“Wilmington is in to the Finish”

10 Dec

When first-year manager Edgar Bear’s 1-9 Wilmington Sailors took the field on May 17, 1902 against the Durham Bulls, George Dudley Proud was, contrary to speculation in the press, assigned to work as umpire.

With the season just 10-games old Proud’s abilities as an umpire had been called into question by Bear, by Greensboro Farmers manager George “King” Kelly, and the press in Greensboro and Wilmington.

The game remained a scoreless tie into the bottom of the seventh inning.  The Wilmington Messenger said:

“Up to that stage it was a clean game, and there were many brilliant plays.  Neither side had scored.  Wilmington took her seventh inning and retired without any chance at the home plate.  Durham came up and (Otis) Stocksdale reached first on a clean hit and stole second. “

The next batter, John Curran, hit a ground ball to first baseman William “Germany” Dommel.  Proud ruled that Dommel did not touch first base and called Curran safe:

“This caused the trouble that resulted in Wilmington’s leaving the field.”

The team left the field and refused to return; Proud awarded the game to Durham by forfeit.  Bear’s role during the incident that led to the forfeit is unclear.   The Wilmington papers said he was present and in the stands, The Durham Herald said he was not at the ballpark when the incident took place.

What happened next is not in dispute.

The Durham Herald said:

“Umpire G. D. Proud, of the State Base Ball League, was assaulted last evening by Mr. E. J. Bear, manager of the Wilmington club.  The assault was the outcome of the kicks made by the Wilmington players in the game yesterday.”

According to the paper, Bear, accompanied by five Wilmington players, went to Durham’s Central Hotel and confronted the umpire.

“(Bear) knocked on the door of Proud’s room and being told to enter; he did so and started off by using insulting language.  This was followed by an attempt to strike the umpire.”

Bear was restrained by two hotel guests and arrested for assault.  Proud was fined $25 and released from jail the following morning.

The Messenger said:

“(Proud’s) conduct in Durham was such to make him many enemies, he told (a reporter) this morning that Durham had tried to ruin him and now he intended to break the state league if possible.  It is learned he telegraphed (North Carolina League) President (Perrin) Busbee this afternoon telling him either Durham or Wilmington had to get out of the league.”

On May 20 The Charlotte Observer published a letter from Bear, which read in part:

“I do most earnestly declare that in my opinion Mr. Proud is totally incompetent as an umpire, and the earlier he is relieved of his job the better it is for the league, and I desire to deny most emphatically that I ever made the statement that Wilmington was going to try to break up the league, or that either Durham or Wilmington had to get out of the league.”

Bear claimed he had not been in contact with the league president and said:

“I am manager of the Wilmington club at a great financial loss, but I have only the good of the league at heart, and intend that Wilmington shall remain a member of the league as long as any other club is in it, whether the Wilmington club wins another game or not.  And further that my best efforts will be given to make the league a success, financially and otherwise.  Wilmington is in to the finish.”

Wilmington was in to the finish—Bear was not.

The New Bern Daily Journal said:

“Manager Edgar Bear rather unceremoniously relinquished the management of the Wilmington baseball club (on May 25) by failing to provide transportation for the team to leave for the game at New Bern.”

Bear had disappeared.  His career as a professional baseball manager was over in less than a month.  He was replaced Harry Mace, who was an umpire in the league and a former professional player who had pitched in three games for the Washington Statesmen in the American Association in 1891.  Wilmington was 10-40 at the beginning of July when the team disbanded and the league was reconstituted with four teams.  Mace rejoined the league’s umpire staff.

Proud did not last much longer.  The day The New Bern Daily Journal reported on Bear’s exit, another article said:

“The New Bern team (the Truckers) arrived here (May 25), after its tempestuous three games at Raleigh…The team felt no discouragement from the loss of those games, which were under the complete control of Umpire Proud, who never gave new Bern a chance to win.”

Proud would resign before the end of May.  The Wilmington Messenger said he was “Honest, but not up to the requirements of the position.”

Proud became an umpire in the Tri-State League a month later.  He was also involved in automobile racing on East Coast, and created road maps.

Bear made the papers one last time.  On September 18 1905, Bear, going by the name of Eddie Merode and working as an acrobat in vaudeville performances in Utah.  The Charlotte Observer said police were called to “an opium joint” in Salt Lake City’s Chinatown were they found him “apparently dying of opium poisoning.”  He died later that day.

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