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LITTLE BIG MAN
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Forget Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio. Those guys were just baseball players. Albie Pearson never compiled their records, but in the eyes of God he is a superstar.

            People who believe in the Lord know that it is how things end, not how they start, that counts. In this respect the story of the early Angels, then and now, is telling. It is the story of Albie Pearson.

            It was said of American Doughboys during World War I that, “Once they’ve scene Gay Paree they ain’t gonna wanna go back to the farm no more.” The Angels of Bo Belinsky, Dean Chance, Eli Grba, Ryne Duren, Art Fowler, Lee Thomas, and Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner is the story of wild youth. These were handsome, happy-go-lucky fellows, some just off the farm. They were let loose in the new “Gay Paree,” the Los Angeles of Frank Sinatra and Dino Martin; a time warp of nostalgia and beautiful women wrapped around the art of drinking, which was considered a serious sport at that time.

            Some of those early Angels possessed Hall of Fame talent, but none ever made it to Cooperstown. Their lifestyles played no small role in this failure of lost potential. Pearson had no such ability. He took what God gave him and made the most of it.

            Over time, the Angels moved to Anaheim and all of their “personality” was gone. Their players drifted into other things, but as the years passed it was Albie Pearson who held them together. In the end, it was the way he lived, not the way they lived, that persevered and meant something when the girls grew old, the lights went out, the bartenders called “last call.” In this respect, the Angels, a team that made a mockery of their Biblical names and Halo’d caps, finally earned their wings.

            Pearson grew up in El Monte, a non-descript part of the suburban L.A. sprawl. At the time it was semi-rural. At the age of 12 he was four feet, four inches tall, weighing in at 64 pounds. But his father had been a good football player. His grandfather was a boxer. He inherited their grit and coordination, and in 1958, when he reached 5-5, weighing 140 pounds, he was named the American League Rookie of the Year with the Washington Senators.

            A back injury appeared to have ended his career. When the Angels franchise was announced in Los Angeles, Pearson wrote a letter to Fred Haney. He “informed” him that he had been the Rookie of the Year two years earlier, and that he just wanted the chance to come back to Los Angeles, where he was born and raised, to play ball.

            In 1961 Pearson made the club. He was “popular mainly because of my lack of size. I never heard a boo in my life. I was the hero for the guy who never made it.”

            Little men would come to the park and cheer for Albie Pearson. Little men would write letters saying he inspired them to rise up against meddlesome bosses and bitchy wives. Little kids found inspiration in Pearson.

            Pearson used every tool at his disposal. He watched opposing teams in batting practice and taking infield, gleaning knowledge on where to play hitters, when to steal bases, how to work counts and spray well-placed singles. He found out if players like Mickey Mantle had too much to drink the night before, using the information to play them in the outfield or take an extra base on them.

            Pearson’s 1961 roommate was 36-year old Ted Kluszewski, a few years removed from his years as a feared slugger in Cincinnati. He was still one of the biggest, strongest men in the game. They were a true “Odd Couple,” 100 pounds separating them. Pearson was a milk drinker while “Big Klu” was a Rob Roy beer man. But they were good friends. Nobody could dislike Albie Pearson.

            Not everybody on the Angels was a hellion. Tom Satriano, an impressionable rookie fresh off of Rod Dedeaux’s club at USC, was full of the “rah-rah” college spirit. He was a fish out of water surrounded by the hard livin’ veterans, but was “adopted” by Pearson. Satriano was very moved by the fact that Pearson was “super religious, he never said, ‘damn’ or ‘hell’ or anything like that.”

            According to Eli Grba, however, Pearson had a “little man’s complex.” Pearson’s wife was quite beautiful. One night he took her to dinner, only to get badgered by a patron who insisted on picking on Pearson’s size in front of her. Albie “beat the crap out of him.”

            Pearson’s Christianity was mostly respected, but sometimes the source of jokes. One time Leon Wagner and some others secretly followed him around to see if he “walked the walk.” He did. When Wagner died years later, Albie visited him. It was his example that gave Wagner hope before passing.

