Baseball Way Back: Minoso broke color barrier, and Hairston, Boyd paved the way
As we celebrate Black History Month, it is a time to remember the contributions of Minnie Minoso, the first Black player to don a Chicago uniform.
Minoso burst upon the scene in 1951, arriving from Cleveland in a trade and making an immediate impact by hitting a home run in his first White Sox at-bat, against the Yankees' Vic Raschi on May 1 at Comiskey Park.
We should also remember the first Black players to sign with the Sox joined the organization the season before. And one of them not only stayed with the Sox organization for 48 seasons, but saw his sons play major league baseball. The other would eventually finish in the Top 10 in batting for the Baltimore Orioles.
On July 31, 1950, United Press reported the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, a White Sox affiliate in the Western League, had signed the Negro American League's leading hitter, Sam Hairston of the Indianapolis Clowns.
The article said Hairston "is the first Negro to sign with an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and the first to join the American League club's farm system."
At the time, Hairston, a catcher who could also play third base, was batting .465, with 87 hits in 187 at-bats, 20 doubles, 16 home runs and 66 runs batted in.
Hairston, 30, was a native of Birmingham, Ala., and joined the Clowns in 1944 while playing for a Birmingham community team.
On Aug. 5, 1950, United Press reported, "The Chicago White Sox have bought Negro first baseman Bob Boyd from the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League." As with Hairston, he was assigned to Colorado Springs.
There was some controversy surrounding Boyd's signing.
Dr. W.S. Martin, Memphis Red Sox owner and president, said the sale was not authorized. He said Sox GM Frank Lane engineered the deal through Dr. B.B. Martin, his brother. The article stated, "The two Negro baseball men formerly directed the Red Sox together, but they have been battling since a preseason disagreement over ownership."
The situation was resolved when B.B. Martin, Red Sox GM, who had sold Boyd for $15,000, hustled the infielder onto a red-eye flight to Colorado, according to an article by Bob Rives for the Society for American Baseball Research.
In the article, Boyd said, "They gave me $500 and put me on the plane. The first time I ever flew." He homered in his first at-bat with the Sky Sox.
The Martins eventually split the $15,000.
Both Hairston and Boyd began the 1951 campaign with the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League. The San Francisco Examiner reported on June 5, "A large increase in colored patronage has been noted since the coming of Bob Boyd and Sam Hairston."
Hairston was the first to be called up to play for Sox Manager Paul Richards, arriving on July 19 after catcher Gus Niarhos broke his wrist.
The Chicago Tribune wrote that people who watched Hairston in winter ball in Venezuela said he was even more promising than Roy Campanella when the Brooklyn catcher played there.
Hairston made an immediate impression -- on the face of Sox third baseman Floyd Baker. During batting practice, Hairston hit a grounder that took a bad hop and struck Baker in the mouth, splitting his lip and dislodging the cap from a tooth.
Despite that inauspicious beginning, Hairston regrouped, notching two hits in two games against Washington, including an RBI double, and drawing a walk and scoring along with Minoso on a Don Lenhardt homer against Boston.
With Niarhos' return Aug. 28, though, he was sent to Colorado Springs, where he would stay, except for one season, through 1956. Hairston finished with a lifetime MLB batting average of .400 in four games.
Boyd fared considerably better.
He played with the Sox toward the end of 1951 and in 1953 and 1954, but Boyd's time with the Sox was not easy. Boyd said in Rives' article that when he roomed with Minoso on a Sox barnstorming trip in the South, the two had to stay in local homes and were given bodyguards, while the white players slept in hotels.
In 1956, Boyd's former White Sox manager, Richards, now general manager and manager in Baltimore, brought him to the Orioles, where he had a breakout 1957 season, hitting .318, fourth-best in the American League, and earned the nicknames "Rope" and "El Ropo" for the "ropes" he would hit.
Boyd, who died in 2004, retired in 1963, but Hairston remained a baseball lifer. After finishing his minor league career in 1960, Hairston would remain in the White Sox organization as a scout and coach. His discoveries included Carlos May and Lamar Johnson.
Hairston spent the last 12 years of his career, until his death in 1997, coaching the Double-A Birmingham Barons, including the 1990 squad with Frank Thomas.
Hairston's son John became the first Black catcher for the Cubs in 1969. Another son, Jerry, made his mark with the White Sox as a pinch-hitter in the 1980s.
Jerry's son, Jerry Hairston Jr., broke into the major leagues in 1998. He would eventually play for the Cubs in 2005 and 2006. Another of Jerry's sons, Scott Hairston, would also become a major leaguer, playing with the Cubs in 2013.
Today, Jerry Jr. is a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting crew.
Over the years, Sam Hairston remained upbeat about his career and the White Sox organization. On March 29, 1969, he told the Pittsburgh Courier, "I can't remember when I haven't played baseball or been around the game. We had some pretty fair country players like Sam Bankhead, Sam Jethroe, Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella playing in the Negro leagues in my day. They're all out of the game now but Ol' Sam is still hanging in there."