Grayson S. “Gracie” Pierce played parts of three seasons in the major leagues and was a National League umpire selected to preside over the final game of the 1886 championship series. It went downhill from there.
Pierce was born in New York City in 1860. Nearly every contemporaneous newspaper account referred to him as “Grace,” not “Gracie.”
Pierce hit .186 playing for five different teams in the American Association and National League during his brief big league career; he was only slightly more successful during his single minor league season playing with the Hartford Babies and Binghamton Bingoes in 1885.
During his playing career there are references to Pierce occasionally serving as an umpire in college and professional games, and according to The Cincinnati Commercial he worked as a longshoreman in New Orleans each winter; he became a National League umpire in 1886,
In October of 1886, The Chicago White Stockings of the National League met the St. Louis Browns in the 1886 World Series. Pierce was selected to serve as umpire in game 5, but according to The St. Louis Globe- Democrat, “(H)e was not on the grounds, as a long search revealed.”
Pierce got his chance the following day—with St. Louis leading the series 3-2, he was again selected to serve as umpire. It didn’t go well for the White Stockings or Pierce.
Chicago blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning and lost the game in the tenth. Pierce’s performance was universally panned. The Globe-Democrat said:
“For Umpire Grace Pierce of the League staff had been selected. His judgment was weak and his decisions throughout the game gave rather poor satisfaction.”
The Globe-Democrat’s assessment was echoed elsewhere as well. The Chicago Inter Ocean said that among the crowd:
“There was much loud talking and opinions of Pierce were quite freely expressed.”
Pierce was not a member of the National League staff the following year and instead worked in the International Association. In September, a variety of charges were made against Pierce by the owner of the Syracuse Stars. The complaint, filed with the league, said Pierce was drunk at games in Syracuse and Newark, and also claimed as reported by The Rochester Post-Express:
“(Pierce) had forced Con. Murphy (Cornelius Murphy) to drink against the latter’s will and that he took (Tom) Lynch out of bed at 10 o’clock at night and started out ‘to do the town’ both returning in the morning ‘boiling drunk.’”
Pierce denied the charges saying Murphy concocted the story after Pierce had ejected him from a game and fined him $3 in Newark. The Post-Express sided with Pierce and said:
“Grace is not a total abstainer, but in his long career on the ball field he has never been charged with drunkenness. So far as Con. Murphy is concerned it has never been known before that he would have to be forced to take a drink.”
As for the charges regarding the drinking binge with Lynch, Pierce said:
“I was going home I found Lynch drunk in the street, I took him home and put him to bed.”
There is no record of what became of the charges, but Pierce did continue working as an umpire on the East Coast through the 1891 season.
The Sporting Life reported that Pierce did not have a position with a league for the 1892 season.
He disappeared for two years and was not heard from again until July of 1894 when The New York Times reported:
“(Pierce) formerly a baseball player and umpire, was arraigned before Justice Burke in the Harlem Police Court yesterday morning charged by Barney Brogan a liquor saloon keeper…with stealing $35 from his cash drawer after the saloon was closed.”
Pierce, who The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described as being “in a half-dazed condition” in court, denied the charges but was unable to post the $1000 bond. He was sent to Blackwell’s Island (the prison located on what is now Roosevelt Island). He became ill and died at City Hospital on Blackwell’s Island six weeks after his arrest.