Art Pennington

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Arthur David Pennington

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Biographical Information[edit]

Early life and Negro League career[edit]

Born in Memphis and raised in Hot Springs, AR Art Pennington began getting paid to play baseball in his mid-teens, when some minor Negro League teams gave him a job, urgently needed given his family's poor financial straits. He got his nickname "Superman" from his mother when he helped lift a car at the age of 11 or 12. In 1940, at the young age of 17, he made the prime time with the Chicago American Giants. In 1942 the teenager became the main first baseman for the team, though he hit just .183 or .185 (sources vary). He moved to the outfield a year later but again failed to top the Mendoza Line. At the age of 20, Pennington came into his own and hit .299 with 4 homers (tied for fourth in the Negro American League). In 1945 he truly emerged as a star, batting .359 and slugging .500 as the Chicago first baseman. He finished fourth in the NAL in average, tied for second with Jackie Robinson with 5 homers, led the circuit with 16 doubles and stole 18 bases, 3 behind league leader Sam Jethroe. At a younger age than Robinson, he had done better in average and steals and had hit as many homers.

Mexican League career[edit]

In 1946 Pennington was offered a much higher salary than the $600/month he got for Chicago and so he headed to the Mexican League. He earned around $8,000 a season in Mexico. Splitting the 1946 season between three teams, he batted .314/~.415/.434, better than the vast majority of the white major leaguers playing in Mexico. A year later Superman batted .291/~.395/.394. He drew 75 walks, possibly leading the league and hit 10 triples, three off the lead, as he continued to show that he was a well-rounded offensive threat. Pennington's final year in the Liga was 1948 when he batted .301/~.420/.467. Overall Art had hit .300/~.408/.426 in three years south of the border. He describes it as "the most fun" he had as racism did not limit who he could date or where he could eat or stay. He married a light-skinned Mexican woman, which later caused many problems for him in the less tolerant USA.

A return to the US and back to Latin America[edit]

Pennington's parents begged for him to return to his home country so he rejoined Chicago in 1949 and moved to the outfield once more, hitting .348 in 57 games. The American Giants sold him to the Portland Beavers and at age 26 Pennington got a shot at AAA ball. Art reported reacting badly to the American racism after the Mexican attitudes he had faced for three years, and he was forbidden from staying in the same hotel as his wife. He struggled in this environment and hit .208/~.408/.226. He drew 18 walks in 20 games but had just one extra-base hit and was offered $3,500 a month to go to Caracas to play.

The Negro Leagues redux[edit]

Art returned to the Negro Leagues for the 1950 and 1951 seasons, batting .370 in '50. His prime years were lost in an era of limited statistical records for the Negro Leagues.

One of the brightest stars of the Three-I League[edit]

In 1952 Pennington returned to the minor leagues with the Keokuk Kernels of the Three-I League. Playing in the same circuit as Harvey Kuenn, Rocky Colavito, Marv Throneberry and Horace Garner Pennington hit .349/~.477/.576. He won the batting title, lost the OBP title to Garner by a point, led the league in slugging by one point over Garner, scored 126 runs (27 more than #2 man Felix Mantilla), rapped 149 hits (3rd in the league), smacked 10 triples (one behind the league leader), drew 100 walks, stole 24 bases and hit 20 homers (third in the Three-I).

Pennington says that he was to go to the St. Louis Browns in 1953 but "a lot of bull went on...and I got tired of it" so he went to play in the Dominican Republic. He also hit .329 for Keokuk and the Cedar Rapids Indians that season. At 30 years of age, his chances at becoming a big-league regular were fading. In 1954 Superman again tore up the Three-I - for Cedar Rapids he batted .345 with 16 homers, missing the batting title by three points.

The final years[edit]

Pennington spent the next three years playing in Latin America including stops in Carthehena and Bukata. In 1959 the 36-year-old Superman played his last season with the Modesto Reds, batting just .259 and slugging .418. He retired after the year.

Retirement and politics[edit]

After retiring, Pennington got a job with manufacturer Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids and met his second wife, a white co-worker. He worked there twenty-five years then got into politics, running for sherriff of Linn County, mayor and safety commissioner, losing each race. Pennington said "I knew I wasn't going to win, but I just liked to go out there and tell them about [prejudice]"

Pennington's house was demolished by the Iowa Floods of June 2008 and he lost a collection of baseball memorabilia.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NAL All-Star (1942)
  • NAL Home Runs Leader (1944)
  • NAL Bases On Balls Leader (1945)


Further Reading[edit]

  • Tony Salin: Baseball's Forgotten Heroes, Masters Press, Chicago, 1999, pp. 169-178.

Related Sites[edit]