Naperville's Hairston Jr. still living dream as Dodgers broadcaster
Near the end of his father's 14-year playing career with the White Sox, Jerry Hairston Jr. remembers tagging along on the team bus for a trip to Milwaukee.
He remembers being "inspired" by two members of the Sox's traveling party.
"It was Ken 'Hawk' Harrelson and a legendary pitcher for the Dodgers, Don Drysdale," Hairston Jr. said in a phone interview. "I was 8, 9 years old on that bus ride, and (Drysdale) told me he played baseball and I couldn't believe he was a baseball player because I just knew him as a broadcaster."
When he got back home to Naperville, Hairston broke out some research books and studied up on Drysdale, a Hall of Famer who was 209-166 with a 2.95 ERA over 14 seasons with for the Dodgers before partnering with Harrelson in the White Sox's TV broadcast booth from 1982-87.
"I couldn't believe how great of a baseball player he was," Hairston said. "I said, 'That's what I want to be, I want to be just like Don Drysdale. I want to be able to play baseball, and then when I'm done playing I would love to be a broadcaster and talk about baseball.' "
The Naperville North High School and Southern Illinois product is still living the dream.
After playing 16 major-league seasons with the Orioles, Cubs, Rangers, Reds, Yankees, Padres, Nationals, Brewers and Dodgers, the 44-year-old Hairston stayed in the game as a broadcaster for ESPN and MLB Network.
Now, he's with Spectrum SportsNet LA as the Dodgers' pregame/postgame analyst.
"For me to have a pretty good playing career, very fortunate to do that, and now be a broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team Don Drysdale was famous for, his legendary career here in L.A., that definitely is a pretty cool thing," said Hairston, whose grandfather Sam, brother Scott and uncle John Hairston also played major-league baseball.
On the Dodgers' broadcast crew since 2013, Hairston thinks this might be the year Los Angeles wins the World Series for the first time since 1988.
Trailing the Braves 3-1 in the NLCS, the Dodgers reeled off 3 wins a row and are in the World Series for the third time in four years.
Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are tied at 1 in the best-of-seven Fall Classic.
"They're a very talented group," Hairston said of the Dodgers. "And they understand that even though they are very talented, they have to play their best baseball to win."
Signing right fielder Mookie Betts to a 12-year, $365 million contract extension in these uncertain financial times could come back and bite Los Angeles, but Hairston sees it as a great move.
"I've been watching baseball since the early 1980s and I say it all the time, (Betts) is the most skilled baseball player, probably right there with Ken Griffey Jr. and Roberto Alomar, that I've ever seen. He does everything you want a superstar player to do on a baseball field.
"You've got excellent power, a great hitter, outstanding speed. A great throwing arm, and it's accurate."
As the Dodgers try getting over the hump and winning the World Series after coming up short in 13 straight postseason appearances, Hairston is just happy Major League Baseball was able to play this year during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We all had to deal with change in 2020," Hairston said. "You know, to not have sports, to not to have baseball, it was definitely weird. For the first time in our lives, there was no baseball in spring and early summer. I always thought if there was a possibility when it was safe to get back on the baseball field to provide entertainment, I thought that would be bring joy to some people.
"So I was so fortunate, we're so fortunate, that baseball was able to come back to have the season for our fans, and the fans are truly appreciative."