By STEVE KRAH
You don’t know Bo.
Elkhart, Ind.-raised Walter Scott “Bo” Slear was a baseball character in the early part of the 20th century.
Slear, the son of Elkhart park superintendent and councilman John W. Slear, was born in “The City with a Heart” in 1878 and died in Brooklyn, Mich., in 1939.
Bo was a popular player, manager and umpire in the upper Midwest who some newspapers drew comparisons to Rube Waddell and Arlie Latham and was connect to other famous Deadball Era names like Fred Merkle and Elkhart’s Lou Criger.
No, Slear was not known to chase fire engines like the colorful Waddell, but he did gain fame for saving a drowning youth. Baseball Hall of Fame-bound Waddell caught pneumonia after helping save flood victims in Kentucky and never fully recovered, dying at age 37 in 1914.
The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette compared Slear to Latham.
In 1903, the paper said Bo “keeps witty lines going all the time” and offered that “after the Muncie team had put Wagner to the bad yesterday in the sixth, a long fly was knocked to right field after two men had been retired. As the ball left the bat Slear threw down his glove and called the boys to come in, as he knew Belden had the ball.”
Slear played for a short time in 1906 with the Class C Northern Copper Country League’s Calumet (Mich.) Aristocrats, a team that featured future or former big leaguers Biddy Dolan, Ed Kippert and Doc Miller and went on to win the pennant, and then Bo moved on to the Class D Southern Michigan League’s Tecumseh Indians.
In 1907, Bo managed and manned left field while hitting four of his seven career minor league homers for Tecumseh, SML champions.
Those Indians clubs featured not only several mostly “cup of coffee” major leaguers — Gene “Rubber Arm” Krapp, Wib Smith, Dolly Stark and Flint., Ind., native Jock Somerlott — but the son-to-be-infamous Merkle, who led the 1907 Tecumseh team with six homers.
You may have hear about Merkle’s controversial “Bonehead” baserunning decision while with New York Giants in 1908?
While Slear hit .268 for Tecumseh in 1906, Bo was a hero for his act of bravery away from the diamond.
Here’s how the Adrian Daily Telegram described his praiseworthy deeds on Dec. 15, 1906:
“The citizens of this village have not forgotten the heroism of Walter “Bo” Slear, in saving the life of a boy at the mill pond. Oh, no. On the contrary, he is being looked after carefully by his friends, and in their list in early every man, woman and especially every child in the place.
“‘Bo’ Slear is center fielder of the town’s South Michigan league nine, who last Sunday risked his own life to save that of Harry Gregory. The latter, a little boy, had broken through thin ice at Red Mill pond, while skating, and the cries of witnesses attracted the attention of Slear, who was among other skaters a quarter of a mile away from the spot where the lad had broken through.
“Already Tecumseh has raised a fund for purchase of a handsome gold watch, suitably inscribed, with fob, which will be presented to the player in a few days. Not satisfied with this, some fans are going to boom their hero for a Carnegie medal. Slear is wintering in Tecumseh, acting as clerk at the Lilley house.”
Bo did receive a bronze medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
Slear had been a a hero on the field and off in Tecumseh. But after a falling out with Indians president R.A. Henson, Bo wound up with the Jackson Convicts of the Southern Michigan League.
Jackson placed third in 1908, third in 1909 and seventh in 1910 with Slear as manager.
Lou Criger’s brother, Elmer, pitched for both 1908 and 1909 Jackson teams before twirling in 1910 and 1911 with Los Angeles of the Class A Pacific Coast League. Elmer won 22 games in 1909.
How happy were the “bugs” and “cranks” about getting Bo in Jackson?
Witness this verse in his honor (published in The Elkhart Truth on Feb. 22, 1908):
When Bo Slear Comes to Town.
There’s a joyful day in store,
When Bo Slear Comes to Town.
And of Hayes we’ll have no more,
When Bo Slear Comes to Town
We’ll take Bo by the hand,
Say “Glad you’re here old man,
We’ll help you all we can.”
When Bo Slear Comes to Town,
we’ll do all we can boost,
When Bo Slear Comes to Town,
we’ll crowd others off the roost,
When Bo Slear Comes to Town,
there is no other cure
for what we did endure
we must win the pennant sure
when Bo Slear Comes to Town
Years later, Slear would return to Jackson to become athletic director at the state prison.
After speculation that he might take a managing job in Canada at Guelph, Ont., Slear began the 1911 campaign serving as player/manager for the Class C Southern Michigan League’s Battle Creek Crickets. His season as a player ended when he broke his collar bone while playing in the outfield.
The Sagnaw News called Slear a “favorite wherever he goes.”
Disappointment for his moving on from Battle Creek was expressed in the Baseball Gossip column: “This piece of tough lick will genuinely be regretted by every Kalamazoo fan, for ‘Bo’ is very popular in this city, having made himself so by his geniality and gentlemanly conduct.”
Then Bo replaced Mo.
