Thursday, March 14, 2013

Odd Arch Persons

Odd Arch Persons.....


When My Blog Becomes a Book


Deciphering Montgomery's Most Obscure Baseball Card

A conversation about the T-206 tobacco cards reminded me of one of Montgomery's former players. We had four entries into the tobacco set that year 1909, the T-206s are well known for their high priced stars and the super rare Honus Wagner card. Also they are popular among collectors for the cards in that set which illustrate the minor leagues, the Southern League portion of 48 being a huge batch of player cards. The Persons-Montgomery card is one of the more desirable of the Southern League-rs.

Montgomery had a nice team back then, we were known as the Senators, or alternatively the Climbers for our outfield hills at the local ballparks on Madison Ave's Cramton Bowl, as well as the lesser field used on Federal Drive near Capitol Heights Jr High. Four of our guys were included, infielder Jimmy "Hub" Hart, third baseman/manager Ed Greminger, shortstop/second baseman Ike Rockenfeld and......... Arch Persons.

Cramton Bowl ca 1920s, home of the 1908 Montgomery Senators & 1909 Montgomery Climbers

Arch Persons.

As I researched Montgomery baseball a few years ago, I found a serious lack of info on this guy. Other than the fact that a google search shows that Arch Persons was the name of Truman Capote's father. Originally his son was named Truman Streckfus Persons and from an affluent Alabama family, but later took the name Capote. So lets consider the possibility.... could a Montgomery ballplayer be related to one of Americas most famous writers?

Indeed Arch Persons and Lillie Faulk are the names of the parents of Capote, author of "In Cold Blood" and much more.

Lillie Mae Faulk
Capote's father, Archulus "Arch" Persons, worked as a clerk for a steamboat company. Persons never stuck at any job for long, and was always leaving home in search for new opportunities. The unhappy marriage gradually disintegrated. After his parents divorced, five-year-old Truman was brought up in Monroeville, Alabama. 

I have alternatively seen Capote's father described as a "non-practicing lawyer", "traveling salesman", "con man", "Svengali in a white linen suit" and "well educated ne'er do well". For an interesting example of Persons entrepreneurship, be sure to check out this story about his efforts in Monroe County Alabama's Depression era entertainment business.

Arch Persons and young Truman Capote


Killing the theory though, Archulus Persons, Truman's father, married Lillie Mae Faulk in 1923 when he was 26. That would mean Persons would have been about 12 when the T-209 set came out. I would say that rules out the Montgomery ballplayer as being the father of Truman Capote.

I am not the only blogger to come to this conclusion - this person also found the same search results and came to the realization that there were more than one Arch Persons in the South at the start of the 20th century. He breaks down whats accepted about the career of Arch Persons, marking the stops as Arch moved west from Montgomery to Little Rock to San Antonio and Oklahoma City before finishing up his baseball career in the Western Canadian league. Other than his .279 batting average, there isn't much info to go on - in fact we dont even know what position he played for the Climbers, though he was an outfielder by the time he ends up in Canada, where he wins the batting title.

On the Baseball Reference page for the 1909 Montgomery Climbers, Persons is the only player with "unknown" as a birthplace on the roster list!

We can say that it is highly unlikely that the Arch Persons pictured on the T-209 card is Truman Capote's father.  However it is within the realm of possibility that it could be his grandfather or other relative.

 The Tuscaloosa News gives us this in an interview with Arch Persons, Trumans father.
Persons said he wanted to let the paper know of Capote's local connection.

"Truman's grandfather, the late Arch Persons Sr., was head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Alabama for 10 years from 1898 to 1908," he said. Today Persons is a Vice President of Sales of the Watling Scale Company of Chicago

So there are indeed multiple people who go by the name "Arch Persons" wandering around L.A. (Lower Alabama, as its known down here!). I have seen it said that investigating the Persons family in genealogy uncovers Arch Persons III and even IV. Probably unlikely that the third and fourth would be playing baseball in Montgomery in 1909. Also unlikely is that the former Chemistry Prof would take to wandering west over the course of the next four years, though his exit from UofA in 1908 would let him join the team in time for the baseball season.

Which thumps us right back to square one. No idea who this guy is, and no farther along than any of the internet researchers who have pondered the possibility before me. But I do have a new wrinkle to add, a theory to consider on Archie Persons the Montgomery Senator and Climber.

Its possible someone ASSUMED the name Arch Persons in order to play baseball.
Vintage postcard view of Cramton Bowl in Climbers era


It would have been easy to get a job playing ball with any name, even into my own lifetime. Maybe not in todays world of background checks and drug tests, but just ask Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez if you can go a season or two being called a different name without being found out!
It was common for players to use assumed names, especially so in the that era and in the south. Even as many as ten years after Persons disappears from baseball its accepted that banned players turn up in the south on lesser teams with new names. 


