PHOENIX – When Jackson Hairston, an infielder for Desert Mountain High School, viewed an edited video of his dad’s swing, it was difficult to not compare and contrast. While Jackson respects his dad, former major league infielder Jerry Hairston Jr., the son still sees the video as motivation because he wants to be his own player and define his own journey.
Jackson often draws comparisons to members of his extremely athletic family, including Jerry Jr. and his cousin Landon Hairston, an outfielder for Casteel High School – and for good reason.
The Hairston clan is baseball royalty, etching an extraordinary chapter in Major League Baseball lore. It traces back nearly 100 years, beginning with Sam Harding Hairston, a catcher who played for the Negro leagues in the 1940s before jumping to the majors and becoming the patriarch to a family that has produced three generations of professional ballplayers.
Now, Jackson, 18, Landon, 17, and his brother, Dallas, 16 – the great-grandsons of Sam – are looking to add to the record books under the Hairston family baseball tree.
The branches are thick with history. Jerry Jr. and his brother, Scott, were always around their dad Jerry Sr., learning the ins and outs of the diamond from their father and his teammates with the Chicago White Sox.
Traveling with their dad and seeing him play in Comiskey Park, the White Sox’s former home, inspired them to pursue their own paths toward the big leagues..
“I just wanted to be around my dad, so going to the ballpark, hanging out with him, that was always cool,” Jerry Jr. said of his younger days. “Being around players like Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Ozzie Guillen, those types of players, I got to learn the game of baseball.”
Jerry Jr. and Scott both ended up playing in the major leagues, but the brothers took different journeys to get there. Jerry Jr. stayed in Illinois to play at Naperville North High School, and Scott decided to stay close to the White Sox spring training stadium in Tucson during his senior year at Canyon del Oro High School in 1998-1999.
“So (my dad) gave me the choice of either … and this was during my senior year, halfway through my senior year,” Scott said. “Come out with family to Tucson, stay back with a friend to finish my senior year at (Canyon del Oro).”
The decision paid off well for Scott – he was initially drafted in the 18th round of the June Amateur Draft by the Chicago White Sox in 1999, much earlier than his brother went four years prior when Jerry Jr. graduated high school and was drafted in the 42nd round of the ‘95 draft.
Neither brother signed out of high school. Jerry Jr. was later drafted by the Orioles in the 11th round in 1997 out of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Scott was drafted in the third round in 2001 by the Diamondbacks out of Central Arizona College.
Being the younger brother, Scott was always compared to Jerry Jr. despite playing different positions. Scott was a power-hitting outfielder while Jerry Jr. was a contact-hitting shortstop with a good glove.
“I understand why people try to compare us,” Scott said. “But my answer was, hey, we’re different players. (Jerry Jr.) does things very well that I’m not able to do, and I did a few things that I did a little better than him.”
The comparisons haven’t stopped in the Hairston family. Outside of his father, Jackson is always compared to Landon, a first baseman/outfielder who is having a strong career at Casteel, Jackson, a senior, hasn’t quite reached his full potential. Jackson credits his mentality and love of family with keeping him focused on his passion for the game.
“Something I always use for my mental development … I love the idea of celebrations for me,” Jackson said. “Because that means that I’ve put in the work in the past, and I’m succeeding, and that work is paying off.”
Landon is teammates with Dallas, a utility player, on the Colts and is approaching his fourth varsity season with Casteel. Last season, the Arizona State commit hit .500 with seven home runs, ranking seventh and fourth in the 5A division, respectively.
“Landon is a very confident person,” said Landon’s youngest cousin, Jessica, who plays softball as an 8th grader and has a sister Kara who plays volleyball for Desert Mountain. “I go, ‘What’s your plan B for baseball, if baseball didn’t work?’
“And he goes, ‘I’m going to the major leagues,’ like there’s, there’s nothing else.’”
If Landon’s dream becomes reality, the Hairstons would be the first family in baseball history to have four generations make the big leagues. The Hairstons are tied with the Boone clan for the most generations in one family to reach the majors, starting with Ray Boone in 1960 and ending with his grandsons Aaron and Bret Boone.
The Hairstons started from humble beginnings. Sam Hairston, the grandfather of Jerry Jr. and Scott, worked in the steel mill while simultaneously playing Negro League Baseball with the Cincinnatti-Indiapolis Clowns, which later became the Indianapolis Clowns in 1946. Sam was a Negro League All-Star in 1948, along with Hall of Famers Buck Leonard, Minnie Minoso and Monte Irvin, with the latter two making the major leagues.
