03/03/10 6:23 PM EST
Family roots keep Hairstons grounded
United on Padres, brothers proud to carry on 'legacy'
By Corey Brock / MLB.com
The story goes like this: Hairston, long before he pulled on a Padres jersey, was a Minor League player. It was 2002, he remembers that. He was in his second season of pro ball and he was still a second baseman in the D-backs organization.
"It was after BP [batting practice] when this older guy, a scout calls me over. He had to have been in his 70s," Hairston said. "He said I reminded him of a player he had played against once ... that player's name, he said, was Sam Hairston."
Cue the smile, every time.
Sam Hairston was Hairston's grandfather and the patriarch of a one of baseball's most prominent families, a family with roots that run in the game, dating all the way to Sam Hairston's days in the Negro Leagues.
"I told him he was my grandfather," Hairston said, his voice sounding full of pride. "He said, 'That doesn't surprise me. I didn't even have to look at the roster. I saw the way you swing the bat ... that's what reminded me of him.'
"I got a kick of out that. Just by him watching me take BP he said that I looked like my grandfather. That's amazing to me."
For obvious reasons, this story holds special meaning for Hairston, even more so these days as another branch of the baseball family tree has sprouted here in Peoria with the addition of free-agent utility man Jerry Hairston Jr., Scott's older brother.
The Hairston brothers are the sons of Jerry Hairston, a former outfielder who played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues. Jerry Hairston Jr., who won a World Series ring with the Yankees last fall, and his brother will be teammates for the first time this season.
The Hairstons consider themselves fortunate for this unique twist to their careers, lucky even. No longer will they be the equivalent of passing ships in the night with the chance to visit briefly -- if at all -- when their teams are playing each other in the regular season.
Instead, the Hairston brothers will be teammates, united by general manager Jed Hoyer who traded for one Hairston (Scott) and signed the other (Jerry Jr.) during a dizzying three-day stretch in January.
This union will also give the Hairston brothers a chance to continue what Jerry Hairston proudly describes as the "family business," one that began with Sam Hairston's desire to play baseball in the 1940s, even if it meant fibbing about his age.
"I think for us to follow in his footsteps ... we're very proud of that," Scott Hairston said. "... It's very interesting to me. I consider myself fortunate to having grown up in a family like ours. It has inspired me to work harder and pass it along to my sons.
"We don't take much for granted, that's for sure."
ALL IN THE FAMILY
|Jerry Hairston Jr.||1998-current||UT|
Sam Hairston certainly didn't.
Sam spent his formative years in Hooper City, Ala., which is located a long fly ball outside Birmingham. When he was 16, he lied about his age, saying he 18, to get a job and the opportunity to play baseball in the local industrial league.
The Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues eventually noticed him and signed him as a catcher in 1944.
Sam Hairston went on to win the Negro American League's Triple Crown in 1950, when he hit .424 with 17 home runs and 71 RBIs during a 70-game season. That got Hairston a chance at the Major Leagues. In 1951, he became the first African-American to play for the Chicago White Sox.
"He started a legacy," Jerry Hairston said. "I don't know if any family has as many years in the game. There have been a lot more families with a lot more success, the Boones and others, but coming from where we came from it's pretty unique."
Scott Hairston, who is starting his second tour with the Padres, is 29 and beginning his seventh Major League season. Jerry Hairston Jr. is 33 and the newest Padre. He signed a one-year deal to essentially be a super utility man. He's beginning his 13th Major League season.
The brothers Hairston grew up around the game, having watched their father play nearly his entire 14-year career with the Chicago White Sox. Aside from Sam Hairston, Jerry's brother, John, played three games for the Chicago Cubs in 1969.
Is it really any wonder Scott and Jerry Jr. found their way into baseball?
"It wasn't by accident," Scott said. "Being around the clubhouse growing up, being around guys like Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Ozzie Guillen, Ron Kittle ... all those guys that I grew up watching, made me want to be like them. And watching my dad play ... baseball was a no-brainer.
"This is something [playing baseball] that I always loved to do and I never shied away from it. I think what I'm doing now, is what I planned on doing as a kid."
It's probably no coincidence that the Hairston brothers have some characteristics of their father and grandfather, making the story that the old scout once told Scott much more plausible.
"That scout he hit it right on the head," Jerry Hairston said. "Scott has a lot of similarities as his grandfather. We have some films. I remember my dad loving that high fastball. The last year I saw him play, I was 7 years old and I can remember him at the plate and taking a hack at that high fastball.
"That's what Scott has. He can get on top of that high fastball and drive it. He's able to take that pitch that is sometimes not even a strike and hit it, sometimes even out of the ballpark."
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Jerry Hairston, who is the hitting coach for the White Sox Class A team in Bristol, said Jerry Jr. has an entirely different kind of skill set.
"Jerry Jr. is a little more like me, has the same body," Jerry Hairston said. "He's a much better player than I ever was. I'm proud of the fact that they're better than me. Jerry Jr. is a different player than Scott. He's a more tenacious guy. He's always in position to make a play. He's a true over-the-top student of the game."
Now they'll be playing together with the Padres. In the interest of fairness, this won't be the first time these brothers have been teammates. They played for Mexico a year ago in the World Baseball Classic. Their mother, Esperanza, was born in Mexico.
Jerry and Esperanza live in Tucson, Ariz. Scott (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Jerry Jr. (Scottsdale, Ariz.) both live in the Phoenix area. The family will get together during the offseason, but such reunions in the season have always been difficult. Now, as Jerry Hairston points out, Esperanza will have an easier time planning trips to watch her sons play.
"When we were working in the past, we never really saw a lot of each other," Jerry Jr. said. "We would play against each other for three days or whatever. But now it's going to be fun to watch him as a teammate, watch him going about his business.
"It's going to be cool to see first-hand him getting those clutch hits and the team relying upon him."
Added Scott: "It's going to be nice being around him on an everyday basis ... doing what we both love to do."
There's no telling how long this brotherly union will last in San Diego. Jerry Jr. was signed to a one-year deal. Scott, who was dealt to Oakland last July only to be traded for this winter, figures to be in the Padres plans for a while.
Either way, the tradition rolls on. The family business has been, and continues to be, in very good hands.
"We're very proud of that," Jerry Jr. said. "We know how hard my grandfather worked and the things that he had to fight through, the same kind of things that Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby had to fight through ... He had a tougher road than Scott and I did. We appreciate that."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.