A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson is the man in the center of the middle row

When looking at the Atlantic players who participated in the 14 June 1870 game against the Red Stockings, Bob Ferguson is the last.

1. Robert Vavasour Ferguson was born in Brooklyn in 1845. His family was immigrants.

2. Ferguson seems to have missed the Civil War but began playing baseball for the Frontier, a junior team in Brooklyn as early as 1863.

3. In 1865 he joined the Enterprise, a major team in Brooklyn and in 1866 jumped to the Atlantic, the premier team of the era. His sister was the wife of Tomas Tassie, one of the more significant members of the Atlantic.

4. He played a number of positions (that was common in the era), but starred at third base. He was known as particularly adept at snagging fly balls. This earned him the nickname “Death to Flying Things.” It was a nickname that had already been applied to John Curtis Chapman, a left fielder for the Atlantic.

5. He scored the winning run in the 11th inning of the 14 June 1870 game; the game that ended the Cincinnati Red Stockings 80 game winning streak.

6. With the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871 and the failure of the Atlantic to join, Ferguson moved  to the Mutual of New York. That same year he opened a saloon in Brooklyn. He was a teetotaler.

7. In 1872 he was elected President of the National Association and held the job for two years.

8. He played through 1884, serving as both manager and team captain on occasion. He was considered a tyrant by his players and not well liked. There is some conjecture that players were willing to lose in order to make him look bad. There is no actual evidence that any games were thrown.

9. For his career his triple slash line is .265/.292/.313/.604 with 544 runs scored in 823 games with 357 RBIs. He led the league once. That was in walks in 1880 when he had 24.

10. He is credited with inventing defensive shifts in 1877, playing outfielders deep or shallow depending on the hitter and moving the center fielder to one side or the other again depending on the hitter. There is nothing to indicate he did anything like this with his infield.

11. During both his playing days and afterward, he did a lot of umpiring. I’m not sure how that worked while he was active, but apparently he was well-respected (but not particularly well-liked) and noted for his impartiality.

12. Bob Ferguson died of “apoplexy” (accounts of the day make it appear it was likely either a stroke or heart attack) in 1894 (he was 49) and is buried in Brooklyn.

Ferguson’s grave from Find a Grave. It is part of a larger complex of family graves.

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5 Responses to “A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bob Ferguson”

  1. Miller Says:

    Ferguson’s nickname was always my favorite until I learned it wasn’t as original as I thought. Fun post. Thanks!

  2. glen715 Says:

    There are so many great nicknames. While growing up, I knew guys named Whitey (named that because his blond hair was so light, it appeared to be white, even in his teens), Femmo (because his last name was Femminella; he actually liked being called that name, and he was not feminine in the least), “Big E” (I forgot why) and his little brother “Little E” (I guess it must have been their last name began with the letter E, or maybe they both had first names that began with the letter E), “Stick Figure” (skinny guy), “The Jamaican Flash (he was on my high school track team and he was originally from Jamaica and he was fast), Bio (short for “bionic” for the “Bionic Man; he was a teammate on my track team and he was a tireless distance runner), “Waldo” (because his name was “Walter”, and my nickname on the track team was “Joe Sidesaddle”, because I ran kind of bowlegged.

    You could easily say “Hi, Femmo” or “how ya doin’, Big E?” or “What’s up, Whitey?”, but how in the world do you casually greet a guy with the nickname “Death To Flying Things”??? What do you say? “Hey, how ya feelin’ today, Death To Flyin’ Things?” or “I heard your mother callin’ you in for dinner a few minutes ago, Death To Flyin’ Things?” The guys on the track team called me “Joe” for short, instead of “Joe Sidesaddle”. What did they call “Death To Living Things” for short? “Hey, how’s life treatin’ you these days, Death?”

    • wkkortas Says:

      If Ferguson had grown up in your neighborhood, maybe he would have been called “Fergly”. I remember–and don’t ask me how I remember something like this–when the legendary goalie Ken Dryden was In college, he played with a defenseman named Murray Death. The kicker is, he supposedly pronounced it “Deeth”, which is wrong on so many levels.

      • glen715 Says:

        A similar name to “Murray Death” is “Murray Slaughter”, who was a news writer in the WJM-TV newsroom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I wonder if the writers on the show got the idea of having Murray’s last name being “Slaughter” from knowing about Murray Death. After all, slaughter is one cause of death.

  3. Precious Sanders Says:

    I volunteer at the local museum every Thursday evening, and they have an old card catalog drawer cupboard (what do they actually call that thing?) full of mortuary cards. I once came across one indicating that a man had died of “indigestion.” I’m still trying to figure that one out.

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