Big-league dads, sons turn game into family business

With all due respect to daughters everywhere, baseball owes its survival the past 150 years to fathers and sons.

For generation after generation since the game's humble beginnings, primarily dads have lovingly taught the game to their boys.

Big leaguers especially have enjoyed this paternal rite of passage, and 149 of them have proudly watched their sons also enter the family business.

The Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T) recognized these special baseball families Jan. 25 at its 11th annual Going to Bat for B.A.T. dinner at the New York's Marriott Marquis Hotel.

Here's a closer look into a pair of three-generation baseball families: the Boones (Ray, Bob, Bret and Aaron), because they were the first to join the exclusive three-generation club, and the Hairstons (Sam, Jerry, John and Jerry Jr.), the first black family to do it.

Both families share similar stories of perseverance and success in baseball. But their decidedly different paths to the summit provide lessons to fans everywhere.

On Sept. 3, 1948, a 25-year-old infielder named Raymond Boone made his major league debut. A two-time All-Star, he batted .275 over 13 big league seasons, leading the AL in RBI once, then served as a Boston Red Sox scout for another 31 years.

Two of his sons followed their dad into baseball: Rodney Boone, who played in the Kansas City and Houston farm systems from 1972 until 1975, and Bob Boone, whose record-setting 19-year major league career at catcher earned him four All-Star nods, seven Gold Gloves and a 1980 World Championship.

Bob Boone and his wife Susan had three boys of their own. They didn't come out of the womb swinging a bat, but it was close.

"Here's how I like to put it," Bob Boone said. "If you see a professional golfer and his kids, I guarantee it that those kids have had a golf club in their hands and received golf instruction since they were 2 years old. The kids grow up to be pretty good golfers."

The Boone children showed athletic ability from the crib.

The eldest, Bret, first walked at six months and was able to do things by his first birthday that kids 4 and 5 were doing, Bob Boone said.

That Bret Boone's first word was "ball" indicated great things to come.

Aaron was born four years later in 1973, followed by Matt in 1979. All three boys displayed excellence in a variety of sports. But baseball, of course, was king.

Bob spent hours in the offseason teaching his boys the same physical and mental fundamentals that his dad taught him.

And when he whipped his body into shape in the offseason, his boys did, too. It was a family tradition that started every Christmas. Dad would get ready for spring training, and his boys would prepare for their own upcoming baseball seasons.

The boys also got major league-caliber training at the ballpark. When Bob played with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1973-81, his boys would play inside the clubhouse and stand in the outfield shagging flies alongside players such as Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Pete Rose.

When Bret Boone was 11, he and his brothers celebrated the Phillies' 1980 World Series championship. He said his proudest moment as a child was when he got to ride on a float in a tickertape parade to celebrate the win.

The Boones' childhood sounds idyllic, but it wasn't always wonderful, especially when the father would leave for long road trips.

"Bob wasn't around as much as the kids wanted him to be," said Susan Boone. "I was like a single parent for long periods of time. But it comes with the game."

Said Bob Boone, "My schedule was never a burden because I didn't know anything different. I don't know what it means to go on vacation in the summer."

Now it's Bret's turn to deal with absentee father issues. "My own wife is going through the same thing right now with our kids. Being married to a ballplayer is a tough job. There's no glamor in it."

Today, Ray Boone, 76, occasionally scouts for the Red Sox while traveling extensively to watch his grandsons play ball. Rodney Boone serves as the president and chief executive officer of Loch Harris Inc., a technology venture-capital firm.

Bob Boone, 52, works for the Cincinnati Reds as an assistant to GM Jim Bowden.

Bret Boone, 30, launched his pro career in 1990 and has developed into a rarity - a power-hitting second baseman.

Aaron Boone, 26, enjoyed his first full season as the Reds' starting third baseman in 1999. And Matthew is working his way through the Detroit Tigers' system.

Asked if he's prouder to have played the game for 19 seasons or to have raised two, possibly three, major leaguers, Bob Boone threw a curve.