Slear was hired as the manager of the same loop’s Bay City (Mich.) Billikens, taking over for Mo Meyers to close out the 1911 season. Bay City finished in fourth place.
Billiken James “Red” Bowser had two hitless at-bats with the 1910 Chicago White Sox.
In 1912, Bo was at the helm of the Class C Michigan League’s fourth-place Boyne City Boosters. Elkhartan Lou Criger had managed Boyne City during part of the 1911 season.
Slear’s minor league playing career went from 1903-12.
Myers played 18 minor league season and and was manager for 13. He skippered Fort Wayne in the Central League in 1903, 1904 (another championship season) and 1905 (the team wound up the season in Canton, Ohio). Myers led 1910 Quincy (Ill.) Vets to the Class D Central Association title. He returned to the Summit City in 1915 and managed the CL’s Fort Wayne Cubs.
In 1904, Slear began the season with the Class D Iowa League’s Fort Dodge Gypsum Eaters. Frank Boyle managed the first of his 19 minor league seasons, all in Iowa.
Slear asked for his released and planned to go to Hot Springs, Ark., for treatment of rheumatism, but changed his mind and stayed in Iowa and played out the 1904 season with the Oskaloosa town team.
Slear’s adventures were not limited north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Bo opened the 1905 season with the Jackson (Miss.) Blind Tigers of the Class D Cotton State League.
According to a letter written to The Elkhart Truth by Elkhartan Harry Mather, there was more adventures for Slear away from the ball field”
“Mather traveled to Mississippi where he met up with Slear and Goshen, Ind., ballplayer B. Method, who were playing for Jackson.
They took a river steamer excursion from Vicksburg, Miss., on the “Louisiana.” Hand bills and posters said it would be a 28-mile ride with no gambling or drinking, but there would be dancing and music.
“The band struck up “Back, Back to Baltimore” as the boat began its moonlight cruise at 8:45 p.m.
“Bo and Mather decided to look about the craft and Slear determined it had probably once been a freighter.
“He told Mather it looked like an Ohio river cattle boat he had seen “up in the United States.”
“Mather said “B” always referred to the north as the United States. During the dance, they called out “half” and the girl turned from once dance partner to finish the song with another.
“According to Mather, this was a custom that Bob and many of his other northern ballplayers did not appreciate. They strenuously objected to being interrupted.
“Down below deck, there was a well-attended crap game. So much for the no-gambling rule.
“Across the way, were eight bartenders doling out libations to colonels and prospective colonels. So much for the no-drinking rule.
“When there was some gunfire by a jilted gamblers, Slear ducked behind the boiler and Method was found in a lifeboat. He claimed he was there to sleep after being out later the night before.”
Because of a yellow fever epidemic, the Cotton States League suspended play on July 31, 1905.
No stats are available for Slear at Jackson in 1905. It is known the he wound up the season as captain of an independent team in Mt. Clemens, Mich. The squad ended the season by winning a five-game series and a $500 pot.
After his playing and managing days were over, Slear became an umpire in the Central League and other places and was known for his desire to keep the game moving at a steady pace.
Pace of play in baseball.
Here a story from he July 9, 1915 Fort Wayne News:
“If this ever reaches the eye of Jack Hendrick, James McGill will be beating the bushes for a new manager for his pennant-pursuing Indianapolis ball club, at it is difficult to believe that Jack will withstand the shock; but it’s a fact that a Fort Wayne baseball crowd actually cheered a living umpire.
“‘Bo’ Slear recently imported into the Central League on the eve of the crash of the Southern Michigan, was given a young ovation in his first game at League park.
“He got it by vigorously ordering the Grand Rapids and Fort Wayne players to shake a leg in shifting to the field and bench between innings.
“‘Hurry up? Hurry up! Where’s your bitter?,’ came impatiently from ‘Boo,’ and the determined manner in which he yelled it actually go results, too.
“In hustling the players between innings Slear was striking at an evil of modern baseball that managers and fans have objected to for years, but seemingly without much avail, although this season the Central League clubs are not nearly so remiss as in former seasons.
“This thing of husky young ballplayers dragging their legs as they saunter out to positions on the ball field is a ridiculous as it is vexatious. Athletes in the prime of condition with only a few hours actual labor required of them each day and loafing on the job is trying to the American idea of get up and go.
“If they were old men dragging their way to pension jobs it would be different, but why a ballplayer should not hustle to the field or in from the instant an inning is ended passes all understanding.
“One would think the very vigor of his physical condition would put enough ginger into him to make it impossible for him to loaf his way across the field.
“Bo isn’t the greatest umpire extant, but he has one thing in his favor anyways. He makes the ballplayers imitate ginger where they want to or not.”
Slear was married three times. He wed Anna of Fort Wayne in n 1903, was divorced and married Tecumseh’s Verna Margaret Elliott in 1907, when he was 28 and she 24. After Verna’s death, he married Eva in 1937.
Baseball is often on this writer’s mind.