MORAVIA — Once when Willard “Bump” Warner cut down a tree in his yard, Charlie Baildon stopped by and asked why he had done it.
Because it was full of insects and half-rotten, Warner told him. He was cutting it down before it fell down.
Charlie disagreed. “I wouldn’t have cut it down,” he said.
The next day, Warner found a sign and a white-painted cross where the tree had been. “Tree killed by Bump Warner,” it read.
That was Charlie Baildon, a prankster until the end. “You couldn’t really get anything over on him,” Warner said.
Charles John Baildon, 87, died Sunday at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse after being struck Friday at 10:14 a.m. by a northbound 2001 Suburu driven by Felicia J. Thompson of Moravia. Baildon was standing near the shoulder of the road by his mailbox on Moravia Venice Townline Road when he was hit, said Trooper Mark O’Donnell, the Troop E spokesman. The accident is still under investigation, according to the Cayuga County District’s Attorney’s Office.
Baildon, who worked for 42 years as a lab technician for Smith-Corona in Cortlandville and Groton, was a coach and umpire who led many Little League and Babe Ruth baseball teams to winning seasons, and his teams racked up plenty of trophies along the way. Baildon also coached both boys’ and girls’ basketball at Moravia Central School.
Baildon, who played semipro baseball for the Red Sox when he was younger, tried to pass on what he had learned about the sports to local youths, Warner said.
Ken Palmer, who had Baildon as a coach when he played Babe Ruth baseball as a teen, said Baildon was a coach’s coach and inspired Palmer to become a coach.
“He taught a lot of the coaches how to coach,” Palmer said. “A lot of the lessons that he taught me I still use in coaching.”
Palmer played baseball in the early 1980s, “the Peter Rose era,” and Baildon taught him and other players one of Rose’s signature tricks — sliding head first.
“He was the ultimate baseball coach,” Palmer said. “He was always teaching you something. There was always a lesson to be learned.”
Mark Williams of Moravia, who remembers Baildon as a coach from a rival team when he played Babe Ruth in the 1970s, also went on to coach baseball when he grew older.
“Charlie was a real stickler for fundamentals,” Williams said. “He was really knowledgeable, and he made you do things until you did them right. He taught me a lot.”
Baildon also taught kids as an umpire. And he had a sense of humor about how he did it.
Palmer remembers being up at bat one time when Baildon was umpire. The pitch came in too high — way over his eyes — and Palmer let it go because it was obviously a ball.
“Strike!” yelled Baildon.
Palmer turned around and stared at him in disbelief. “I was only 15 years old, so what the hell can I say,” he said.
“I heard you can hit home runs,” said Baildon, explaining his call. “I want to see you hit one.”
Warner said that Baildon made teaching kids a priority, even — and especially — when other adults failed to do so.
Warner pointed to the 1970s, when a young player from Port Byron named Mel Hall would play the local teams. Hall, who would go on to play professionally for the Yankees and other teams, was already an incredible player in his early teens. Most of these coaches would tell their pitchers to just walk him instead of actually pitching to him.
But that bothered Baildon, who explicitly told his pitchers to pitch to Hall.
“I’m not going to do that to that kid,” said Baildon, according to Warner. “I’m going to have my pitcher pitch to him. That kid’s going to go someplace.”
Hall did go some place, and he later came back to thank Baildon for it.
Warner also said there was an element of racism to the situation, because Hall was black.
Baildon “didn’t care what color you were,” Warner said. “All he cared about was it was a young person who wanted to play baseball. And that always kind of struck me because this area can be kind of prejudiced.”
There was one other thing that Warner said stood out about Charlie Baildon: He was a true sportsman, and he had a level of integrity that amazes him even now.
During one season in the 1980s, Baildon had a kid playing on his team who was too old. But the kid’s father had given Baildon a fake birth certificate. This was brought to Baildon’s attention after his team had won a major trophy. Baildon returned the trophy.
“He wasn’t going to accept a trophy that he wasn’t entitled to,” Warner said. “That’s a pretty good sportsman. That’s why I always had a lot of respect for him.”
“Boy, I’m going to miss him,” said Warner, his voice cracking. “I am going to miss him.”
Editor’s Note: The name of the driver who state police said struck Baildon was incorrect in earlier versions of this report.