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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Following the dream
Hairston inspired son to play baseball
By Ken Mandel/MLB.com

Jerry Hairston Sr.'s career record
Hairston name dates back to Negro Leagues


Jerry Hairston Sr., a quality bench player for the White Sox in the 1970s and '80s, never saw his father, Sam, play in the Negro Leagues.
In the summer of 1958, six-year-old Jerry Hairston Sr. traveled to parks in the South to watch his father play baseball. While specifics are fuzzy, he recalls hearing his father's name over the loudspeaker.

Sitting in a segregated section of the left-field bleachers, Jerry and his two older brothers, John and Sam Jr., had the thrill of seeing their dad play baseball tainted by the inequality of the time.

"We had to sit down the left-field line in a cage," said Jerry of seeing his dad play in South Carolina. "It was a part of the bleachers that was screened off, including overhead. I remember it being closed in. That was one reason my mom (Jessie) never liked to go much."

The degrading experience in South Carolina didn't stop the three brothers from following in their dad's footsteps. Sam Jr. played in the White Sox's farm system, John had a brief stint with the Cubs in 1969, while Jerry spent 14 years in the big leagues, mostly spent with the White Sox.

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"(Seeing me play) had to mean more for (Sam) than actually playing, because when he played it was like spinning his wheels; all he was doing was feeding his family," said Jerry. "Where we grew up (in Alabama) we always had a nice car, we got a nice house and he put my two brothers (and his younger brother) through college. I don't know how he did it, but he did."

Sam Sr. played 16 years, beginning in 1944 with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues and ending in 1960 with Colorado Springs, a minor league affiliate with the White Sox. He spent nine years in the White Sox organization, with all but five at-bats in 1951 coming in the minors. He arrived in Chicago two months after Cuban star Minnie Minoso became the first non-Caucasian White Sox player.

"That was something he and all of us were proud of," Jerry said. "In those days, it was really tough. My dad's first appearance was a pinch-hitter. He was called out of the bullpen in center field and he ran all the way in. By the time he got to the dugout someone said, 'Hey, you're the next hitter' and then the ball's put in play and now he's got to get ready. He picks up a bat and runs up there, but before he can get there, a teammate (Jerry refused to mention who it was) snatched the bat out of his hands. He didn't want a black man using his bat."

Sam then used Minoso's bat to double in a run. Not a bad way for the White Sox's first African-American to break in.

During Sam's baseball career in the Negro and Major Leagues, he played with baseball's biggest names -- including Willie Mays and Nellie Fox. Sam enjoyed telling stories to his children, most involving other Negro League players, such as Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe and Satchel Paige.

One story described the antics of Indianapolis Clowns' teammate Reece "Goose" Tatum, later a well-known member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

"(Tatum) would put an iron plate in his glove," said Senior. "If somebody was on the wrong side of Goose -- they used to spike each other and do all kinds of stuff in that league -- he'd tell the pitcher to throw to first base and smack the guy upside the head with an iron plate in the first baseman's glove."

His father's stories had a major impact on Jerry, and became more special when he met Radcliffe, whom he had been hearing about his whole life.

"I was leaving the ballpark one night as a rookie and I hear, 'Hey Hairston.' and I'm looking around and there's this guy sitting on the curb," Jerry said. "He said, 'I know your daddy. I'm Double Duty.' I was so excited. I've been hearing that name since I was old enough to know this guy was a ballplayer. Double Duty used to come to the games all the time. At that point, I never knew any Negro League ballplayers except for my dad.

"I sat there for what must have been 30-40 minutes, listening to stories. And the stories I heard from my dad were coming full circle. He was filling in pieces."

Jerry had heard the story of how Radcliffe helped his father find his calling as catcher and continue his career. Radcliffe, who earned his nickname by routinely pitching the first game of a doubleheader and catching the second, perhaps saved Sam's job by asking him to catch.

Said Jerry, "Double Duty said 'Hey, Sam, can you catch? My dad said 'Yeah.' He never caught before. So Double Duty said, 'Well I'm sick (and) I ain't playing today. You catch.' My dad went back there and caught like a one-hitter or something. From that point on, he was the second catcher, filling in here and there, and was able to survive."

Sam survived on $300 a month -- a decent living for a baseball player. After he retired, Sam became a scout for the White Sox, signing Jerry in the 1960s. By the time Sam died on Oct. 31, 1997, Jerry had been retired for eight years, and his grandson, Jerry Hairston Jr., had been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles. A few years later, Jerry Jr.'s brother, Scott, signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

According to Jerry Jr., every male Hairston has played professional baseball, including his cousins -- John's sons. All share their grandfather's love of the game.

"Always work hard, never think you know it all and come out with a purpose to learn," said Jerry Sr. "As long as you can hit, they'll find a place for you. I wasn't the quickest guy and I wasn't the best with the glove, but I said 'I'm gonna be the best I can.'"

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