot more things in his life, but he was never bitter. He had nothing but great things to say about the great game of baseball.

    "There were so many great players in the Negro Leagues. It isn't just the Jackie Robinsons and the Satchel Paiges; Jackie Robinson wasn't the best player in the Negro Leagues at that time and Jackie was the first to admit that. There were so many great players that played in that league and I'm so proud that my grandfather was a part of that."

    And for his part, for every groundball Junior fires to first, for every third strike he flails at, for every game-winning double he pokes off the left-field wall, his grandfather lives on.

    "I have a great father, a great grandfather and I had a chance to play with great teammates. As far as having those Negro League ties, I feel a sense of responsibility. I never want to tarnish not only that legacy but also the Hairston legacy."

    If Junior eventually has a son, there may be a fourth-generation Hairston to appear in a Major League box score.

    Ken Mandel is a writer/editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.