Baseball and history go together, and for Scott Hairston of the New York Mets, that history reaches back over 60 years and breathes anew everyday.
The Hairstons are one of only three families that have sent three generations of players to the major leagues, as Scott is the son and grandson of former major leaguers Jerry Hairston, Sr. and Sam Hairston. In fact, the baseball family tree of the Hairstons also branches to Scott’s Uncle John Hairston who played with the Chicago Cubs in 1969 and older brother Jerry Hairston, Jr., who has played in the major leagues since 1998.
Sam Hairston had a brief yet distinctive career when became the first African-American born man to play for the Chicago White Sox in 1951, appearing in four games and batting .400. Speaking to Scott about his grandfather, who passed away in 1997 at the age of 77, he described him as, “Fun to be around…genuine…he loved to talk about his experiences.”
Sam Hairston was part of that small yet significant group of Negro League ballplayers who braved their way into the major leagues during the early days of integration.
In speaking of his grandfathers’s quest to play in the major leagues, Scott said, “It was a difficult time,” but to players like his grandfather, “They wanted to prove a point that they could play in the major leagues.”
Scott recalled Sam telling stories about how in a time not so long ago, Negro League players had to sleep in cars or buses or go hungry because hotels and restaurants would not serve them. Yet, Scott said of Sam, “He never showed hatred or bitterness” and he was grateful for what he was able to achieve. After his playing days ended, he spent many years as a coach and scout.
Scott, who was 17 when Sam passed away, said he was always there to talk to and he’d give advice like,” Make us proud,” or “Listen to your father.” More than making him want to become a great baseball player, Scott said Sam Hairston made you want to become a “better person.” Hearing Scott speak with such affection and admiration as he described listening to his grandfather’s stories at the Thanksgiving table makes one wish they could have met this baseball pioneer.
A generation after Sam Hairston’s career was cut short, Scott’s father Jerry Hairston, Sr. enjoyed a 14 year career in the major leagues, virtually all with the Chicago White Sox. Scott recalled, “It was exciting to watch Dad play,” and he’d take him regularly to the ballpark, where Scott met stars like Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, and Ozzie Guillen. Even as a child, Scott said he knew how fortunate he was for the opportunity to interact with major league ballplayers and it made him want to play baseball and experience it himself.
As for his father’s role in he and his brother becoming ballplayers Scott stated, “He never forced us, but he’d say, ‘If you want to play, I’ll help you.’” But whether they chose baseball or not, Scott knew it was more important to be a good person and work hard at whatever field he pursued. Jerry Hairston, Sr. provides that same wisdom and mentorship to other young men in the Chicago White Sox organization as he continues to be a coach in their minor league system.
Scott said there’s no sibling rivalry with his older brother, although there was a friendly competition in 2010 when Jerry, Jr. challenged Scott for the brothers’ home run title. “Don’t let me hit more than you,” Jerry joked before the brothers ended the season in a tie with 10 apiece. As for playing against each other, “It never gets old.” They may be playing in major league stadiums, but it conjures up memories of playing “pepper” in the backyard.
Besides the five members of the Hairston family that have played major league baseball, Scott noted that his brother Justin and three cousins also played pro ball. Maybe more than physically inherited gifts, perhaps it was the perseverance of Sam Hairston, “to prove a point” that he belonged in the majors during the infancy days of baseball integration and the mentorship and support he passed along to his sons which was passed along to Scott and Jerry, Jr. which helps explain the multi-generation success of the Hairston family in pro baseball. With Scott taking his 6 and 4-year-old sons to Citi Field like his Dad did with him, a fourth generation could be in the works.
And if recent performance is any indicator, the Hairston legacy could prove to be a formidable one. Each generation of Hairston ballplayers has been more productive than the last. Though a lifetime role player, Scott is seeing more playing time this season due to injuries on the Mets squad and he has fully capitalized. In his last nine games Hairston has batted 7 for 20 with three home- runs and nine RBIs. For the season he is batting .264 with six home runs and 21 RBIs as he’s been a key cog in the Mets’ surprising early season successes.
As of Wednesday the Mets stand at 28-22 just 1.5 games behind the Washington Nationals for first place in the National East. Follow the Rockland County Times for full coverage of the Mets season and more exclusive interviews with Mets players.