A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Who’s On Base?: Up Close and Personal with Jerry Hairston
In an interview on Saturday, Jerry Hairston of the Baltimore Orioles and I sat down and spoke very candidly about his career, the Orioles, and his background getting to the majors.
Hitting .345 or blasting 32 home runs may not be the specialty of Jerry Hairston, but the starting 2nd baseman of the Baltimore Orioles has quickly secured himself a starting position in the starting lineup for the surprising O’s. Hairston is currently batting .286 with 4 home runs and 28 RBI’s while batting 9th in the lineup. He is only 5’10″ and 175 lbs so his physical appearance does not initially intimidate players, but it’s starting to become a known fact throughout the league that Jerry Hairston can flat out play the game.
Q>The Orioles have been somewhat of a surprise this year. You were picked by many “experts” to end the season with 100 losses. What do you think has been the reason for the success so far this season?
A>Well, first we’ve had great pitching. We’ve played great defense. In order to win games you need good pitching and good defense. We believe in ourselves and we all pull for each other and that’s one of the main reasons for our success. Q>I guess this season has been easier for you since you started the season as a starter -instead of coming up mid-may through the year. Has being the starter enabled you to feel more comfortable day in and day out?
A>Well, yeah, I think it’s a little easier. Anytime you know you are going to be in the lineup everyday it helps you out right there. You’re expected to play so it allows you to ready to play each and everyday. So, yeah, I feel it has definitely helped me out a lot this year. Q>Now, when we are younger we all have that feeling that we are going to make it to the pros. When did you know you had enough talent to make it to the pros?
A>I would have to say it was my junior year in high school. In my junior year I had a really good year and I knew that if I did the things I’m capable of doing on the field and at the same time take care of myself away from the game, meaning staying in shape, making myself stronger and trying to improve that I would eventually make it. Q>So, did you get drafted directly out of high school?
A>I got drafted right out of high school but I didn’t sign. Then I went away to college (Southern Illinois) for two years and got drafted again. Both times the Orioles drafted me, which is very rare. Q>Well, as a person of color in a predominantly white society and sport, were you exposed to much racism, whether it is overt or covert?
A>Fortunately, I have not had anything tremendous or traumatic happen to me. If you relate it to what my family went through, for example, my grandfather (Sam Hairston). What he went through was ridiculous. He played in the Negro Leagues and was the first Black American to play for the Chicago White Sox. The things he went through do not even compare to what we go through today. They really paved the way for us, so I just feel fortunate enough to have a Grandfather who went through those times with us because without them, we wouldn’t have an opportunity today. Q>Did you have an opportunity to speak with your Grandfather about what he went through when he played in the majors?
A>Oh, Yeah. He always thought it was crazy how you could have fans there cheering for you and then the same night have those same fans tell you that you can’t eat in the same restaurant as them or even use the same bathroom. He couldn’t fathom that idea at all. My Grandfather wasn’t a bitter man at all and I guess that’s just the way it was back then. Q>Do you think that it has helped you knowing what he went through?
A>Definitely! I don’t take anything for granted. Unfortunately, my Grandfather never had the opportunity that I have and if he would have had the same opportunity I have been given, I’m sure he would’ve run with it. I just look at my career and want to represent him the best way that I can. Q>So, what kind of advice would you give to young black athletes today who feel they have the opportunity to make it one day to the pros?
A>Well, I think it’s definitely good to have goals, whether it be a baseball player or a football player or what have you. A lot of people always say to have something to fall back on but I don’t like that term. When you fall back on something it’s saying that you really didn’t want to do it. I always say to have a couple of different plans. Ask yourself, what do you want to do after baseball? Make that your plan B, but give yourself the opportunity to shine or achieve positive things because the more options you have, I feel the better your life could be. NEVER LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT YOU CAN’T DO SOMETHING, BECAUSE BELIEVE ME I’VE BEEN TOLD! It doesn’t matter what people think, do what you feel you want to do. Q>Well, when you finally made it and you were playing in the major league, was there anyone whom you were in awe of once you made it to the show?
A>When I first got up here, I looked around. I was in college a year earlier and now all of a sudden I have Cal Ripken at third, Rafael Palmeiro and Robby Alomar at DH because I was playing second base. What’s wrong with this picture? I had a poster of Robby Alomar on my wall in my room in college and the next year, I’m playing second while he’s the DH. I just stood there in the field and said, Wow. I’ve made it. Q>So, what is your best memory that you have since you’ve been in the majors?
A>The first game I started I looked around and said I’ve made it. But there was nothing like the feeling I had when I hit my first homer. I don’t think there will never be another feeling like that again. I don’t even remember touching the ground. I do remember it was against Joey Hamilton of Toronto on June 24, 1999. Q>Switching to people around the league, who is the talk of the town among the players?
A>Barry Bonds. He’s doing something that is tremendous for the game right now. He’s just an incredible baseball player and I hope he keeps doing it. I’m just hoping I can hit 33 home runs in a season let alone before the All Star break. The Twins are playing well right now too. It’s great to see those young guys doing well. They’ve got guys over there working hard and it’s just good for baseball. I’m just a fan of the game. I like to see the guys doing well. Over the last 20 games, Hairston has hit .344 with 2 home runs and 16 RBI’s. His power numbers may not be eye catching but his great play in the field and leadership in the clubhouse have allowed the Orioles to keep their third place standing in the AL East.
Please make sure to continue to check back next week as we continue with the weekly “Who’s on Base” column.