Academic journal article Base Ball

Expelled by a Unanimous Vote: The Curious Saga of Dr. A.T. Pearsall

Academic journal article Base Ball

Expelled by a Unanimous Vote: The Curious Saga of Dr. A.T. Pearsall

Article excerpt

The first baseman of the great 1860 Excelsior Club of Brooklyn has had a secure niche in baseball history. His claim to fame has been recounted by quite a few sources, often with minor variations, but this has been the gist: Aleck Pearsall, first baseman of the pre-war Excelsiors, was a doctor who enlisted in the Confederate Army. In 1863, his allegiance came to the attention of the Excelsior Club, whose members unanimously voted to expel him.1

And with that, Pearsall takes his bow and exits the baseball stage. A few sources note that he was playing ball in Richmond in 1866, while others report that a year or two later he was practicing medicine in Montgomery, Alabama, and playing first base for the Montgomery Base Ball Club. There are also a few references to Pearsall's stellar play for the Excelsiors and some claims that he originally played for a Brooklyn club of doctors known as the Aesculapeans (by various spellings). That is essentially where his story has traditionally ended, leaving a host of unanswered questions: What became of Pearsall? What led him to side with the Confederates? Did he retain an interest in baseball in later life?

None of those questions could be answered without identifying Pearsall, so that is what we set out to do first. After completing our research, we were pleased to discover that Brian McKenna, a diligent researcher who blogs at baseballhistoryblog.com, had independently explored the same subject in May 2010 and come to the same surprising conclusion about Pearsall's identity.

Confederate service records were the obvious place to begin research and they contained only one candidate: an "A.T. Pearsall," who served as surgeon of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry and fulfilled many other medical duties for the Confederate Army. Eventually he became a brigade surgeon under Colonel William C.P. Breckinridge and served in that capacity until near the close of the war.2 After the war, this man settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where he practiced medicine from 1868-1878. As additional proof, he had studied medicine at Columbia College's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York and had also been affiliated with hospitals in Richmond and Atlanta.

It was a perfect match in every respect except for one: This man's full name was Andrew Thustin Pearsall, not Aleck as given in so many sources. This necessitated a return to contemporaneous coverage and it soon became clear that the names Aleck and Alexander appeared in none of them. The 1863 article describing his expulsion from the Excelsior Club referred to him as A.T. Pearsall, and so too did the subsequent note that he was practicing medicine in Montgomery. Game accounts and retrospective pieces similarly referred to the ballplayer as either Pearsall or as A.T. Pearsall, never as Aleck or Alexander. This does not of course preclude the possibility that Aleck was a legitimate nickname that just doesn't appear in any extant sources-proving such a negative is never feasible. Yet there appears to be no basis for it and most likely it is simply an error passed along from one work to another.

With his identity now established, what could be learned of the life of Dr. Andrew Thustin Pearsall? Pearsall was born on April 22, 1839, the son of Thomas Pearsall and his wife Martha, whose maiden name of Thustin was given to Andrew as a middle name. There has been some confusion about whether he was born in Alabama or New York and, in light of his later decision to fight for the South, it is not an insignificant question.

Birth records from that long ago are not able to provide a definitive answer, but the clear preponderance of available evidence points to Florence, Alabama, as his place of birth. Alabama was given as his place of birth on most census listings and in all biographical profiles of Dr. Pearsall, including his obituaries. An even stronger piece of evidence is a biographical sketch of Pearsall's father that explains the circumstances of the Alabama birth and provides additional insight into his son's early years. …

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