Day 9 of 2023 baseball books: Son of a gun, these stories still grow roots

“Sons of Baseball: Growing Up with
a Major League Dad”

The author:
Mark Braff

The publishing info:
Rowman & Littlefield
240 pages; $24.95
To be released May 10, 2023

The links:
The publishers website
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Diesel Books

The review in 90 feet or less

A recent story in the San Diego Union-Tribune recently made us feel a bit older. And wiser.

David Newhan, who managed to get eight solid years in as a Major League Baseball infielder and outfielder with San Diego, Philadelphia, Baltimore, the New York Mets and Houston, between 1999 and 2008, deviated from a recent career path as a big-league coach so he could jump in as the head coach at Maranatha Christian High School in San Diego. He’s been there since mid-season 2022 after the team got off to a 1-9 start.

Maranatha Christian’s Nico Newhan, left, and David Newhan in Feb., 2023 in San Diego. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The impetus for the change: His son, Nico, plays there now as a senior, and will be a shortstop heading to the University of Arizona on a baseball scholarship soon.

David could see the writing on the wall. Perhaps, because his father, Ross, is in the writers’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, recognition for his career as a journalist with the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Los Angeles Times covering the Dodgers, Angels and then the game in general.

“The fact is I spent every spring training and summer at the ballpark,” Ross says in the story. “So naturally, baseball was a way for me to be closer to my son … The players were great to (David). He worked in the clubhouse, he got to be the bat boy. I never pushed David into baseball. He just gravitated to the game.”

Same story with David and his son.

“He was running around the clubhouse when I was with the Mets and Astros,” said David. “I could see he was driven. I’m not surprised by his success.”

Adds Nico: “Not many kids are blessed with a dad who played and coached in the big leagues. For my dad to take time away from his coaching career to be with me and this team is a blessing.”

The baseball thread that can connect grandfather to father to son isn’t one seen all that often on the big-league level, so appreciate it when it happens – or could. In any scenario.

Mark Braff, a retired media PR professional from New Jersey looking for a project to work on, came up with this idea even though he says in the acknowledgements that, before this book began in January 2021, “I did not know a single ‘son of baseball’ … so, challenge number one was to figure out how – or even if – I could connect with the people whose stories are collected in this book.”

He explains more how one contact led to another. Dodgers’ assistant PR director Jon Chapper thought he might have more than something with Jerry Hairston, Jr., the current Dodgers’ SportsNet LA studio analyst.

As Braff tracked down and interviewed 18 sons of former MLB players, Hairston and his 16-year MLB career with Baltimore, the Chicago Cubs, Texas, Cincinnati, the New York Yankees, San Diego, Washington, Milwaukee and the last two with the Dodgers in 2012 and ’13, warranted inclusion. He’s the only one of a three-generation baseball family mentioned.

There’s not just his dad Jerry Hairston Sr., as an 14-year big-leaguer from 1973 to ’89 with the Chicago White Sox, or uncle Johnny Hairston, who got into three games and four at bats  for the Chicago Cubs in 1969.

Or Jerry Jr.’s brother, Scott, who got in 11 seasons between 2004 and 2014.

It goes back to his grandfather Sam Hairston, whose five years with the Negro Leagues from 1944 through ’48, plus four games with the Chicago White Sox at age 31 in 1951, is all combined on Read about how Sam, a Negro League All-Star, basically shutout from the MLB, “stayed in the game and built a baseball dynasty.”

While there are no fourth-generation families around, here was a bit of a reveal: Jerry Hairston Jr.’s son, Jackson Hairston, can be tracked on during his current junior season playing baseball at Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Ariz. Plus, Jackson is often posting video of his cousin, Landon Hairston, son of Scott, an Arizona State commit at Castell High in Arizona.

“That’s been my goal since I was a young kid, to keep the family tradition going,” Landon Hairston recently said.

As more of the book unfolds, there is a noteworthy chapter on Gil Hodges Jr., and the life he lived in growing up as the only son of Baseball Hall of Famer (now it can be said) Gil Hodges, the former Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers first baseman. Gil Jr. was generous enough to talk to us prior to his father’s Hall election as a documentary film came out that helped revive all the qualities Gil had as a man that voters may have overlooked.

“You know if he’d been voted into the Hall 50 years ago, we wouldn’t be talking about him today,” Gil Jr. said.
“He’d almost be an afterthought. But because of these votes every so often, we get a chance to look at his life again and appreciate it. So maybe that’s not a bad thing.”

It turned out to a very good thing. And his mother, Joan, lived long enough (as did Vin Scully) to see the induction happen.

In the process of finding interview subjects, Braff admits his best may have came last: David Rodriguez, the son of one-time Dodgers first baseman/outfielder Henry Rodriguez. Their photo is on the cover, bottom right.

Rodriguez came up with the Dodgers as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, made his major league debut in July 1992, and stay around until the Dodgers decided to trade him to Montreal in May of 1995 with Jeff Treadway in order to get Roberto Kelly and Joey Eischen. Advantage Expos: Rodriguez would hit 36 homers in his first full season in Montreal, make the 1996 N.L. All-Star roster, and hit 139 of his 160 career homers between ’96 and 2000.

His son, David, was born a month before the Dodgers traded him, in April ’95.

David became what he called the “pink elephant” in the room. He came out as gay.

Henry Rodriguez didn’t seem to be all that on-board with the announcement. Not in a dispiriting way – the way Rodriguez’ former Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda, might have been with the lifestyle displayed of his own son, Tommy Jr., and in complete denial of his sexual orientation and death from AIDS. But this was more documenting a disconnected relationship that may resonate for fathers and sons in today’s world if heightened gender identification labeling. David’s words are poignant. He has a support system and it doesn’t have to include his birth father.

Maybe after this book circulates, the relationship can be addressed by both sides.

How it goes in the scorebook

A father’s day gift idea? That’s what seems most appropriate.

Yet just know there are no interviews done with the fathers of any of these sons, when possible (a few have passed away). It might have added more depth and context to the stories of their relationships. Maybe that’s for the next round of expanding on this book’s idea.

Otherwise, here is a genealogy journey that offers nothing really spell-binding or compelling, but just gives a nice glimpse into their worlds. What’s perhaps more educational is Braff’s persistence and showing what can done if one applies his network of resources, then casts a wide net, and sees what turns out. The more stories there are to choose from, the spectrum becomes more brilliant.

So, who’d we like to see in any updated versions: ESPN’s Edwardo Perez (son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez), Jose and Andy Mota (sons of Manny Mota), Jason Kendall (MLB player and son of another MLB catcher, Fred Kendall, and one who has done his own book, “Throwback”), Bump Wills (son of star shortstop Maury), Joc Pederson (son of one-time MLB pitcher Stu) and Cody Bellinger (son of former MLB pitcher Clay).

And a follow up interview with Henry Rodriguez. I think that is now owed to him.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== Andrew Simon of has a list of the “greatest father-son duos in baseball history.” A guess or two? Based on career WAR, it’s Barry and Bobby Bonds, followed by Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr.

== lists the 257 combinations of fathers and sons who’ve made the MLB.

== While Larry Berra (son of Yogi) is included here, more can likely be discovered in the Dale Berra book, “My Dad, Yogi: A Memoir of Family and Baseball” (2019, Hachette Books).

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