A case could be made for the Hairston family to be labeled the “First Family of Baseball.” Former major leaguer Sam Hairston Sr. and his ballplaying descendants’ careers spanned nearly 70 years, including the Negro Leagues of the 1940s, the early days of the integration of major-league baseball, and the modern-day game. The family includes three generations of players, one of only four families in history who can make the claim as major leaguers.1 Their baseball family tree has many branches, with 10 members who played for or were drafted by professional baseball organizations. One of the second-generation players was John Louis Hairston Sr.,2 whose major-league batting record included only one hit.
Hairston’s first call-up to the majors occurred in 1969 during one of the most exciting, as well as most depressing, times in Chicago Cubs history. During what is normally one of the highlights of a major-league player’s career, Hairston’s big-league promotion turned out to be bittersweet. An injury in the minors in 1970 affected his ability to get another opportunity, and thus his major-league career consisted of only three games.
Hairston was the son of Sam Hairston Sr., a former Negro League player and one of the early African-American trailblazers in the Chicago White Sox organization. When the younger Hairston made his major-league debut with the Cubs on September 6, 1969, they became the first African-American father-son duo in the majors. They were the first Black catchers for their respective teams. The catcher position was the last in Cubs history to be integrated.
Sam Hairston Sr. originally played in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons and Indianapolis Clowns. He was the Negro Leagues’ Triple Crown winner in 1950.3 He became the second African-American player in Chicago White Sox history on July 21, 1951 (after Minnie Miñoso debuted on May 1), four years after Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color barrier. Sam Hairston Sr.’s major-league career consisted of only four games. After he retired as a player in 1960, he became a well-respected longtime coach and scout for the White Sox until the late 1990s. His White Sox connection would have influence over several of his offspring’s baseball pursuits.
Sam Hairston Sr. had another son, Jerry Hairston Sr., who played 14 seasons with the White Sox and had two of his own sons, Jerry Jr. and Scott, with extensive careers in the majors.
The three generations of Hairstons add up to the most representatives from one family to play at the major-league level, tying the Delahanty brothers (Ed, Frank, Jim, Joe, and Tom). All five Hairston major leaguers had a Chicago connection: Sam Sr. and Jerry Sr. played for the White Sox, while John, Jerry Jr., and Scott played for the Cubs.
John Louis Hairston Sr. was born on August 27, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, to Sam Hairston Sr., and Jessie (Merritt) Hairston.4 He played baseball, football, and basketball at Hooper High School. He led his baseball team to three conference championships.5 After graduating in 1962, he attended Southern University in Baton Rouge. He led his team to the 1965 NAIA national baseball tournament. Southern had a quick exit though, losing shutouts to Sam Houston State (Texas) and Glassboro State (New Jersey).6
Hairston was selected by the Cubs in the 16th, round of the first major-league baseball amateur draft, in 1965. He was the third catcher picked in the draft by the Cubs, after Ken Rudolph (second round) and Ronald Drake (sixth round but did not sign).
In 1966 he was one of four Hairstons in pro baseball. Sam Sr. was a coach in the White Sox organization while his brother Sam Jr. and his uncle Jack Hairston were playing in a rookie league on the same team in the White Sox organization.7
Despite two uneventful seasons in the low minors in his first two years, Hairston was one of 15 Cubs farmhands invited to spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1967. He was one of four catchers returned to the minors.8 He was assigned to Class-A Lodi, where he began to flourish. He was named Topps Player of the Month for July in the California League.9 For the season Hairston had a slash line of .280/.380/.456, with 14 home runs and 76 RBIs in 121 games. He was named to the league’s postseason all-star team.
Hairston earned a promotion to Double-A San Antonio (Texas League) for the 1968 season, but his overall numbers regressed with a .239/.308/.343 slash line, 7 home runs and 30 RBIs.
Hairston’s 1969 season started at San Antonio in a similar fashion, but on May 12 he received a promotion to Tacoma (Pacific Coast League) when Bill Heath was called up by Chicago. He responded exceptionally to Triple-A pitching with the best stint of his career, batting .451 with 2 home runs and 9 RBIs in 25 games. His four singles in a game on August 18 against Phoenix were one of his highlights.10
A week later, on his 25th birthday, Hairston was called up by the Chicago Cubs to shore up an injury-plagued catching corps when outfielder Jim Qualls went on the disabled list with an injured right shoulder. Hairston’s short stint with the Cubs occurred during one of the most momentous times in their history.
The Cubs had held first place since Opening Day. By August 16, they enjoyed their largest lead (nine games) of the season. By the time Hairston arrived on August 27 their lead over the New York Mets had dwindled to 3½ games. The Mets had reached that point by winning 11 of 12 games since August 16. The Cubs were in panic mode to maintain their lead.
