Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ex-Excelsior, Founding Father of Montgomery Baseball

Dr.Pearsall, I presume...


 Alabama's Link to Elysian Fields and the First Banned Player

Excelsior Club of Brooklyn 1860 (left to right): Thomas Reynolds, SS; John Whiting, 3B; Jim Creighton (holding ball), P; Henry D. Polhemus, 2B; Aleck T. Pearsall, 1B; Edwin Russell, LF; Joe Leggett, C; Asa Brainard, LF; and George Flanly, CF.

This is a chapter from my book: Montgomery's Nines - A History of Baseball in Montgomery Alabama.

A while back I read a post in MLB historian John Thorn's blog about Elysian Fields in which a letter writer is from Montgomery. Its not the focal point, just a sideline, but I made note of it since it fell in our city baseball history. Later when I looked deeper into it, I found a nice page with a little written about the player in question, but now that I go back and try to access it that page has fallen off the internet. 

I would like to credit both Thorn and this anonymous internet scribe for inspiring me to look into this odd piece of early Montgomery Baseball history a little deeper and expanding on what is known about this unheralded early figure in our baseball story. 


Andrew Thurston Pearsall
known as A.T. or maybe "Aleck", Pearsall was born in Florence, Alabama in April of 1839 and there he stayed until his family moved to Hoopers Valley in New York around 1845, where his father had grown up.

Pearsall would grow up as a dedicated student but like most boys, developed an interest in playing cricket and its variant, town ball. The early pre-baseball townball game was a sandlot sport played in many northern towns and cities, and has roots going way back into a murky antiquity.
"Stump ball" ca.1500's

A.T. Pearsall studied at several fine schools and eventually earned his Doctorate in 1861 from the Columbia, NY College of Physicians and Surgeons. While he was studying for his medical exams, he would take time out from classes to play cricket or baseball. He had progressed beyond simple town ball and had taken a position with one of the early organized amateur base ball teams. Comprised mainly of med students, the Aesculapians team deployed Aleck as a first baseman.
Pearsall ca 1859-60
That is where he was when the Excelsiors found him in early 1859, picking him up and adding him to the roles of the first organized league. With a membership of just over 50 men, the National Association of Base Ball Players was a very exclusive group of the best base ball teams in the world, and Aleck Pearsall was about to join them.

Jim Creighton
The Brooklyn Excelsiors, also known as the "Jolly Young Bachelor Base Ball Club", were led by star James Creighton, known as the top pitcher of the era - Jim Creighton is baseball's first great pitcher.

However, Creighton would also be its first fallen hero, dying from an on-field injury caused by his fierce swing of the bat rupturing internal organs.

Pearsall would man first base for the Brooklyn Excelsiors during their 1859 and 1860 seasons. He drew praise for his play and it was said there was no equal to him at the position to be found anywhere. It was an especially tough time to be a first baseman or catcher, since no gloves were used.
Pearsall, second from right in photo of Knickerbocker and Excelsior players
Pearsall was known for his big bat in the lineup, literally. He reportedly used a 50 inch bat. His defense was impeccable, known to not let any throws past him, an impressive feat even if embellished a little when described as his "steel trap style".

More than that, they were gentlemen. At a time when on-field antics and outrageous behavior plagued most teams, the Excelsiors demanded a more refined and level headed game that was ahead of its time. Bickering and unsportsmanlike play was simply not accepted, and in its place grew one of the first great teams in the early history of the sport.


The team took to the road in 1860, winning each contest handily while traveling as far south as Baltimore. One such victory was against the Hudson River club, who fell 59-14. The Excelsiors won 18, lost 2 that season. They had one tie - with the rival Atlantics.

That a baseball team would take to the road for an overnight trip was an oddity in 1860, but would set the precedent to encourage later teams to organize and eventually form leagues that involved travel requirements.

Even their hats were trend setting, the Excelsiors wore the first hats that would be considered "ball caps" by modern standards. With a bill and panels that would later be known as the "Brooklyn style" the Excelsiors were ahead of their time in so many ways.

