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Jerry Hairston

November 7, 2017

Jerry Hairston

Jerry Hairston is smiling here, who knows at what, or why. There’s a gleam of sunshine on his batting helmet, and sunshine too on parts of his away uniform and on the blurry crowd behind him. To me it’s a quietly happy moment, a man thinking about something amusing as he takes a lazy fake swing in the sunshine.

There may be some baseball card detectives who can pinpoint the location of this photo. I can only take a guess that the photograph was taken in Oakland, based on my general sense that a lot of card photos back in those days were taken by a Bay Area photographer named Doug McWilliams.

Jerry Hairston split time between the majors and the minors in 1975, when the photo for this 1976 card was probably taken, and in fact a possible angle for this essay, or whatever it is, could be that Jerry Hairston split time between the majors and the minors every single year of his career from his first call-up in 1973 until 1977, when he split time between two major league teams, and then after that year he dropped out of the majors altogether and played for three years in the Mexican League, a departure from the majors that must have seemed to anyone paying attention, if anyone was paying attention, which they probably weren’t, to be evidence that Hairston’s habit of periodically dropping out of sight throughout the course of a major league season had become permanent, but amazingly he returned to the majors in 1982 and stayed there for several more years, never once during that improbable resurrection suffering another demotion to the minors: the onetime utility infielder became a bit of a fixture, a pinch-hitting specialist, an expert, a pro. Yes, that could have been the point of this appreciation, and maybe it’s part of it, but really all I was going to say was that though Jerry Hairston shuttled between the minors and the majors in 1975, he was with the team during a late-September visit to Oakland, where perhaps this photograph was taken. If it was taken there, Jerry Hairston could conceivably, pun intended, have been aware at this moment that he was about eight months away from becoming a father of a child, boy as it turned out, who would be named Jerry Hairston, Jr.

The awareness of this kind of news is certainly something that can make a guy smile. It made me smile too, when it was my turn with that knowledge. It made me do a lot of other things, too, most of them in the family of panic. But there’s a certain feeling of something taking hold inside you, a more powerful tugging than you’ve felt before, as you walk around through sunshine and darkness, through the unstoppable flickering between major and minor, certainty and doubt, rising and falling. You take your usual swing and it feels empty, strange, unlike anything you’ve felt. But you know, ultimately, that now you have to keep swinging.

That casts a light on Jerry Hairston’s three-year disappearance from the majors that I never thought about before. Most of my words about these cards came years ago, before I became a father, so I’ve never really considered that a lot of the men on the cards in my shoebox were young fathers who were working at a job to support their families. Yes, Jerry Hairston kept swinging—and he must have also kept smiling, because otherwise how do you go on?—as he kicked around in the Mexican Leagues. What else was he going to do? He had a toddler and then, in 1980, another boy, named Scott, to support. And of course Jerry Hairston swung his way all the back to the majors. This is what you do if you’re a Hairston. There have been five members of the Hairston family in the major leagues, which I believe is the record for cross-generational families (there were also five Delahanty brothers in the majors, but that dynasty did not carry over to another generation). First there was Jerry Hairston’s father, Sam, who started out in the Negro Leagues before playing for the White Sox in 1951, and then Jerry’s older brother John, who had a brief stint with the Cubs in 1969, then Jerry Sr., who was followed several years later by his sons, Jerry, Jr., and Scott.

How this all relates to me is hard to say. I too am a younger brother and a father of two boys, so there’s that, I guess. But also, and more directly, Jerry Hairston’s smile made me think of the dance contest scheduled for this weekend at my house. My older son, Jack, had the idea a couple of nights ago.

“Let’s have a dance contest,” he said.

You never know where your life is going to go. Minors, majors, across some far border and back again.

So last night Jack and I made a trophy out of construction paper. It had handles and a support column and everything. The competition will include just the four of us: my wife, Jack, Jack’s brother, Exley, and me. Everyone has been practicing their moves. A few times this week I’ve been at work, in the middle of some problem or other, and I’ve remembered the upcoming dance competition and imagined all of my loved ones and me dancing and I smiled.

4 comments

  1. Jerry Sr. spent his time in Mexico with the Durango Alcranes (Scorpions- which are plentiful there), where Reggie Sanders, also from Birmingham, was already playing. Had a fascinating visit to that city this past summer, touring civil rights and baseball sites. The small but delightful museum of the Negro League is a must. Also took in a Barons game. Charlie O., also from Birmingham, integrated the team in 1964 and notable members of the A’s dynasty of the early 1970s passed through the AA team. I understand that the 1967 team is considered to have been the best minor league team ever. Brother John played there in 1971. Dying to crack Larry Colton’s book on the Southern League.


  2. Really interesting info. Thanks for sharing, Mark!


  3. Do you feel like a “pro” now, though, Josh?


  4. Ha! No. Still and always trying to stay above the Mendoza Line.



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