Cubs manager Leo Durocher stuck with veteran Randy Hundley as his everyday catcher, and Hairston wound up playing sparingly. On the 50th anniversary of the Cubs’ ill-fated season, he said, “Randy was having a rough time. I wondered on the bench, ‘Why not put in someone else?’”11 Hairston’s assessment was correct: Hundley played in 36 consecutive games from August 24 until the end of the season, sitting out only 24 total innings. During that stretch he had a slash line of .153/.237/.220.
Hairston made his major-league debut on September 6, replacing left fielder Billy Williams in the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He flied out in his first major-league at-bat, against lefty Bob Veale in the seventh inning. Veale caught him looking in a strikeout in the ninth inning as the Pirates won, 13-4.
The Mets defeated the Cubs on September 8 and 9, effectively putting a nail in the coffin for the Cubs’ season. Baseball lore has it that an errant black cat brought bad luck to the Cubs when it ran onto the field in front of their dugout during the game on September 9. When the Mets took two games from Montreal in a doubleheader the next day, they took possession of first place and never relinquished it for the remainder of the season.
Hairston got into the game against Philadelphia on September 18 as a pinch-hitter for Ted Abernathy in the seventh inning. With Hundley and Don Young on base, Hairston swung hard and hit a roller up the third-base line. Pitcher Grant Jackson fielded the ball and made a hurried throw over the head of first baseman Dick Allen. Two runs scored to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Hairston was credited with his first (and only) major-league hit. The Phillies scored three times in the next inning and won the game, 5-3.
On the last day of the season, against the Mets (who had clinched the division title on September 24), Hairston finally got a start as catcher and struck out against Gary Gentry in his only plate appearance in the third inning. Although it was little consolation for their disastrous season, the Cubs won the game, 5-3.
The Mets finished eight games ahead of the Cubs and went on win their dramatic first-ever World Series championship. The Cubs didn’t recover from their collapse until they won their first World Series in over 100 years in 2016.
Looking ahead to the 1970 season, the Cubs didn’t have an established backup behind Hundley. Hairston had been one of six catchers used in 1969. Going into spring training, Hairston, Ken Rudolph, and Randy Bobb were tabbed as potential candidates. However, when Hundley suffered a chip fracture of his left thumb in late March, the Cubs weren’t comfortable with their relatively inexperienced backup receiver corps. Eleven-year veteran catcher J.C. Martin was acquired in a trade with the Mets for Bobb.12
Hairston returned to Tacoma to start the regular season. He played in 44 games before suffering a serious knee injury on June 3 that stemmed from a fight triggered by a collision play at home plate. Hairston was the catcher when Portland baserunner Bobb, his former teammate, ran home from third base on a groundball to third with the bases loaded. To break up a double play, Bobb slid hard into Hairston, who took the force-out throw at the plate and wheeled to throw out the batter at first base. A fight broke out between Bobb and Hairston, and the benches of both teams emptied onto the field before order was restored by the umpire. It was later determined that Hairston suffered torn ligaments in his knee and required immediate surgery, ending his season.13
The 1971 season found Hairston fighting for a backup catcher spot with Triple-A Des Moines in the Oakland A’s organization.14 However, he started the regular season with their Double-A affiliate Birmingham, where he had a good showing with a .278 average, 5 home runs, and 32 RBIs in 69 games as an outfielder and first baseman. Cleveland Indians Triple-A affiliate Wichita purchased Hairston shortly after midseason; he played behind the plate again and posted a .286 average, 5 home runs, and 15 RBIs in 33 games.15
Still suffering from the effects of the knee injury, Hairston retired in 1971 at age 26. He said after his career had ended, “If that (injury) hadn’t happened I think I would have become Randy Hundley’s backup. Leo Durocher liked me.”16
Hairston married Evelyn Rose Lagarde in 1966.17 The family’s baseball bloodlines continued when they encouraged their sons (John Jr., Jeff, and Jason) to play the sport. Each reached a level of success, ultimately being drafted and playing in the minors.
John Hairston Jr. was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1985 out of high school. He played three seasons in the White Sox organization and one in the Yankees system between 1991 and 1996. He had four daughters (Alex, Juli, Mady, and Lizzie), all of whom continued the Hairston athletic legacy by playing college soccer.18
Jeff Hairston was drafted out of high school by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 11th round in 1992. He played two seasons in the rookie Gulf Coast League.
Jason Hairston was drafted out of high school in the 10th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1994, but he chose to attend Washington State University. He was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 16th round in 1997 and played two minor-league seasons.
John Hairston’s brother Jerry Sr. stayed in baseball after his 16-year major-league career. He became a minor-league manager (seven years in rookie leagues with the White Sox) and coach. In addition to Jerry Sr.’s major-league sons, Jerry Jr. and Scott, son Justin was drafted in the 50th round by the White Sox in 1998.