Sam broke the Colorado Springs’ color barrier when the White Sox signed him in 1950, making him the first African American player in the organization’s history. He reached the majors the following year, recording two hits in four games during his cup of coffee with the Sox.
His sons, Jerry Sr. and John, carried Sam’s legacy with them. John made the majors first in 1969 with the Cubs, only recording one hit in four at-bats. Jerry Sr. was the most productive of the three, carving out a 14-year MLB career with a pit stop in the Mexican League between 1978-1981.
Over his major league career, Jerry Sr. hit .258, with a .362 on-base percentage, and collected 30 homers. He eventually retired from baseball in 1989.
“My dad had some rough experiences as a child who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama,” Scott said of Jerry Sr. “There’s certain guys that he played against, (who would) call him names and things like that, and he had to deal with some of his classmates.
“He was one of three African-American students in his high school during his senior year. So, you know, that wasn’t easy at all.”
Scott and Jerry Jr. both describe their father as tough but fair to his children. Their dad never pressured them to play baseball, according to Scott, but he knew the sport was his calling.
The two brothers were born to a Black father and Esperanza, who is Mexican. Since they were four years apart, they never played on the same team until the 2009 World Baseball Classic when they played for Team Mexico. In an exhibition game against the Diamondbacks during spring training, Jerry Jr. hit a first-inning homer, and then three batters later Scott hit a home run.
“We’re in the same round taking (batting practice). We’ve never done that before,” Jerry Jr. said, “which is cool getting ready for the game. And, I’m like, ‘man, I’m playing with Scott.’”
Scott would later hit a two-run home run against Australia in Foro Sol stadium in Mexico City. Jerry Jr. met his baby brother at home plate to congratulate him.
“It was great playing with him and then playing for Mexico representing my mom’s country. She was extremely proud of that, and we’re proud to do that,” Jerry Jr. said.
That moment almost didn’t happen. Jerry Jr. was a free agent during spring training and wasn’t receiving calls from anyone until Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez went down with an injury. Dusty Baker, who had managed Jerry Jr. when he was a Chicago Cub, was now the skipper of Cincinnati. The two again came together, this time with the Reds, and Jerry Jr went on to have the best season of his career, slashing .326/.387/.426 for a bounce-back 2008 season.
He was traded ahead of the deadline during the 2009 season to the Yankees, where he helped bring a World Series to the Bronx on a team that featured Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia.
“My grandfather’s blood runs through my veins. My uncle’s, my dad’s blood went through my veins,” Jerry Jr. said. ”I felt like I’m representing them because they didn’t have this opportunity that I have now.”
The two brothers got to play with each other on the Padres in 2010. While it was a welcome reunion for the Hairston siblings, Landon, Dallas and Jackson, then barely big enough to reach the candy table in the clubhouse, cherish the memories for other reasons.
“We’re in the kids room with me, Landon and Jackson,” Dallas said. “It was one of the (most fun) times of my life being all three of us together.”
While Dallas didn’t get as much playing time as his brother last season, he has a lot of individual goals he wants to achieve entering his junior year at Casteel. But there is one common motivator between the two.
“Our collective goal is to win a national championship and a state championship,” Dallas said. “We’re working hard, trying to get towards that level, and I think we have a very good chance to do that individually.”
The life of a child of a major leaguer is a unique one. They join the MLB team’s kids clubs to meet the other players’ kids, make new friends and see their dads play the sport they love. One of Dallas’ favorite childhood memories came when he watched his father hit a walk-off sacrifice fly in extra innings for the Washington Nationals.
For Landon, however, he has noticed some jealousy from his peers. After all, in baseball circles, his lineage is akin to sporting royalty.
“It’s kind of the normal thing where they kind of wish they were in my shoes, and I understand it a little bit,” Landon said. “We’re still people at the end of the day. We should all treat each other (equally). That’s kind of what I try (to) live by.”
In retirement, Jerry Jr. and Scott have similar main jobs: being dads and making sure their kids are ready for the next chapter, whether it’s in baseball or otherwise. The Hairston family name is synonymous with baseball history, but it takes work and extreme dedication to carry it through for the next generation.
“(It) means a legacy. (Our) name has been used throughout baseball history, and it just means the expectations are higher,” Dallas said.
Added Kara, Jerry Jr.’s oldest daughter: “Our ability to not give up in any situation. Because one thing that my father has always instilled in me, is Hairstons don’t quit.”