Entrenched in the War between the States as the nation was, medical experts were in high demand and Pearsall was fresh from medical school in October 1861. He was contracted at $100 a month to be an Assistant Surgeon for the Confederates, working on the wounded at Richmond and Atlanta. He served at Roy Hospital and Fair Grounds Hospital in Atlanta, and was attached to the Kentucky Cavalry. He was known for his positive and easy disposition with patients, who were both Union and Confederate.

In fact it was while doctoring Union wounded and inquiring on the welfare of ex-teammates fighting for the Federals that word got back to the Brooklyn team about the Excelsior player now tending injured rebels. Of 91 current or former members of the Excelsiors who fight in the war, only Pearsall sided with the south. The remaining Excelsior players banned their former star first baseman, vowing to bar anyone who assists the Confederates from ever playing again.

Pearsall is discharged from duty in 1863, likely avoiding the worst of the triage that would be seen in the Confederate hospitals around Atlanta in the following months.

1870s baseball players in MGM
After the war, Aleck Pearsall came to Montgomery Alabama and opened a medical practice downtown. He also joined the Montgomery baseball team, the 1867 Montgomery team was known then as Pelham, though not based IN Pelham it is likely named for the local teams sponsor. Pelham, along with the Mobile Dramatics are the first recorded baseball teams in the state of Alabama, both being organized in the late spring of 1867.

I found it more than a little noteworthy that when the former Excelsiors star first baseman comes to Montgomery, Montgomery suddenly has its first baseball team.

Pearsall was one of, if not THE founding father of the game of baseball in Montgomery and all across Alabama, simply with his presence. He was instrumental with his participation on the first team in Montgomery. There is no more pedigreed player in Montgomery's baseball early ranks, perhaps the entire state.

Having Pearsall on the team would have educated its players on how to play the gentlemans game the right way. He brought knowledge of Jim Creightons pioneering fast pitching, of Leggets legendary catching moves, Asa Brainerds pitching brilliance and of the strategy employed by the early managers never known locally.

The postwar baseball scene was usually a locals vs locals event, rarely did teams travel far, but on at least one occasion a barnstorming team of Northern pros came through the south, playing games against Southern teams. It was reported that "former Brooklyn players" would appear for the Southern team, which would be Pearsall as the lone Confederate AND former Brooklyn Excelsior.

The 1870 Census records indicate Pearsall and his wife Mary had a daughter Osa, who was shown to be age 0. Also with them in residence was Mosses Holland, a 16 year old black youth from Georgia that the Pearsalls hired as domestic help and enrolled in the Negro School.
1870 Census

Dr.Pearsall was active in the medical community, listed among the areas prominent phsyicians. One reference describes some of his surgeries in the year of 1871:
Dr. A. T. Pearsall reports five amputations, two of the leg, one of 
the arm, and two of the fingers, also a number of fractures and 

Tombigbee River, White Bluffs at Demopolis
A "Mr.Pearsall" is on record as having been "highly recommended by prominent parties" to lead an expedition from the mouth of the Tombigbee River to the end of its navigation and file a report with the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers.

This excursion took place from the middle of September 1870 until March of 1871, when the report was filed. Its easy to guess that this exploring Mr.Pearsall is our former Excelsior.

1870s Fire Brigade on Parade on Dexter Ave
Aleck, now Dr.Pearsall, lived and worked in Montgomery until at least the late 1870s, which is where he was when he was asked about the 1866 Currier and Ives woodcut of the Elysian Fields game. Pearsall was able to identify the players as his former teammates and pick them out by name, as seen in a letter written to a New York newspaper describing the famous image and its historic players....

from THORNS blog:
A letter from a Mr. A. Jacobi of Montgomery, Alabama, to the New York Clipper, published on September 4, 1875, provided the identities of each man in the 1860 salt print, from which the Clipper executed a woodcut: Through the courtesy of Mr. A. Jacobi of Montgomery, Ala., we are enabled to lay before our readers a picture of the model baseball nine of the period when the game was entirely in the hands of the amateur class of the fraternity. Mr. Jacobi, in a letter to us, says he is indebted to Dr. A. T. Pearsall of Montgomery for the photograph sent us, that veteran first-baseman being still a “play list” in the South….  

