Posts Tagged ‘Bob Ferguson’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bob Ferguson

June 13, 2017

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.

The Original “Death to Flying Things”

May 5, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

Old time player Bob Ferguson is frequently known by the nickname “Death to Flying Things.” It indicates an ability to track down and catch fly balls extraordinarily well. But before Ferguson there was another player with the same nickname. Let me take a moment to introduce you to John Curtis Chapman  (not to be confused with John Chapman of “Johnny Appleseed” fame).

Jack Chapman (the man at bottom left in the picture above) was born in Brooklyn in 1843. By 1860 he was already a well-known local player. He hooked up with the Putnams in ’60, moved to the Enterprise in ’61, and finally found a home with the Atlantic in 1862. He settled in to right field where he became known as an outstanding fielder (hence the nickname). He remained with the Atlantic through the 1866 season, then spent 1867 with the Quaker Cities of Philadelphia. He moved back to the Atlantic in 1868 (there is some speculation that money changed hands) and helped them to another National Association of Base Ball Players championship. He stayed through 1870, participating, as the left fielder, in the famous victory over the Cincinnati Red Stockings (as did Dickey Pearce mentioned in a previous post).

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. The Atlantic chose not to join and Chapman left the team for the Eckfords, another team that didn’t join the new league (I’m not sure why). He remained there until 1874 when the Atlantic finally joined the Association. Rejoining his old team, he played right field hitting .264.  The next year he was with St. Louis, and when the Association folded after the 1875 season he played one year, 1876, in the National League.

He took over as player-manager for the Louisville National League team in 1876. He did more managing than playing, getting into only 17 games. As manager he was in charge of the team the next season when it became involved in the first NL scandal. The team was suspected of throwing games late in the season. It turned out the allegations were true, but there was no evidence that Chapman knew of the plot to lose games, but he lost his job anyway.

He got back to the big league as a manager in 1878 in Milwaukee, finished sixth, and started looking for another job. By 1882 he was at Worcester, then moved to Detroit and Buffalo, before returning to Louisville, now in the American Association, in 1889. In 1890 he won the AA pennant with the Colonels, playing Brooklyn in a postseason series. The series ended three games to three with a tie. The two teams were supposed to finish the series to open the next season, but the Association was in deep financial trouble and the NL, in an attempt to destroy its rival, refused to replay the tie or to sanction a series for the 1891 season. Louisville finished eighth and the AA collapsed at the end of the season. Louisville was one of four AA teams chosen to play in the now 12-team NL. Chapman managed 54 games before being fired. It was his last managerial job in the majors. He finished with a record of 351-502 and the 1890 AA pennant. He did make one notable find in 1891 when he signed Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings to his first contract.

In retirement he ran a liquor store and died in Brooklyn in 1916. He’s buried in Greenwood Cemetery along with a number of baseball’s pioneering players. With this post I’ve covered three of the nine member of the Atlantic pictured above (interestingly enough one from each line): Joe Start earlier, Dickey Pearce recently, and Chapman. Six to go.

Chapman's grave from Find a Grave

Chapman’s grave from Find a Grave