Billy Stage

From BR Bullpen

Charles Willard Stage

Biographical Information[edit]

In addition to playing baseball and football in college, umpire Billy Stage was an outstanding track and field athlete. On May 28, 1890, he won seven different events at a field day staged by Adelbert College (the future Case Western Reserve University), posting the best performance by an Ohio athlete that year in six of them. His time in the 100-yard dash, 10.2 seconds, was just two-fifths of a second slower than the professional record at the time. After completing hs undergraduate degree in 1892, he enrolled in the college's law school and also competed in the Amateur Athletic Union national championships. In a meet on September 2, 1893, he tied the world record for the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.8 seconds. He was at first dismissed by the east coast-based track and field establishment which cast doubt on the validity of his published times, but as he continued to set eye-popping times on various distances that fall, they had no choice but to recognize his worth.

In the spring of 1894, still attending law school, he took up umpiring of college games as a means of making some income. National League President Nick Young became aware of his application and decided to add him to his league's roster of umpires, given his impeccable character and foot speed (a valuable asset at a time when a single umpire was expected to literally cover all the bases), and in spite of his lack of high-level experience. He acquired that by working some college games, including exhibitions against major league teams, during which his work received praise. He was originally the spare umpire on the staff, but got to work his first game on April 26th. he received praise for his speed and hustle, often outrunning baserunners to first base, but unnoticed at the time, he had made a critical mistake, allowing Gus Weyhing to re-enter the game after coming out. This eventually led to the result of the game being cancelled. On May 1st, he declared a forfeit when Washington Senators captain Bill Joyce did not bring his teammates back on the field quickly enough after an argument and a warning. It was a rather unprecedented decision, but his bosses, Young and supervisor of umpires Harry Wright, stood up for him, even in the face of vehement criticism coming from the Nation's capital. The Washington Post was particularly vocal, criticizing his work on various occasions after that original incident. This was quite typical of the times, however. In June, Stage began to experience ill health and resigned on those grounds at the end of July.

Stage returned to school, and while his track and field sponsors argued that he had not lost his amateur status by working as a professional umpire, he decided against competing in any track meets that fall, concentrating on his studies instead. He worked a few more games in 1895. He passed his bar exam, and returned to competing on the track, but in November of that year, the AAU ruled that he was ineligible for future competitions for having become a professional. The decision was controversial, but he decided to concentrate on his legal career. He worked with the National League on some legal matters in future years and also became involved in local politics in Cleveland, OH. He began working for progressive mayor Tom Johnson, who was elected in 1901, in various capacities until his defeat in 1909. In 1911, following another election, he was appointed Director of Public Safety under a new mayor, Newton D. Baker, who had been close to Johnson. Two years later, he became the city's Director of Utilities. When the Democratic Party, to which he belonged, was voted out of power in 1915, he went to his law practice, where he was the principal counsel to local real estate and railroad magnates the Van Sweringen brothers. He retired in 1939 and died in 1946.

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