 The picture contains the portraits of the following players: On the extreme left is the old shortstop of the nine, Tommy Reynolds…. Next to him stands John Whitney…. The third is James Creighton—he has a ball in his hand—the pitcher of the period par excellence, and the first to introduce the wrist throw or low-underhand-throw delivery. His forte was great speed and thorough command of the ball…. This team defeated nearly every nine they encountered in 1859 and 1860, but in the latter year they had to succumb to the Atlantics….

A.T.Pearsall moved back to Oswego New York in the 1880s with his daughter and retired to run a small doctors practice there until his passing in 1905. He was active in watching youth sports, especially baseball and basically enjoyed being a quiet town doctor.

Just a year before his death, Oswego NY learned that their old doc was the star first baseman of the 1860s, and the elderly Aleck received a round of recognition for his past diamond exploits before the sun set on the first banned player.

*** Some references list Pearsall as a native Virginian, but there is little to back up that claim.

*** Other sources place Pearsall as a New York state native who is married to an Alabama woman and say he changed his birthplace claim when the war breaks out. In fact, Pearsall doesn't marry until after the war. I find the most reliable family reference to him as born in Lauderdale County, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals.

*** Some references say the nickname "Aleck" was never used during his lifetime, only attached later by sportswriters and baseball historians. Either way, this is how he is known, so I use it too.

*** Census records sometimes spell his last name as "Pearsol"

*** The Montgomery Medical Assn in 1871 spells his middle name "ThuRston", as does Hobart College where he attended pre-med classes. Others list the name as "Thuston", without the R.

*** The A.Jacobi of Montgomery likely isn't "of Montgomery" at all - Dr.A.Jacobi of Albany, New York 1870-90's era is probably friends with Pearsall and enjoying a visit. Jacobi may even have known Pearsall as the former ballplayer and is surely the author of the letter.

*** In Greek Mythology, The Elysian Fields was where the souls of the heroic and virtuous reside after death, ruled by Hades. In base ball, The Elysian Fields of Hoboken is the site of the first organized base ball game ca.1845. In 1865 the championship match between the Mutuals and Atlantics was the subject of a popular print by Currier and Ives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Schadenfreude Series, 2015 ASG Plans, Affiliate Shuffle


The Southern League playoffs

Theres Jacksonville, who turned down a chance to move to triple-A versus the Lookouts who haven't won since the 1980s and will lose their affiliation after the last out of the championships.

Eliminated already are the Mobile Baybears who will also likely lose their affiliation and the Huntsville Stars who have announced a move but may not have a park to play in. All in all its the battle of failing franchises.

For me, its not about who wins, its about enjoying who loses. There isn't a standout team in the league to pull for and each of the contenders were antagonistic to the fans on their trips to Montgomery, so I wish they could all enjoy the agony of defeat.


Even as Chattanooga plays for its first title since the Reagan administration, the Dodgers are ready to bail out on the Lookouts and the Southern league as a whole.

The dodgers purchased their triple-A affiliate and would like their double-A team to have a closer drive to Oklahoma City. The player development contract between the Dodgers and the Lookouts will not be renewed, regardless of the outcome of the Southern league playoffs. Tulsa has not renewed with the Rockies and its expected the Dodgers would try to agree to have their double-A team there.

So win lose or draw the Lookouts will have a new big league parent club next spring, assuming they can lure and approve the shuffle.

Up for new PDC's at the double-A level are Arizona, Minnesota and the Rockies. Yet to renew are Mobile, Chattanooga, Tulsa and New Britain, the latter of which intends to move next season. Also yet to finalize are Erie-Tigers, Jackson TN-Mariners, Midland CA-Athletics, Richmond-Giants partnerships.  

Word on the street says that we could get the Colorado double-A team, but you didn't hear it from HuggyBear.

Teams have until Sept 11th to announce termination of contracts with minor league teams. Between Sept 16th and October 7th teams can negotiate new affiliations with Major League parents, but if no deal is struck by then MLB will pair teams with affiliates.

The forced pairings would likely be for the usual two years, deals signed by willing MLB-MiLB partners are scheduled to run in even-numbered years.

