Lennie Pearson

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Leonard Curtis Pearson

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Biographical Information[edit]

Lennie Pearson was a Negro League player and manager.

Pearson was a high school teammate of Monte Irvin; the two often formed a battery. Lennie hurt his arm playing football, though, forcing him to move to first base, where he spent most of his career. He played semipro baseball with the Orange Triangles after dropping out of high school.

Pearson signed with the Newark Eagles, where Mule Suttles taught him how to hit the curveball, a weakness of his before that. Lennie hit .214 as an outfielder for Newark as a rookie in 1937, joining Suttles and Jimmie Crutchfield in the outfield while Ed Stone manned first base. In 1938, he batted .382, third in the Negro National League behind Willie Wells and Buck Leonard, both future Hall of Famers.

Lennie played third base in 1939, succeeding Ray Dandridge, who had left for Mexico. He hit .351, nearly beating out all three remaining members of the Million Dollar Infield - Suttles (.282), Dick Seay (.185) and Wells (.355).

Back in the outfield in 1940 alongside Suttles and old friend Irvin, Pearson hit .396 to lead the Negro National League, .013 ahead of runner-up Irvin. He also socked 9 homers, tying Bus Clarkson for second behind Leonard, and his 4 triples tied him for 2nd, one behind Leonard. That winter, he played for Caguas in Puerto Rico against the advice of Effa Manley, who wanted him to stay in Newark and play basketball in the off-season. Known for his good looks, Pearson was a paramour of team owner Manley as per historian James Riley. He frequently borrowed money from the Eagles thanks to Manley's favoritism.

In 1941, Len hit .289 as Newark's third baseman. His 5 homers tied Shifty Jim West and Leon Day for 4th in the NNL. An ankle injury that year cost him to miss some time. In the 1941 East-West Game, Pearson backed up Henry Kimbro in center field for the East, going 0 for 2.

Pearson hit .322 as the Eagles first baseman in 1942. He hit 9 homers, second in the NNL behind Josh Gibson, and he tied Tubby Scales for 2nd with 10 doubles, one behind Sammy T. Hughes. In the first 1942 East-West Game, Pearson pinch-hit for Dave Barnhill in the 7th inning with a 2-2 score. He singled off Satchel Paige and came around on a Sammy Bankhead sacrifice fly with the game-winner in a 5-2 decision. In the second 1942 East-West Game, Lennie was 0 for 1 with a RBI. He was hired by Cum Posey of the Homestead Grays along with several other ringers for game 3 of the 1942 Negro World Series; the Kansas City Monarchs protested the usage of the ringers and the game was stricken from the books.

Lennie batted .317 in 1943 and again finished second to Gibson in home runs, but his 8 were far back of Josh's 22. Pearson ranked right ahead of Hall of Famers Leonard (6) and Larry Doby (5). Pearson was the right fielder and #6 hitter for the East in the 1943 East-West Game, but went 0 for 3 against Paige, Gread McKinnis and Theolic Smith before being replaced by Vic Harris.

In 1944, the New Jersey native hit .326 as the Newark first bagger. He spent the winter with the Renaissance basketball team. At age 27, Pearson hit .280 in 1945. He was one for four in exhibition play that fall against white major leaguers. He was 0 for 1 in the 1945 East-West Game, pinch-hitting for Martin Dihigo and being retired by Booker McDaniels.

Pearson slipped to .257 in 1946, but his 7 homers tied Johnny Davis for third in the NNL behind Gibson and Irvin and ahead of Doby. In the first 1946 East-West Game, Pearson went 1 for 3 with a RBI after replacing Gene Benson in right field for the East. He starred in the 1946 Negro World Series, leading his longtime Eagles club to a title, batting .393, second on the team behind Irvin. He homered twice in game six of the Series, which was a must-win game for Newark, down 3 games to 2 entering the contest.

Playing his first season in the Cuban Winter League in 1946-1947, Pearson hit .260 for the Havana Reds, leading the club and the league with 45 RBI, beating out at least a dozen former or future major leaguers. He was named as the All-Star 1B, joining Bobby Avila, Hank Thompson and Lou Klein as the honored infielders. He then appeared in a March 1947 game in Venezuela against the New York Yankees, going 3 for 4 to lead the charge in a 4-3 win.

Lennie hit .291 in 1947. His 10 homers tied Luke Easter for fourth in the NNL behind Doby, Irvin and Johnny Davis. In the winter of 1947-1948, Lennie set a Cuban Winter League record with 338 at-bats and 81 games played. The Havana first baseman hit .284 and slugged .358.

Statistical records for the 1948 NNL season are scarce; it was Pearson's 12th and last year with Newark. In the winter of 1948-1949, Lennie tied a record by letting the CWL in at-bats three straight seasons, this time with 301. He again led n RBI as well, with 54, one ahead of runner-up Irvin. He failed to make the All-Star team as Chuck Connors was picked instead at first base.

When Newark moved to Houston in 1949, Pearson jumped ship for the Baltimore Elite Giants. As a player-manager, he hit .332 and managed the team to a title. He hit third and played first base for the East in the 1949 East-West Game but went 0 for 5 in a 4-0 win.

In the 1949-1950 Cuban Winter League, Pearson again put on a show for Havana. The 31-year-old veteran led the league in doubles (19, one more than Claro Duany) and RBI (55, 4 ahead of runner-up Don Lenhardt), becoming the first player to lead the CWL three times in RBI. He batted .271 and slugged .457. He made the All-Star team at first base, joining Jack Cassini, Dandridge and Eddie Pellagrini on the infield.

Pearson came to the minor leagues in 1950, too old to be deemed a prospect. He hit .305/~.343/.422 for the Milwaukee Brewers, a AAA team at the time. In 1950-1951, he hit only .200 while slugging .365 for the Almendares Blues, completing his five-year stay in Cuba with his only bad year there.

The aging Pearson split 1951 between Milwaukee (1 for 9) and the Hartford Chiefs (.272, .390 SLG). He moved to Quebec in 1952, playing with Lachute of the Laurentian League, outside of Organized baseball. After starting the 1953 season as player-manager for Lachute, he signed with the Drummondville Royals of the Class C Provincial League, batting .290/~.383/.517 with 16 homers in 280 AB; he tied for fourth in the league in home runs despite his limited playing time.

After baseball, Pearson ran a tavern for some time, with Manley helping provide needed capital.

Overall, Pearson was 2 for 16 with a walk and a double in 7 East-West Games. He hit .315 in his Negro League career and his 48 homers tied Heavy Johnson for 21st in league history.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 5-time NNL All-Star (1941, 1942, 1943, 1945 & 1946)
  • NNL Triple Crown (1942)
  • NNL Batting Average Leader (1942)
  • NNL Slugging Percentage Leader (1942)
  • NNL Hits Leader (1942)
  • NNL Total Bases Leader (1942)
  • 2-time NNL Home Runs Leader (1940 & 1942)
  • NNL RBIs Leader (1942)
  • NNL Stolen Bases Leader (1946)
  • Won one Negro World Series with the Newark Eagles in 1946


Related Sites[edit]