            Pearson had one vice, however. He owned a “lipstick red” Caddy convertible, just like Bo Belinsky’s. One day Bo got a call from one of his minor league flames, an Oriental beauty named Zenida, who wore “one of those tight Suzie Wong dresses with the slit right up to her ass.” Bo told Zenida to meet him after a night game at his Caddy in the player’s parking lot.

            Zenida found Albie’s Caddy and sat herself on the hood, legs twitching all over the place. Albie and his cute-as-a-button wife emerged from Dodger Stadium. Zenida saw Albie with “this good-lookin’ broad,” recalled Bo, “and figures it’s gotta be me and she’s up for a three-some, so she’s wavin’ at Albie, whose beside himself figuring ‘why’se this Chinese chick on the hood of my car?’ And his wife’s just pissed.”

            Bo emerged, managing to extricate the little man from that jam, but another time during Spring Training Bo invited two hotties to the hotel; one for him, one for a sportswriter friend.

            “Bo was always spreading the wealth around,” recalled Dean Chance.

            Bo met the two girls and they were waiting for the writer when Pearson walked into the lobby.

            “So this one chick thought he was her date,” said Bo. “Albie’s real cute and she just falls in love with him. ‘I’m gonna take you home and mother you, baby.’ Albie just takes off running, jumps into his car and drives home to his wife in Riverside. He must’ve called six times to make sure they were gone before he came back.”

             In May of 1962, Marilyn Monroe visited Dodger Stadium to accept a charitable donation at home plate. There were rumors that she and Bo had interest in each other, which Bo slyly neither confirmed nor denied in 1994. Pearson was tasked with escorting Marilyn to home plate. When he met her he saw “obvious sadness and the look of palpable desperation in her eyes,” according to writer Rob Goldman, who knew Pearson and interviewed him about it years later.

            Pearson felt the need to reach out to Marilyn, telling her about the Lord, but the time was not right. He took his position. Shortly thereafter, Marilyn died. Some say she committed suicide, others (ex-husband Joe DiMaggio among them) blame the Kennedys. Either way, Pearson was “tortured” by the “missed opportunity.” 

            In 1963, Pearson finished fourth in the league with a .304 average, but he always had back problems, which eventually ended his career in the mid-1960s. Out of baseball, Pearson became an ordained minister, opening his home and mission to wayward youth. His work took him all over the world, spreading the Gospel, and creating a network of ministries.

            When Bo Belinsky passed away in 2001, it was Pearson who was with him toward the end. Bo had battled cancer for the past six years. Through Pearson he had accepted Christ. On his deathbed, Belinsky gave his final confession.

            Albie Pearson stands as a man among men; the biggest of them all! 

 

BY THE NUMBERS

 

.270 – Albie Pearson’s lifetime Major League batting average.

 

ALL-TIME BEST ANGELS PLAYERS FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA  

P Andy Messersmith, Anaheim

P Mike Witt, Anaheim

P Troy Percival, Moreno Valley

C Bob Boone, San Diego

1B J.T. Snow, Los Alamitos

2B Bobby Grich, Long Beach

SS Rick Burleson, Lynwood

3B Troy Glaus, Carlsbad

3B Doug DeCinces Burbank

SS Tim Foli, Burbank

OF Garret Anderson, Granada Hills

OF Jim Edmonds, Diamond Bar

OF Albie Pearson, El Monte

OF Brian Downing, Anaheim

MGR Marcel Lachemann, Los Angeles

MGR Gene Mauch, Los Angeles

Broadcaster Don Drysdale, Van Nuys

 

TRIVIA

 

Albie Pearson was noted for his devout Christianity. What other famous baseball figures had similar reputations?

 

A: Connie Mack, Major League player, manager, and owner, was deeply religious. His friend, Branch Rickey, credited his Christian faith with giving him the moral strength to break the “color barrier” by signing Jackie Robinson. He never appeared at the park on Sundays. The appropriately named Billy Sunday left baseball to become a famed revival preacher. John Werhas, a catcher from USC who played for the Dodgers, became a respected Southern California Christian minister.   

 

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