We were told that coming this month would be details of the Biscuits-hosted AllStar Game and Festivities.

I still think its a travesty that no effort has been made to hold the HomeRun Derby at Paterson Field, or alternatively, the very much rebuilt Cramton Bowl.

What do I expect? A pile of sponsorship related events, a Banquet sponsored by Creek Casino, Alfa Home Run Derby, 2015 Allstar Game.

I have hopes we could invite Dick Greco and Richard Egan, the Montgomery All Time single season Homerun and Strikeout leaders. Perhaps we could bring back former Rebels John Young and Bud Lively.

I have already said I hoped they would bring Jim Tocco as on-field Emcee, an appearance by the Famous Chicken as repeat performers from the 2006 ASG would be wonderful.

I also expect to see DJ Kitty. There is no excuse, Biscuits!

Perhaps we could bring on some other treats...

Bring Domingo Ayala to the Southern League AllStar Game 2015.
You got the AllStars, why not bring THE Star?

Three time rookie of the year Domingo Ayala would be a great pre-game show and a super treat for Montgomery fans who are a little tired of the same Myron Noodleman and BirdZerk type acts we have since since 2004.

Old Timers Game -

Ted Brazell
Ask a local legend like Ted Brazell to captain one of the teams and recent MLB regular like Marlon Anderson to skipper the other and lets have at it!

Old Timers games are great!
It could be a good use the day before the ASG and would give the fans a real chance to enjoy the history and learn about local ballplayers that made it to the majors.

Did you know that 318 current or former major league players were born in the state of Alabama? We only need about a dozen...

Alternate Suggestion: Mix in a few local celebs and offer up a softball game as another option. Can Rich Thomas pitch a couple innings?

SUGGESTED SPONSOR - Montgomery Advertiser & WSFA

 Throwback Jersey

1954 Montgomery Rebels jersey
The old Montgomery road jersey would be a perfect style to offer as a shirt giveaway, coupled with the vintage logo of a sponsor, perhaps on the sleeve or back

No need to offend with a different team name, focus on the City and maybe its Capital of Dreams concept.


Throwback Game

I don't buy the excuses for not using Paterson Field for the Home Run Derby, but nonetheless I think Montgomery fans would love to see a one-game throwback at the old park.

Paterson Field
The field there is in better shape than the Riverwalk turf was this summer, the Biscuits lead the league in Food Carts, the teams would be able to dress and bus to the park in less than five minutes. 

Pre-sell the game jerseys the players will wear to cut down on expense.

Include Hank Sr, whose gravesite is just a few hundred feet from the ballpark, Hank could be commemorated with a patch on the jersey. It will be the 70th anniversary of Hank appearing on WSFA in Montgomery, singing on a weekly radio program in 1945.

SUGGESTED SPONSOR- Coca Cola, longtime sponsor of Mgm baseball, Hank Williams Sr Museum

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Season Wrap - 2014 Montgomery Biscuits

The Biscuits in 2014 were nice guys, but didn't finish last.

Thank you Pensacola.

Mgr Williams
That said, the Montgomery team of 2014 was a club built of fine players who somehow added up to less than the sum of their parts. The talent on the roster didn't quite result in production on the field. Brady's boys just weren't able to get the engine to fire on all cylinders at the same time.

The biggest factor at play may have come months before the season, as the Rays dealt a pair of pitchers from the projected Biscuits rotation for a benchwarmer with a career batting average of .239 (forsythe). Taking Jesse Hahn and Felipe Rivero from the top of the rotation without replacing them forced Montgomery to heighten expectations from the same guys who had trouble at the end of last year.

Also, we had a BIG announcement - we added a pig to the mascot roster. The first pig didn't make the cut though, being too big to handle and rough on the turf she was traded for a smaller and tamer pig.

Popular in concept, during the first homestand the piggie pooped and sent the Biscuit Bunch headed for the exits as Miss Gravy squealed in panic upon seeing her first Opening Day crowd.
New Pig


The Biscuits surprised everyone by beating the parent Tampa Rays in an exhibition game, but overall fans found it hard to identify with individual players in part due to the cutting of the "Meet the Team" event.

