As the 2008 season approached, former Orioles infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr. thought his career might be over.
Hairston had unknowingly played through a broken rib in his back the previous two seasons and it showed. He hit .206/.270/.253 in 192 games with the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers in 2006, then hit .189/.249/.289 in 184 games with the Rangers in 2007. He was a useful player. with the Orioles and Cubs from 1999 to 2005, but his career ended at the age of 31.
This was especially frustrating for Hairston because he was finally well. However, he couldn’t find a job…until early March 2008. Hairston was watching a movie alone in a movie theater in Arizona when Dusty Baker, one of his former managers, contacted him. Baker was in his first year as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
“Dusty sends me a message,” Hairston told Glenn Clark Radio on Nov. 7. – He says: “Hey, you’re not on the team?” He says, “Can you call me?” I ran out of the cinema. I said, “Hey, what’s going on?” He says, “Hey, Alex Gonzalez just sprained his knee. We need an infielder. Can you get here in Sarasota, Florida in three or four days? I say, “I’ll be there tonight.” I went home, packed up and smoked the next day, got to Sarasota.”
Baker, manager of the Cubs from 2003 to 2006, saw firsthand what a healthy Hairston can do. Before the 2005 season, the Orioles traded Hairston to Chicago in exchange for slugger Sammy Sosa. Hairston hit .261/.336/.368 in 430 plate games in 2005, playing mostly in center field, left field, and second base.
Hairston outperformed the Reds in 2008, hitting .326/.384/.487 with 28 extra base hits in 297 games, playing mostly at shortstop and in midfield. He continued to play until 2013, earning a World Series ring with the New York Yankees in 2009. Hairston considers Baker the second half of his career.
“I might not have the second half of my career if Dusty Baker doesn’t give me a call,” Hairston said. “I owe him the other half. I’m not in the ’09 Yankees. I ended up hitting .326 in 2008 when Dusty gave me another shot. … I thank Dusty Baker every time I see him. Every time we played against his teams, I sent him a bottle of wine. I tell my kids, “Your college is paid for by Dusty Baker.” I love this person. He’s just an incredible person.”
Baker won his first World Series as a coach when the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games after 106 regular season wins. The championship cements a place in Cooperstown for Baker, who has already racked up 2,000 regular season wins as a coach in 25 years.
Hairston explained that Baker is so respected in the game because of how he treats his players and how well he prepares.
“He really takes a genuine interest in your family, in you personally,” Hairston said. “And he’s probably the most prepared guy I’ve ever met. I played Buck Showalter. Buck Showalter is ready for it. I was in Dusty’s office and he already had a game plan for the week – this series, next series and next series, who does he want to play, who is he going to have, not only in the starting lineup, but also in the guys who will be in the mix , to play”.
To learn more from Hairston, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Colin Murphy/PressBox