By Clarence Watkins, author of Baseball in Montgomery
Baseball in Montgomery has been a long time coming. I found the Montgomery history more difficult to obtain than that of other southern cities. Montgomery’s history was complicated by having played in seven different professional baseball leagues, using thirteen different team names; and spending forty-one years of its baseball timeline of 125 years without any professional baseball. What kind of history could come from such a fragmented past? Fortunately for me I quickly unearthed several long forgotten stories that would give me the enthusiasm to see this project to completion. Montgomery baseball has five unique and very interesting stories in its baseball history.
First was the story of a Civil War Confederate Army surgeon who moved to Montgomery after the war. He brought with him not only his medical skills, but a knowledge of the very birth of modern baseball. Dr. Aleck Pearsall went to medical school in New York City before the war. He also played baseball for the Brooklyn Excelsiors, a team noted for several major innovations to the national game. He also played first base for the Excelsiors in games against the New York Knickerbockers, who were the very creators of the rules for our national game. Dr. Pearsall came to Montgomery with a love for the game and the ability to teach the finer points of baseball to others. Montgomery would be playing a more advanced game of baseball long before other southern cities.
With the help of sports writer, Bill Plott, author of “The Negro Southern League”, I was able to tell an almost unknown history of the Montgomery Grey Sox, a Negro baseball team, which would be the centerpiece of the Negro Southern League from 1920-1960. The Montgomery Grey Sox served as a minor league team, giving young black players the opportunity to learn the game and hopefully move on to the Negro National and American Leagues.
The lapses in Montgomery baseball made it easy for early baseball heroes to be forgotten. Such was the case of Roy ‘Goat’ Walker, twice proclaimed a fan favorite by Montgomery baseball. In 1979 Montgomery Advertiser sports writer, Bob Mayes, tried to retell Walker’s story in a series of articles so fans would not forget. Walker was a knuckle ball pitcher who could also play every position. He played for Montgomery early in his career, being part of Montgomery’s first sports championship. Later toward the end of his career Walker returned to play for Montgomery again. Both times fans gave him a Roy ‘Goat’ Walker Night. During the second reconigation Walker played all nine positions in the game. The Troy, Alabama native should not be forgotten for all he contribed to our state’s baseball history, having also played for Birmingham and Selma.
Sports dynasties are difficult to maintain, even more so at the minor league level. From 1972 to 1977 the Montgomery Rebels won five out of six Southern League Championships, certainly a feat that will not be equaled. These Rebel teams produced much of the baseball talent that would form the nucleus of the World Champion Detroit Tigers in 1984.
Lastly, Montgomery experienced an unbelievable baseball revival in 2004 with the coming of the Montgomery Biscuits. After a twenty four year absence of professional baseball, Southern League baseball returned to Montgomery in a big way! A new ballpark was constructed in the downtown area near the river and built into part of an old train station. This led to a revitalization of the downtown area bringing new restaurants, hotels, and shops. The Biscuits teams have given Montgomery several league championships to be proud of. The future looks bright for professional baseball in Montgomery, but let us not forget about the history that came before us. A history, I hope, “Baseball in Montgomery
” will help rekindle and lead to more research and appreciation.