Hairston’s brother, Sam Hairston Jr., missed an opportunity to advance in pro baseball because of his military service in Vietnam. He had played briefly in the rookie leagues for the White Sox organization in 1966 and 1967.
John Hairston said in the book The Cubs of ’69, “I didn’t even have a cup of coffee. I was just the cream in somebody’s coffee.”19 However, he never questioned his decision to quit baseball at an early age. He said, “I had a chance to raise my children, which was more important to me than if I had won four World Series. That may sound crazy to some other people who’d say, ‘What’s the matter with you.’ But my children were more valuable to me than making a couple of bucks.”20
Jerry Hairston Sr. gives credit to his older brother for being a role model. He said, “He really helped me out not only in baseball, but also in life. What to look for in the community, how to stay out of trouble. He was an inspiration for me.21
Third-generation Scott Hairston remarked about his baseball heritage, “It’s nice to be part of a unique family, and I hope I can pass it on to my children.”22 It would be unprecedented if the Hairston baseball family tree was eventually extended with a fourth-generation ballplayer.23
After retiring, Hairston obtained master’s degrees in physical education and counseling and taught at the high school and community college levels in Portland, Oregon.24 He also coached baseball for several years in the Portland Interscholastic League.25
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and the following:
Baseball Reference Bullpen. baseball-reference.com/bullpen/John_Hairston_Jr. (accessed October 25, 2019).
Dozer, Richard. “No Relief for Cubs; Lose to Phils, 5-3,” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1969: 3, 1.
Rini, Joe. “Scott Hairston Is Heir to a Baseball Legacy,” Rockland County Times (Nanuet, New York), May 31, 2012. rocklandtimes.com/2012/05/31/scott-hairston-is-heir-to-a-baseball-legacy/. (accessed October 25, 2019).
1 The other three-generation families to play in the majors are the Bells (Gus, Buddy, David, Mike), the Boones (Ray, Bob, Aaron, Bret), and the Colemans (Joe P., Joe H., and Casey). The players Jayson Werth, his grandfather John Richard “Dick” Schofield, and his uncle Richard Craig “Dick” Schofield are sometimes referred to as a three-generation major-league family.
2 Hereafter in this biography, “Hairston” without a first name, refers to John Louis Hairston Sr.
3 Rory Costello, “Sam Hairston Sr.,” SABR Bioproject. sabr.org/bioproj/person/211ac89e. (accessed October 25, 2019).
5 1970 Chicago Cubs Official Roster Book, Press-Radio-TV: 12.
6 NAIA Championship History. Naia.Org/Sports/Bsb/Records/BSB_Championship.Pdf. (accessed October 25, 2019).
8 “Gigon Signed to Cubs Pact; 21 Players Sent to Minors,” The Sporting News, April 8, 1967: 22.
9 “Millan Named Topps Player of the Month,” The Sporting News, August 19, 1967: 21.
10 “Pacific Coast League Roundup: August 18,” The Sporting News, September 6, 1969: 37.
11 George Castle, “‘He Was Inspiration to Me.’ John Hairston Broke Barriers with Cubs, Motivating Next Generation,” Chicago Tribune, August 20, 2019. chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/sports/ct-nvs-spt-baseball-chicago-cubs-john-hairston-st-082119-20190820-lpikj7htf5f4zfry3ldlxmyjry-story.html. (accessed October 25, 2019).
12 Edgar Munzel, “Martin Fills Cub Void – Sub for Injured Hundley,” The Sporting News, April 11, 1970: 52.
13 “Bobb’s Slide Boils into Fight at Plate,” Oregonian (Portland), June 4, 1970: 3, 1.
14 Ed Honeywell, “Parents Send Help to Bolster Young T-Cubs,” Tacoma News Tribune, April 5, 1971.
15 “Deals of the Week,” The Sporting News, July 24, 1971: 36.
16 Rick Talley, The Cubs of ’69 (New York: Contemporary Books, 1990), 253-254.
17 The Sporting News Player Contract Cards. digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/63259/rec/1. (accessed December 17, 2019).
18 Lael Tate and Jessica Griepenburg, “Family First,” Grant Magazine, grantmagazine.com/hairston/. November 11, 2015. (accessed October 25, 2019).
22 John Shea, “Hairston’s Lengthy Baseball Heritage,” sfgate.com/sports/article/Hairston-s-lengthy-baseball-heritage-3224261.php, July 10, 2009. (accessed October 25, 2019).
23 A fourth-generation Boone was selected by the Washington Nationals in the 2017 draft. Jake Boone, son of Bret Boone, did not sign with the Nationals and entered Princeton University.
John Louis Hairston
August 27, 1944 at Birmingham, AL (USA)
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