Instead of offering die hard fans a chance to support the guys who would be here all year, the Biscuits planners made it impossible for kids and parents to fight through autograph-seeing paparazzi for big league signatures.


The exhibition game overwhelmed the staff at the park who were unprepared for the large crowd. It set the theme on the concourse for the entire summer as long lines and lacking preparations became expected. At the event, nobody announced that the Joe Madden QnA questions had to be pre-submitted, so we were treated to deep insights such as "What is your favorite hoody?". Pathetic.

However the team started off like gangbusters, having a great month of April and giving fans high expectations. The weather was fine and the Biscuits were hot and fresh.

The bullpen was bulletproof, the starting pitchers were spotting strikes, the hitters were rapping out hits and stealing bases. Biscuits fans were blissed about taking four of five games in three different April series. We were ready for a summer of great baseball in Montgomery!

We saw... this... in April


Starting catcher Curt Casali was promoted on May 5th and the team would struggle without his potent bat in the lineup. Luke Maile, and later in the summer Justin O'Connor, would handle the catching duties in fine form, but failed to offer up a match to Casali's massive .600 On Base Percentage.

Also on the 5th, Jeremy Moore arrived, bringing his strikeouts and bad attitude with him. He was terrible at home and mad about it, shooting angry glances at fans and generally sulking around the ballpark. On the road, he hit a few homers and put up enough average (.189) to keep him in the game one final season as "organizational depth".


May saw the Skitz first losing month, a trend of bullpen failures, low run totals and sporadic defense. After running aggressively in the first month, the Biscuits seemingly stopped stealing bases at home and only ran sparingly on the road. 

RHP Jake Thompson was promoted, probably deservedly so, but Montgomery fans couldn't help but wonder who would pitch after the third arm was taken from the rotation.
Kevin Brandt arrived, Matt Ramsey came off the DL.
Roberto Gomez was promoted from Charlotte, made eight bad starts and went away with an ERA flirting with 6.00. He was replaced in the rotation by Grayson Garvin, who would be on a strict pitch count as he worked his way back following surgery.


The Biscuits annual June Swoon struck in May with the Skitz dropping six of the first ten games of the month. It could have been worse, but one game was suspended due to weather and we waited to lose it until 5/27.

The end of May wasn't any better, Biscuits losing eight of eleven games to close out the month. The fans were not thrilled.
Not thrilled at all.

How not good?
3b Riccio Torrez said "The hell with this" and went home. He simply retired. Perhaps he was the smartest Biscuit player, seeing the writing on the wall earlier than the rest of us. Or at least, acting on what we were all seeing.

Losing four of five games to woeful Pensacola left a bad taste in Biscuit fans' mouths, especially when Wahoos fans were... well, they were wahoos. Its not easy to put an entire organization in a bad light in one series, but a contingent of obnoxious P'Cola fans managed to create a rivalry in the worst of ways. No worse fans in the league than the ones who follow the Wahoos on the road can be found, and the report is that the home fans are cut from the same cloth.

In June we saw... the dugout filled with water

Torrez retired, Hextor Guevara was the replacement.
Motter and Mortensen went to the DL, catcher Jake DePew came in for a few weeks as a backup backstop when Luke Bailey was sent to Charlotte.
Braulio Lara, who started the season in the Biscuits pen and had been promoted to Durham, was sent back.

Useful reliever Matt Ramsey was dealt to the Marlins for international draft slot money, and of course Ramsey would come back to haunt the Skitz. Matt helped anchor playoff bound Jacksonville, taking another good arm out of Montgomery.
Angel Sanchez came to Montgomery on June 13th. Two innings into his first start he was aptly dubbed Angel "of death" Sanchez. He lasted two starts.

Sam Runion was released mid month, quietly axing another useful arm.
Jeremy Moore was sent to Durham after six homers and 29 strikeouts in 120 at bats.
We got a closer in Cory Burns, the only way the Rays could get him regular work was to send him to MGM, as the Durham bullpen is logjammed.


