From The Negro Leagues To The Majors

By Tony McClean
Updated: March 25, 2005

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — A few years ago during one of our Negro League spotlights, we introduced BASN 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 a family whose Negro League and Major League roots are still shining on the today’s baseball diamond. It started with grandfather Sam Hairston, who began his career as a catcher for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1944.

After winning the Negro League American League’s Triple Crown in 1950, Hairston would be come 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.

And now the third generation of Hairstons, both second baseman, continue one of the longest traditions of African American ballplayers. Jerry Jr., began his career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1998.

He would later be traded to the Chicago Cubs three years later in the Sammy Sosa deal. His brother, Scott made his major league debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004.

THE ARCHITECT 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.

Reduced to the bench, Hairston only got 4 at-bats with Chisox and never got another chance to play in the majors. But his 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.

After his playing career ended, Hairston would become a scout for the White Sox. Sam Hairston would pass away on October 31, 1997. But not before seeing his sons reach the majors.

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.

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 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, and in pinch hits in 1983-85. 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.

Jerry Hairston Sr. is currently the hitting coach of the Class A Bristol White Sox of the Appalachian League.

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.

Ironically, both Jerry Jr. and brother, Scott are second baseman by trade. Both players have moved gradually up the ladder in the minors and majors. Jerry Jr. made his MLB debut in just his second season in professional baseball.

Scott was listed as the D-Backs top prospect in 2003. Both Hairston brothers are still active in the majors. Scott is an outfielder for the San Diego Padres while Jerry Jr. serves as a utility player for the Cincinnati Reds.

One thing is very clear. Given the talents of both Jerry Jr. and Scott, the Hairston family is one name that should live long 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, and The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues all contributed to this story.