Archie Persons - 1912 Western Canada League photo


However, as good as the Assumed Name theory sounds, it doesnt hold water when a more likely suspect can be offered. From the Wisconsin Alumni Magazine Vol.6 October 1904,
 "June 1st, Archie Persons '05 varsity left fielder, signs with Oskaloosa in the Iowa league"

He does not appear on the stats for the 1904 Oskaloosa Quakers stats, which doesnt surprise me because rookies had a terrible time getting into games back then. Especially in October.

However, in a nice surprise, the 1905 Quakers team has a "Pearsons?" listed! They show him with 98 games and a very nice .304 batting average, 114 hits in under a hundred games is a stat most players would take if given a chance. The SABR site has him listed as Unknown Pearsons on the '05 Quakers page.

If we look at Pearsons as an accepted alternate spelling for Archie's last name, we may have a hint of his abilities in Caduceus of Kappa Sigma, in which Wisconsin frat brother Archie Pearsons is mentioned as "...received prominent positions..." on the student Athletic Board and goes on to say "Bro Pearsons is a member of the gymnast team, and played left field on the 'Varsity baseball team, which received such commendable praise last spring"

And if there were still any doubt remaining, consider this item.......

The Feb 1909 issue of the Wisconsin Alumni Magazine says
"Archie Persons, who was on the 05 team, is now playing with Montgomery in the Southern League"
Archie turns up in Eu Claire Wisconsin newspapers in 1910 and again in 1914 owning a general store and still very much interested in baseball. It seems he was very popular and in spite of history not knowing much about him, someone must have, for in 1910 the S.F.Call included this article on Feb 12th.

Our man Archie gets a little press. Very little.

So now we see what happened in 1910. Though just barely, only two players are listed for the 1910 Stockton Baby Senators. However I think we can add a third in Arch Persons. In fact, Baseball Reference dot com already HAS an Archie Pearsons playing for Sacramento for 35 games in 1910.

In the newsletter for the Texas League, I found this in their section "This Day In Texas League History", printed in 2008 it was a mention of our mystery man from his days after leaving Montgomery.
 May 24, 1911 One day after gathering 23 hits, San Antonio got 18 more, yet lost to Oklahoma City 6-5 in 11 innings. Pinch hitter Archie Persons, who had been released by San Antonio earlier in the season, delivered the winning hit for the Mets in the final frame.

Going with the Pearsons spelling, we find the 1912 Vancouver Beavers show "Ed Pearsons?" on the stats list. Ten hits, all singles, .270 average for two teams... wait, TWO TEAMS? Clicking on "Ed" shows that he has plenty of other numbers, and yet they fit in with the missing stats on Archie Persons and Pearsons pages.




We have seen that before coming to Montgomery where he would be known as Arch Persons in 1908, this player seems to have started as Wisconsin University where he starred as the varsity left fielder through 1905. His frat brothers misspell his name as "Pearsons", setting a theme that will run throughout his career.

Upon turning pro he joins the '05 Oskaloosa Quakers and has a great rookie season with the name Pearsons.

In 1906 he is unknown, likely misspelled or unlisted.

At the start of the year in '07 he signs on with Decatur Illinois as a pitcher, winning six and losing four in 11 games under the name Ed Pearsons before moving on to Nashville the same season. With Nashville he gives up pitching and hits .233 in 88 games while settling back into the outfield.

1908 sees him head to Montgomery, where he would hit .280 for the sixth place Montgomery Senators and answer to the name Arch Persons.
The following season, 1909, he would start the year here as a Montgomery Climber but move on to Little Rock Ark midseason. He also finds his face appearing on baseball cards for the first time.

In 1910 he opens a general store in Eu Claire, hiring a clerk to keep shop while he is on the road playing ball, which gets a mention in his local paper.

He starts the season California, taking a job with the Sacramento Sacts for 36 games as Archie Pearsons and perhaps getting in a few games for the Stockton Ca. team as well. Later in the summer he would make the trip east to play for the Omaha Rourkes, so named for manager Billy Rourke and there he hits a disappointing .190 in just 16 games at the end of the summer. Possibly why his manager doesnt know how to spell his name properly, listing him as simply "Pearsons"
1911 rolls around and the only team to offer a job is San Antonio , which he takes until the call comes that his contract was dropped as Archie Persons. Then he picks up with Oklahoma City with the same name.

When the 1912 season starts he is in the Canadian league using the name Archie Persons where he gets into sixty games for Bassano in Canada and hits .379 to lead the league, which would be the highest mark of his career.

Leaving the Bassano Boosters midseason, he heads to the Northwestern League for the Tacoma Tigers under the name Ed Pearsons. On the tenth of August 1912 he was bought by Vancouver of the Northwest league. He finishes out the string for the Vancouver Beavers, hitting .270 in just 11 games split between Tacoma and Vancouver.

He may have attempted a comeback at age 43 as Ed Pearsons, playing in Gadsden Alabama in 1929 and Selma in 1930. If this is the same guy the comeback was a success, 101 games 8 homers and a .374 average in '29 with the lively "rabbit" ball of the post deadball era. The 1930 version was less impressive, 17 games with fourteen hits and a lowly .226 batting average.

After that, the trail goes cold.