"I'm most proud of the fact that my kids turned out to be tremendous citizens, and they happened to fall into something that they could excel in," he said. "The avenue just happened to be baseball."

Bret Boone also played down his family's three-generation notoriety. "I think bloodlines are definitely important, and we're proud of what we've done. But in our family, we never look at the three-generation thing. We're not a sentimental family."

Bet that Bret Boone will change his mind years from now if his 9-month-old son, Jacob, makes history as baseball's first fourth-generation ballplayer.

With a grandfather, father, uncles and cousins in professional baseball, Jerry Hairston Jr. decided early in his life that he would follow them.

This wasn't news to his grandfather, former Negro leagues All-Star catcher Sam Hairston. The family patriarch declared when his grandson was just 2 years old that Jerry Jr. would play in the major leagues.

Almost 20 years later, Sam Hairston made the prediction again. This time, his grandson was playing ball for Southern Illinois University and debating whether to leave school and enter the major league draft.

"Right before the draft, I went to see my grandfather (then coaching for Double-A Birmingham) because I knew he'd give me a straightforward answer if he thought I needed more time in school," he said.

That day, Sam Hairston hit several ground balls to his grandson at shortstop, who tossed across the diamond to first base, where his dad, Jerry Hairston, stood.

When the drills ended, Sam Hairston pulled his son and grandson aside. "He said to me, `You're ready to play, and you're going to be in the big leagues in three years,' " Jerry Jr. said.

Actually, it was only a year and a half before Jerry Hairston Jr. cracked the majors, debuting with Baltimore on Sept. 11, 1998.

"It's special to our family because this is something that my dad worked so hard for in this game," Jerry Hairston Sr. said. "And it's special to me because I was the link between my father and my son."

Sam Hairston passed away four months after Jerry Jr. was drafted in 1997.

"If he saw his grandson today, my dad's chest would be nine miles in diameter," said Jerry Hairston Sr.

Jerry Jr. thanks his family every day for giving him two extraordinary resources to tap: his father, Jerry Sr., 48, who played 14 years as a steady utility player and pinch-hitter for the Chicago White Sox; and his grandfather, whom he spoke with twice a week until his death at age 77.

In 1950, Sam Hairston won the Negro American League Triple Crown with a .424 average, 17 homers and 71 RBI. He signed with the White Sox that season, and in July 1951 became the first American-born black player to appear in a game for the White Sox.

After a four-game cup of coffee, he was sent back down to Triple-A. He remained in the minors for the rest of his career, playing mostly in southern towns that didn't exactly put out the welcome mat for him and his family.

"There are only a couple times I can remember being at a ballpark and watching him play," Jerry Hairston Sr. said. "We didn't go to the ballparks because we were black. Since it was the South, we weren't exactly welcomed."

But Sam Hairston would tell stories about the people and places he had encountered in both the Negro leagues and as a black baseball pioneer in the minors.

He would talk about playing with Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

One of Sam Hairston's favorite tales focused on his career-altering encounter with famed Negro leagues catcher Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe.

According to Hairston, "Double Duty" took him under his wing as a rookie. Radcliffe knew that Hairston was on the bubble of making the team as a backup third baseman. One day he said to Sam Hairston, "Hey boy, can you catch? Because you're going to today. I'm sitting."

Hairston accepted the opportunity and built an All-Star career.

Jerry Hairston Jr. said he owes much of his success - current and future - to these family stories.

"Grandfather didn't have the opportunities that my father and I have had, and I always remember that," he said. "So often black players forget the players that came before us. And that's unfortunate."

Taken in the 11th round of the June 1997 draft, Jerry Jr., 23, has risen quickly through the Orioles' organization and is touted as their second baseman of the future. His biggest fan is his father, who currently runs a baseball academy in Arizona.

One lesson shared by his father has been the most valuable so far.

"Mental toughness," Jerry Jr. said. "Last year, I didn't break (from spring training) with the club, but I really didn't let it get me down. I know that those kinds of things propel a player into a spiral. My dad told me not to overreact, that maybe it's not my time."