Leonard Curtis Pearson
Nicknames: Lennie, Hoss
Positions: 1b, of, 3b, ss, manager
Teams: Newark Eagles (1937-1948), Baltimore Elite Giants (1949), minor leagues (1950-1951), Canadian League (1953)
Height: 6' 2'' Weight: 200
Born: May 23, 1918, Akron, Ohio
Died: 1984, Newark, New Jersey
A hard-hitting first baseman, Lennie Pearson was one of the "Big Four" sluggers in the lineup for the 1946 Negro National League champion Newark Eagles, batting .276 with good power. In the ensuing World Series victory over the Negro American League champion Kansas City Monarchs, he hit a torrid .393.
He was a dangerous, consistent hitter and a steady fielder at first base, noted for his ability to handle bad throws. As an outfielder his only liability was a weak arm, resulting from a high school football injury. On the bases Pearson could get a good jump on the pitchers, and he could steal a base when needed. But it was his confidence and productivity with a bat that earned him the most acclaim, as he recorded season batting averages of .253, .296, .191, .385, .279, .269, .314, .326, .309, .299, and .291 for the seasons 1937-1947 with the Newark Eagles. When the Eagles moved to Houston in 1949, Pearson chose to stay closer to home and became the playing manager of the Baltimore Elite Giants, batting .332 in his last year in the Negro Leagues while guiding the team to the 1949 championship.
The solid first sacker was selected to five East-West All Star games for the East squad. In 1944, the only year during the interval 1941-1945 that he did not play in the All Star game, their versatile athlete, who was an outstanding basketball player, played for the Renaissance basketball team.
After the color barrier was lifted, he played in organized baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association in 1950, batting .305. After beginning the next season with the Brewers, he moved to Hartford in the Eastern League, where he batted .272. Two years later he played with Drummondville in the Provincial League and hit .290 with 16 home runs.
Pearson, handsome and broad-shouldered, was one of owner Effa Manley's favorites, and she wanted to keep her paramour close to Newark during the off-season. Taking advantage of the relationship, he frequently borrowed money from the Eagles as an advance on his salary. In the winter of 1940, Mrs. Manley wanted him to stay in Newark and play basketball, but he chose to play baseball with Caguas in the Puerto Rican winter league. The next season, with Newark, he suffered a severe ankle injury in late June that caused him to lose substantial playing time.
He also played in the Cuban winter league, compiling a lifetime .262 batting average for five winter seasons. He hit .257, .284, .256, .271, and .200 for the years 1946-1951 all except the last one with Havana. Counted among his honors on the island were three RBI titles, while his best home-run season was the winter of 1949-1950, with 11 homers in 280 at-bats. Usually he had twice as many doubles as homers in Cuba, and he led the league in 1949 with 19 two-baggers.
Pearson came from a family with ten children, and as a youngster he was an all-around athlete, excelling at football, basketball, and baseball. In high school in East Orange, New Jersey, he and Monte Irvin played together, and both had very strong arms and took turns pitching and catching each other. But after Pearson hurt his arm playing football in high school, it was never the same, necessitating his move to first base. He dropped out of school in 1937 to work and to play semi-pro baseball with the Orange Triangles.
After joining the Eagles he had some difficulty hitting a curveball until manager Mule Suttles helped him develop into a good curveball hitter. After establishing himself with the Eagles, the gregarious outfielder was a hustler and a team player. Following his retirement from baseball he opened a tavern with the financial assistance of Effa Manley, and he operated the establishment for a number of years.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.