Hairston Jr. puts finishing touch on photo

July 11, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

PHILADELPHIA -- Jerry Hairston Sr. was playing in Mexico. His father, Sam, was a coach. His son, Jerry Jr., was maybe 2 years old.

The three gathered for a photograph -- a photograph, the grandfather predicted, of the first black three-generation family in the major leagues.

Jerry Sr. still has the photo.

There's Sam, the first African-American to play for the Chicago White Sox, and a member of that organization for 48 years until his death on Oct. 31, 1997.

There's Jerry Sr., an outfielder who played 14 seasons in the majors, almost all with the White Sox.

And there's Jerry Jr., the oldest of five children, who fulfilled his grandfather's prophesy, helping the family make major-league history.

The Boones (Ray, Bob and Bret/Aaron) and the Bells (Gus, Buddy and David) are the majors' only other three-generation families.

"It makes me feel really, really proud," said Jerry Jr., a second baseman who last night hit a three-run homer in the Orioles' 8-4 victory over Philadelphia, raising his batting average to .315.

"The Griffeys haven't done it. The Bondses haven't done it. To be the first black three-generation family, it's a credit to my grandfather and father -- especially my grandfather.

"To play in the '40s and '50s and not get a chance you really had to be a great player, being a black player, to get through then."

Sam Hairston was a great player, a stocky catcher who won the Negro American League Triple Crown in 1950, batting .424 with 17 home runs and 71 RBIs.

He appeared in four games with the White Sox in 1951, and went 2-for-5. But that was the extent of his major-league career.

Hairston put up huge minor-league numbers through the '50s, but he was stuck behind Sherm Lollar, a catcher acquired by the White Sox in '52 and a seven-time All-Star.

Jerry Hairston Sr., now the manager of the White Sox's Rookie team in Tucson, Ariz., said his father was "born too soon," and denied further opportunity because he was African-American.

The slight nags at him still, and Jerry Sr. plans to write a book about his father, saying that Sam Hairston did not receive a "fair shake."

Jerry Jr., 22, might soon find himself in a similar predicament, but the politics of the game today are economic, not racial.

Delino DeShields is in the first year of a three-year, $12.2 million contract. When he returns from the disabled list, Jerry Jr. likely will return to Triple-A Rochester, Orioles general manager Frank Wren said.

The only way the Orioles can justify such a decision is if they plan to showcase DeShields for a possible trade. Hairston's alert, enthusiastic play has made it clear that they never should have signed DeShields to begin with.

Indeed, the Orioles have yet to grasp what Sam Hairston discovered almost two decades ago.

"You could see [Junior's] talent right away, almost from infancy," Jerry Sr. recalled. "By the time he was 4 years old, my dad said, `This kid is special.' I looked at him like, `How can you tell?' But he was right."

Shortly before the 1997 draft, Jerry Sr. and Jerry Jr. visited Sam in Alabama. Sam was a coach for the White Sox's Double-A affiliate in Birmingham then. Jerry Jr. was attending Southern Illinois.

"He hit Jerry some ground balls," Jerry Sr. recalled. "He said, `Hey, the kid can play.' He liked his arm. He has real good carry to the ball when he throws it. He mentioned all the nuances.

"Sure, I saw them. But being around the game so long, he could just pick up things. Baseball was all through him. He loved the game. And he could tell if a kid could play."

The Orioles selected Jerry Jr. in the 11th round. By then, his father was as confident as his grandfather, predicting to scouts that his son would be a September call-up at the end of his second pro season.

He turned out to be right.

"They thought I was out of my mind," Jerry Sr. said of the scouts. "They can see talent. But me being his father, seeing him grow up, I knew what his heart condition was. He's all heart. He loves the game more than anyone can imagine.

"He knows what he needs to do on the field. There are six or seven `what ifs?' going on in his mind before the ball is hit. You can't see that when you've only seen him play three or four times."

Jerry Jr. converted from shortstop last season, but suddenly appears comfortable at second in only his first season above Double-A. His father was mostly an outfielder, "a pure hitter without a position," Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said.

Jerry Sr., now 47, never had more than 227 at-bats in a season, finishing with a .258 lifetime average. He was a member of the 1983 White Sox team that lost to the Orioles in the American League Championship Series.

Thus, he played against his son's teammate, Cal Ripken, and bench coach, Eddie Murray. Harold Baines was a teammate of both Hairstons, playing with Jerry Sr. in Chicago from 1981 to '89.

"We were just talking about Harold," Jerry Jr. said. "He said, `Harold, he's a good kid.' Harold is 40 now. But my dad knew him as a young player."

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