Joe Pepe, Climbers Shortstop
If we check the teams he played on, we can get an idea of what age Archie was. In 1909 he was with Little Rock as well as Montg. The age of the LittleRock nine varies widely, from 21 year old Folbre born in 1887 to 43 year old O'Connor, who was born just after the War Between the States - June 1866.

The Climbers team is a little less of a wide scope of years, with the exception of 18yr old Joe Pepe, the team is aged from 22-34. From this we can put Arch Persons year of birth between '75 and '91. Looking at his T-206 card at the top of the page we might contend its closer to the former than the latter. If Archie was at Wisconsin in 1905, he would have been about 20 which puts his year of birth at 1885 or 1886.

 Curiously, Arch and Joe are the only members of the oh-nine Climbers to NOT reach the major leagues. Pepe has a long career in the minors, mostly the Southern League.

Manager/3b Ed Gremminger
From the numbers, we see Archie moved in mid-1909. His stats for that season are listed as 2 teams and 133 games played. But both teams he is with list the same stats, 133 games and .259 average, its not broken down by what he did for each team so we dont know how much time he spent playing for them. Its that way for many early players who split time between two teams.

Archies 133 games is pretty good though, so from that we can take that he is a decent defender at his position. He must hit well, .259 isnt great but you dont play every day on a team full of future major leaguers by hitting just okay and being a questionable defender. In fact he led the 09 team in at bats!


Jud Daley - Alabama born
Jud Daley* 137 games Left Fielder , also an alabama native
 Arch Persons 133 games
Ed Gremminger  117 games third base
Dan Kerwin  143 games Left Fielder
Champ Osteen 111 games  shortstop, third base, first base
Ike Rockenfeld  119 games shortstop, second base
George Whiteman  128 games Left fielder
Joe Pepe  120 games shortstop, third base
Hub Hart 95 games catcher
Owen Shannon 84 games  catcher, first base

Herb Juul, 25 games for MGM in 1909
Jimmy "Hub" Hart Climbers infielder
Looks like we have every position filled but two of our guys will be left fielders in the majors. We are told where Jud Daley patrols the outfield by baseball almanac, it says he is yet another left fielder, and Arch Persons will be seeing time in the outfield too!

From his photo of 1912 (seen above), we can see his batting stance. On his T-209 card he is shown throwing with his right hand, but often those cards were drawn beforehand leaving just the face unfinished until the artist could see the player and finish the portrait. Sometimes player images were taken from photos and sometimes dont look much like the guy!

OF Archie Persons 1912
So here is my suggestion for the back of Archies new baseball card:

Arch Persons
Left Field - Montgomery Climbers
Throws: Right
Bats: Left
Born: 1885 approx
Hometown: Eu Claire WI
Height: 5'11
Weight: 168

Former University of Wisconsin varsity left fielder in his first season with the Climbers, Archie is an athletic left fielder with a great arm who makes good contact at the plate. A clutch hitter, Persons was one of the league leading run scorers for the Montgomery Senators in 1908.

1905 Wisconsin University
1906 - did not play
1907 Decatur/Nashville
1908 Montgomery
1909 Montgomery/Little Rock
1910 Sacramento/Stockton
1911 SanAntonio/Oklahoma City
1912 Bassano/Tacoma/Vancouver
1929 Gadsden
1930 Selma

Hopefully this will help fill out the page on SABR for Archie Persons.


Searching for Simple Wisdom said...

Archie Lee Persons is the son of William Henry Persons and Licetta Samantha Lee. He is NOT the father of Truman S Persons AKA Truman Capote. His obituary is provided here.

Sawyer County Record Nov. 5, 1959

Archie Lee Persons, age 78 years, Exeland, WI, passed away Oct. 13 in Exeland. Heart failure was the cause of death.

Mr. Persons was born April 19, 1881, at Pierce County, WI. He lived in LaCrosse for 11 years and six years in Madison prior to moving to Sawyer County. He was married to Bessie Gisvold in Minneapolis, MN, on May 16, 1913.

Mr. Persons attended West Point Military Academy; Graduate of the University of Wisconsin; and was an amateur and professional baseball player. He was a charter member of the Masonic Lodge in Bruce, WI; ran the General Store in Exeland, and was a salesman for many years.

Surviving are his wife, two daughters, Mrs. George (Anita) Hartman, Exeland, and Mrs. William A. (Betty) Kelly, Jr., of Watertown, SD.

Funeral services were held Sat., Oct. 17 at 2:00PM from the McElravy Chapel, Ladysmith, with the Rev. John Eastburn officiating. Interment was in Exeland Cemetery.

Dr.Miraculous said...

Thanks for the comment!

However I clearly state that Arch Persons isnt Truman Capotes father. I also clearly note that the Persons in question is the same as the one you mention, the player from Wisconsin. The point of my article was to connect Persons with Archie Pearsons, the misspelling bringing his career into perspective when added to the now-corrected player info pages.

I am very interested in knowing those other person details, his attending West Point, owning a store etc.

Any chance you have more photos of Archie to add?
Thanks so much!