The Hairston family is held in such high regard throughout the sport that even Cards Manager Tony La Russa was praising the whole family before Friday’s game, calling grandfather Sam “an institution in baseball” and “not just with the White Sox” where he held many positions.
“I remember when we brought up Jerry’s father and he lit us up as a pinch-hitter,” said LaRussa, who managed Jerry Sr. for four seasons. “He could just do anything, ready all the time — one of my favorite players. And then he had these two little kids, two little kids running into my office telling me to play their dad more than I’m playing him.
“I’d say, ‘Okay, maybe I should, but get out.’ I really enjoyed his family and his wife,” LaRussa said. “Yeah, makes you feel real old to see Jerry Jr. kicking our butt like he does. But I hope Sam is appreciating it.”
That’s how the story should end, right, with pride for the Hairstons whether the Brewers go to the World Series or not. But this isn’t a movie. And Hairston, a pure baseball archetype, seems destined to embody the journeyman’s fate. He can do some of everything. But he can’t do anything spectacularly well or do it flawlessly indefinitely. The game lets him have some leash, enjoy his hours, then, if you watched him for seven years as an Oriole or with the Nats, you know how it always jerks his chain.
Because he plays with emotion, a sense of fun and a flair that borders on being a hot dog, he sometimes rides too high for his own good. Perhaps, the next pitch after a great play is exactly the moment he was most vulnerable.
For most players, the game’s double edge, constantly trying to cut you, is simply the nature of a hard occupation. It gives you joy and self-expression, then humiliates you in a blink. Then, as you stand, stripped barren, baseball reveals what is perhaps its most defining and lifelike quality. The game says, “See you tomorrow. Want to try again?”
At least, for Hairston sake, there is a Game 6, back in Milwaukee, and perhaps a Game 7, too. Before this night was over, he would regain his confidence, to a degree, with a single and a walk. And, mercifully, as the Cards built their lead in the late innings, his bad moment receded a bit. But you can be sure a baseball family knows the turning point of this game.
Hairston will have to wait until Sunday for his next crack at the game he plays so well. But sometimes not quite well enough.
We can be sure of one thing. Like all those other Hairstons for more than 60 years, his uniform will fit perfectly, his smile will be intact, his shoulders will be back and, as baseball never stops demanding, he will show up.