CHICAGO -- As a young player in the White Sox Minor League system, current general manager Ken Williams had the chance to work with Sam Hairston. Hairston became the first African-American player to suit up for the White Sox in 1951, two months after Minnie Minoso, who was the first black player to join the White Sox.
"Sam was one of my Rookie League coaches," Williams said. "He filled us with story after story about Negro League play, players and tougher times. But he also spoke about some of the fun times as well."
Williams reminisced about Hairston on Sunday, as Major League Baseball paid tribute on Jackie Robinson Day to the man who broke the game's color barrier 65 years ago. All players, coaches and manager Robin Ventura wore the No. 42 in Robinson's honor. Four players from the White Sox Amateur City Elite youth baseball program, who will play baseball at Division I schools next year, were recognized on the field, along with Minoso and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Present for the ceremonial first pitch were Jerry Hairston, one of Sam's sons and a White Sox Minor League coach, first-base coach Harold Baines and Djan Williams and Bryce Gray from the ACE program.
Both of Williams' offices in Chicago and Arizona contain Robinson memorabilia, and Williams has met Robinson's family and been on panels with his daughter, Sharon. Williams praised Robinson's courage and did the same for those who came after him.
"It's Jackie. It's Larry Doby [first African-American player in the American League]. It's a lot of the men that forged the way," Williams said. "He was the first, but he wasn't the only one that was heckled, ridiculed and had to persevere. So, I look at today as certainly honoring him but also honoring those men.
"Baseball's history is important in general. The reminder of the struggle and the sacrifice both from an athletic perspective and certainly from a social perspective is paramount to remember, recall and revisit in this manner."