Pearson planted '60 slam, now helps churches grow


His baseball career over, his back killing him, Albie Pearson was in traction for 36 days in the hospital when he got the call.

"A call to the ministry," said Pearson, an Orioles outfielder in 1959 and 1960.

So, in 1967, a year after his major-league career ended, Pearson entered the ministry. He became ordained in 1972 and today is president of the nondenominational United Ministries International, which dispatches missionaries to establish churches.

"My job is pioneering -- planting -- churches throughout the West. When they grow to a certain size, I release them and go somewhere else and do it again. I've planted 17 churches in 21 years," said Pearson, 60, who lives in La Quinta, Calif., and has five daughters and 15 grandchildren, two married.

Thirty-five years ago, Pearson was a central figure in a rare feat. When Mo Vaughn and John Valentin of the Boston Red Sox hit grand slams in one game against New York two months ago, they were only the second duo to do that against the Yankees since the Orioles' Pearson and Billy Klaus.

It was so wildly improbable, that game April 24, 1960, in New York.

For one thing, the Orioles lost, 15-9, despite hitting three home runs, two of them grand slams. Al Pilarcik's homer was all the Orioles had entering the eighth inning trailing 12-1. Pearson connected in the eighth, Klaus in the ninth.

For another thing, Pearson and Klaus were unlikely home run hitters. Pearson, 5 feet 5 1/2 and 141 pounds, had 28 home runs in nine seasons. Klaus, a 5-9, 160-pound infielder, had 40 in 11 years.

"That grand slam was the only one of my career," Pearson said.

Ditto for Klaus.

"Like any other left-handed hitter, I was looking for a ball to drive to right field," Pearson said, recalling that Jim Coates was pitching for New York. "Even for a guy my size, that short porch in Yankee Stadium was inviting."

Pearson had been traded to the Orioles in May 1959 after being acclaimed American League Rookie of the Year in 1958 on the strength of a .275 average -- and three home runs -- in 146 games with the Washington Senators. He got a $4,000 raise to $11,000.

In December 1960, Pearson was selected 30th and last by the Los Angeles Angels in the AL expansion draft. He sent a persuasive letter to owner Gene Autry asking that the Angels choose him and saying that the back injury that bothered him early in 1960 had healed.

"In 1963, I was voted the starting center fielder in the All-Star Game," Pearson said. "Mickey Mantle was usually the starter, but I got off to a strong start."

Pearson's career-high .304 average that year sent his salary soaring from $22,000 to a heady $32,000.

Next: The starter who became a fireman -- a real one.

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