The Biscuits had a series win against each of the teams it faced, MBraves, Pcola, Jackson and Chattanooga. Only the late month series against Jacksonville ruined the streak, as the Biscuits seemed to right the ship for the second half.

The Skitz scored five runs or more in 11 victories in July, the bats coming alive and the team putting up enough runs to support any pitching staff.

Not that the pitchers were slacking, in July they held the opponents to three runs or less in ten of the teams victories.

In July we saw... Segovia walk off hit! Click for video

Albert Suarez arrived, offering much needed help to the rotation. Underappreciated or simply not noticed during the scrum, Suarez pitched better than his record indicates and helped make a bad scene better with his efforts.

Jeff Malm returned from injury and added a bat to the lineup. He was used at first base but seemed to be rusty at the position and would spend more time in the outfield later in the season.

Jeremy Hellickson was sent for a rehab appearance, but it was made on the road as the Tampa Rays continued to show their dissatisfaction with the Biscuits facilities.

Parker Markel came to bolser the bullpen. We needed him. At this point the starting pitching had been working hard to fill for the Rays adding Logan Forsythe at the big league level.

All Star 2b Ryan Brett hurt his shoulder on a dive and went to the DL. Leo Reginatto was his replacement but the FSL AllStar struggled against the Southern League pitchers.

and one/thirtieth of September

The month started with existent but fading playoff hopes hope but like any Biscuit left on the plate for four months, they simply got stale.

Dr Miraculous assists with sobriety test
The Lookouts, with a worse season record than the Biscuits, swept the Skitz at home and essentially knocked us out of the playoff race as we learned a much less talented team could shut us down with lefthanded pitching. Chattanooga, anemic before having breakfast at Cracker Barrel Eastchase, were invigorated and rode the wave all the way to the playoffs.

Cracker Barrel, with road team hotel in background
Where we all once thought Willie Argo would break the team record for stolen bases, it became apparent that wasn't in the cards. Ryan Brett also could have had a shot at the steals record, but the Biscuits seemed to stop the running game in the second half in favor of a station-to-station brand of American League ball.

In August we saw... Taylor Motter walk off, click for vid


Jake DePew was sent back to the StoneCrabs and Justin O'Conner promoted. O'Conner would prove to be a fabulous catcher at stopping the running game, cutting down 8 of 11 would be basestealers. He has good skills at blocking balls in the dirt but seemed to lack the ability to knock down high or wide pitches that result in passed balls.
O'Conner homers in his first at bat with Biscuits

Cory Burns would be sent to Durham when it was realized we couldn't get him regular work, a closer doesnt pitch if the team doesnt win.
Brett came off the DL, Segovia came back after a brief paper move sent him to High-A for a week or two.
At the end of the month Kevin Brandt returned to help the pen play out the string. Grayson Garvin went to the DL more to limit his innings than for any other reason.

We stank.

Ryan Brett - .303 batting avg, 6 hr, 27 SB and outstanding range at 2b.

Yes, I know, everyone loves the Taylor Motter choice, I do too. 
But the team was better when Brett was playing. Motter didn't keep us from losing games, Brett did. 
Yes, I know about the walkoff home runs, but consider this - Other than HR/RBI Ryan Brett is better in every offensive stat. Brett played in a dozen fewer games than Motter.

Taylor Motter .274 batting average, 17hr, 15 SB

Andrew Bellatti/Bryce Stowell

This pair of relievers outdid any of the starting pitchers on the staff, a pair of stats sets them apart and gives them the edge over all the others.

In a combined 84 games the duo allowed fewer hits than innings pitched AND struck out more than one hitter per inning.

When these guys came in, we were more likely to see a strikeout than a hit, a rarity among 2014 Biscuits pitchers.

Bellatti  71 IP  69 hits, 80K  3.68 ERA
Stowell  49 IP, 39 hits, 54K  1.99 ERA

There was so much this season that I missed things that will have to be covered in the offseason - Big Mo passed out, Kes Carter came and played well, the starting pitchers soldiered on, the coaching staff had its ups and downs, the fans were loud and drunken and a few were injured on bad foul balls.
Much was learned and much to be discussed over the offseason!