The shortest nonmidget major leaguer was Pete Burg, 5'1", who played 13 games, all but one at second base, for Boston in 1910. The shortest baseball executive was Donald Davidson, 4-foot even. When he was traveling secretary of the Braves in the '60s, he went with another team official and his wife to a University of Georgia football game in Athens. All three had quite a few drinks and decided it would be safer alter the game to stay in a motel and drive home the next morning. When they checked in, the desk clerk surveyed them with asperity and said, "Y'all's little boy is drunker than y'all are."
Smallness as both charm and curse may be seen in the career of Albie Pearson, who played outfield for four American League teams between 1958 and 1966. His parents, themselves small, pegged him for a little guy from the beginning, naming him after Albie Booth, the distinguished watch-fob Yale halfback of 1929-31, and by age 12 Pearson was so much shorter than his peers that he was given shots of testosterone three times a week.
His first minor league manager took one look at him and said, "What is this thing? He's the smallest thing I've seen since Bill Veeck's midget." When Pearson made it to the big leagues (or at least to the Washington Senators) he was officially 5'5" and bridling at sportswriters' insistence on making him 5'4⅞".
"Around here." he said as a rookie, "there's nobody my size. I'm wearing the batboy's trousers." He received enormous media attention and, partly for that reason, a mixed reception from even the little guys on his team. "A fine player of small stature. Has a good chance," said 5'8" Rocky Bridges, a good-natured shortstop who noted. "I love to warm up with [Pearson] because he makes me feel like I'm throwing downhill." But thorny 5'8" catcher Clint (Scrap Iron) Courtney grumbled, "What we need is men with strength. He isn't going to bust up any games for us. When I go down in my crouch, I can't sec him over the mound. It's like playing without a centerfielder."
Pearson hustled showily, "ran the bases like a toy terrier," to quote one observer, hit a hard .275 with traces of power and was named the 1958 American League Rookie of the Year. The fans and reporters ate him up, but his organization traded him the following May to Baltimore. The Orioles soon let Pearson go to the Angels, for whom he had a couple of good years. He made the American League All-Star team once. But his story was always his size. Ted Kluszewski, his hulking Angel teammate, went to borrow a dime from a pocket of Pearson's pants, which were hanging in his locker, and couldn't get his hand into it. "[Pearson has] a lot of little motions that make a hot dog," said crusty 6-foot outfielder Hank Bauer. "Gets you mad as hell sometimes."
"It's difficult for a little man to be humble" is how Pearson put it. Also, "I don't mind having a bad day, but I hate to look bad. Then I look like a little boy. I hate to look like a little boy."
When Pearson retired in 1967, he became a traveling fundamentalist preacher and youth counselor. He didn't regret not having a longer playing career, he said: "It's so much more rewarding to see just one kid coming out of the pits of hell."
Freddie Patek, whom several active little guys cite as an inspiration, was listed at 5'5" but now says he was really 5'4". He put in 14 years as a quality shortstop with Pittsburgh, Kansas City and California, and he never let being called Cricket, the Flea and Moochie get him down.
Patek is now a roving minor league instructor for the Brewers. "I don't consider 5'9" short," he says. "I would have killed to be 5'9"."
"Freddie Patek and Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were my heroes," says Yankee infielder Mike Gallego, who is listed at 5'8", but that may be pushing it. "Rose may be a taller man, but he was very aggressive in the way he played. Joe Morgan, the Little Big Man. He had pop. And when I finally met Freddie Patek, the strength of his hand was unbelievable. But I did tower over him.