By Charles Jay
Edward L. Bader was the mayor of Atlantic City during a critical time in the city’s history. Under his stewardship (well, along with Nucky Johnson, something we learned from “Boardwalk Empire”), he got the Convention Hall built, and Atlantic City undertook one of its signature events – the Miss America pageant.
Bader had a colorful sports background. A native of Philadelphia, we was a pioneer in professional football, long before the advent of the National Football League, having played for the Latrobe Athletic Association, the first pro football team, and then for the Philadelphia Athletics football team that was run by Connie Mack.
Bader eventually became a successful contractor in Atlantic City, building, among other things, the Steel Pier (actually a re-building). He also happened to own a boxing gym in the city, and eventually became acquainted with heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.
The two developed a friendship, to the point where he is said to have actually discussed a game plan for fighting Carpentier on the eve of the encounter. Less than a week later, the mayor was fielding reports that he had been named Dempsey’s new manager, replacing Jack “Doc” Kearns.
Rumors about a breakup between Dempsey and Kearns started to heat up in the week prior to the fight, and Kearns indeed left Dempsey for New York a few days before the Carpentier fight. There appeared to be no question that there was friction between the two, but there was at least a temporary reconciliation until after the fight. Dempsey was not crazy about the fact that monies he had apparently given to Kearns to pay a key training camp employee were not forwarded, and resulted in the initiation of a lawsuit against them.
Bader was unusually coy when asked about the prospect of guiding Dempsey’s career, neither confirming nor denying the reports. He recounted his “strategy” discussions with Dempsey, and confirmed a long conversation with him the day after the fight, where Dempsey won on a decisive fourth-round knockout. However, his contention was that he didn’t really know what Dempsey had on his mind.
Dempsey cleared things up shortly thereafter. Reporters caught up to him in Cheyenne, Wyoming as he was headed back to Salt Lake City, where he was living at the time. he was emphatic. “Jack Kearns will be my manager as long as I am a fighter,’ he said. “He was my manager when I was fighting my way to the top. If I have my way he will make every engagement of my career.” Well, that didn’t happen; Dempsey and Kearns in 1923.
Dempsey returned to Atlantic City in August of 1921, but it was only for some rest and relaxation. He never fought Willard again, and never fought in Atlantic City either. One can speculate as to whether any of that may have changed, had Bader actually become the manager, and whether a Dempsey fight would have been directed to a site by the seashore, but that is now a moot point. It would be another year before Dempsey would enter the ring again, and then another year after that. Georges Carpentier, the fighter Atlantic City had been courting for a fight with Tommy Gibbons, never appeared there either. He did fight Gibbons, in 1924, but it was in Indiana. City officials had hoped to build with materials from the deconstruction of the stadium at Boyle’s Thirty Acres, but Tex Rickard kept the arena in place until 1927.
Atlantic City had struck out again in an effort to land what we would refer to now as a “mega-fight.” But it’s not because it didn’t take a big enough swing.