Oliver T. Pecord had a brief minor league career during the last decade of the 19th century, but for a brief time was known around the world for his pivotal role in another sport.
Born April 5, 1869, in Troy, NY, Pecord began his career in 1890 with the Flint Flyers in the Michigan League. Pecord is credited with a .371 career average, but the available statistics appear incomplete. For example, several newspaper accounts put Pecord with the Columbus Reds of the Western League in 1892, but there are no surviving statistics for 1892 for Pecord with any ballclub.
After playing in the Southern Association, Western League and Eastern Iowa League (where he is credited with a .660 average, 31 for 47 in 14 games with Rock Island in 1895) Pecord left professional baseball to focus on boxing.
Pecord was a popular fighter, and while mentioned often for bouts in and around his home in Toledo, he appears to have been a journeyman and unknown outside of Ohio. In 1900, Pecord turned his attention to work as an umpire for local semi-pro baseball leagues, managing fighters, and serving as a boxing referee.
Pecord went from a local sports figure to being known nationally when, in 1919, he was named as referee of the July 4 fight in Toledo between challenger Jack Dempsey and champion Jess Willard.
Pecord was at the center of the fight’s two controversies. The ringside bell had malfunctioned and replaced by a whistle which Pecord, nor anyone else in the crowd, could hear. Willard, knocked down for the seventh time in that round, was counted out by Pecord who raised Dempsey’s arm, and Dempsey left the ring. But the round had actually ended at the count of seven; Pecord informed Dempsey’s manager Jack Kearns that the fight was not over and his fighter needed to return to the ring.
Willard was unable to answer the bell for the fourth round and Dempsey was declared the winner, but because Willard’s corner did not throw in the towel until after the fourth round had begun, it fell to Pecord to rule exactly when, and how the fight ended. Two days later Pecord ruled the fight ended by a knockout in the third round.
This was not an insignificant decision because of the huge amount of money wagered on the bout—as an example, it was reported by the Associated Press that a man in Chicago who ran pari-mutual machines and a book on the fight, made $82,500 on the fight; $25,000 more than he would have made if Pecord ruled the fight over in the fourth round.
After the controversy around the fight died down, Pecord returned to relative obscurity nationally, but remained a popular figure in Toledo and served as a fight referee until the mid-thirties when illness forced his retirement.
Pecord died in Toledo on July 1, 1941. The Toledo Blade called him “(T)he most prominent figure in sports Toledo has ever produced.”