Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn Atlantic’

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 Greatest Game Ever Played

May 25, 2017

The Atlantic and the Red Stockings, 1870

Way back on 14 June 1870 the Cincinnati Red Stockings, winners of over 80 consecutive games rolled into Brooklyn to play the champion Atlantic. When the game ended the Atlantic had broken the streak 8-7 and the game had gone 11 innings. It seems to be the first recorded example of “extra innings” (but it’s possible such had occurred before, we just don’t know). Henry Chadwick was in attendance and proclaimed the game the greatest. Over the years it’s gotten lost due to time and distance and most of us would probably pick some other game as the greatest ever (like Larsen’s perfect game in the ’56 world Series, for instance).

Box scores of the game are available and that means we can determine the players in this famous game. For the Atlantic the team consisted of a battery of George Zettelein in the box (today it would be a mound) and Bob Ferguson behind the plate. The infield was, from first over to third Joe Start, Lip Pike, Dickie Pearce, and Charles Smith. The outfield was John Chapman in left, center fielder George Hall, and Jack McDonald in right.

Over the years around here I’ve done posts on six of the nine (Start, Pike, Pearce, Smith, Chapman, and Hall). So I thought it was time to introduce you to the other three members of the winning team in one of the most famous of all games. They were members also of the great juggernaut of 1860s baseball, the Atlantic, and deserve at least a little recognition as some of the founders of our favorite game. So over the next little while, I want to do some of my normal short baseball bios of Zettelein, Ferguson, and McDonald. Hope you will find them interesting.

Easily the most obscure is Jack McDonald. His name was Daniel McDonald and I’ve been unable to ascertain why he was called “Jack.” The most likely reason is a middle name of Jack or John, but I can’t assure you that’s true. Occasionally he shows up in box scores as “Dan McDonald,” but the “Jack McDonald” is much more common. He seems to have served in the Civil War and, after a short stint with the McClellan’s, a junior team in the Brooklyn hearchy, joined the Atlantic in 1866. He remained as their more or less permanent right fielder through 1872. In the famous 14 June game he got one hit.

When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, the Atlantic opted out and McDonald stayed with the team. Both joined the Association the next season, with McDonald playing four games in right for the Atlantic, then transferring to the Eckford for a single game, followed by an 11 game return to the Atlantic (I have no idea what happened there). He hit .242 with nine runs scored, four RBIs, three doubles, a triple, no walks, and a strikeout. He also committed 11 errors in the 16 games, four of them in the single game with the Eckford. That may explain why it was his only professional league year.

He never played again at the Association level and died in November 1880 (making him 38). I’ve been unable to determine the cause of death. And that, team, is all I have on McDonald. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who knows more. I hate to leave any player at this level, but there’s almost nothing available.

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

 

Making Shortstop

April 14, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

It appears that when baseball first began it didn’t use nine players. The position of shortstop didn’t exist until later. There are several stories about its creation. The most common one is that the 1840s and 1850s baseballs were too soft to throw in from the outfield unless you were a giant like Henry Polhemus. So a short fielder (much like the 10th man in a slow pitch softball game) was invented to act as a primitive cutoff man. According to tradition the Knickerbockers invented the position with Daniel “Doc” Adams being the man who took the role. Some sources credit Adams with inventing the job, but I can find no contemporary evidence to collaborate that. Whether he did or didn’t invent the position, Adams played it pretty much as described above. It was Dickey Pearce who receives most of the credit for making the modern position.

Pearce, the man in the middle of the top row in the picture above, was born in Brooklyn in 1836 and took to sports quickly. By age 20 he was recognized as a coming cricket player. The Atlantic, formed in 1855, picked him up and sent him to center field. The move from cricket to baseball was fairly common in the era (Harry Wright being an early example). By 1857 he’d taken over the short fielder (shortstop) position. By 1857 the short fielder was mobile, covering both the second-third gap and the first-second gap, taking short flies, and doing cutoff duties. Pearce began stationing himself primarily in the second-third gap in order to stop the most common path a baseball took to the outfield. As far as I can tell he’s credited with being the first to move from the outfield to the infield when plugging that gap (but don’t bet the farm on that being true). He was quick enough to continue the cutoff duties and to handle most of the short flies between second and third and cover a few just to the first base side of second. Other teams noticed and the short fielder quickly became the shortstop stationed between second and third.

As with most players of the era, Pearce played multiple positions. He took turns in the outfield and also behind the plate, where he was noted as a particularly agile catcher. He is credited with being the first (but probably was merely among the first) to use catcher’s signals for the pitcher. And he was a star. He captained the Atlantic, a much more important position in 1860 than today. The Atlantic ran off championships in the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players in 1859, 1860, and 1861.

He missed the Civil War, staying with the Atlantic through the conflict. By this time he was getting paid to play. A couple of sources indicate that he, Jim Creighton, and Al Reach were the first professionals, although that’s probably impossible to prove. As the teams were supposed to be composed strictly of amateurs, he got his money under the table so amounts are unknown.

By 1864 the Atlantic were back on top of the Association with Pearce still as captain. They maintained their run through 1865 and 1866. Pearce jumped the team in late ’66 (going to Creighton’s old team, the Excelsiors), but returned by the end of the season. It cost him his captaincy, but the team won another pennant. During this period he’s supposed to have been the first player to utilize the bunt.

He remained with the Atlantic, adding another pennant, through 1870. In that year he participated in the game than ended the Cincinnati Red Stockings undefeated run at 89 games. The next season the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (the first professional league) was formed. The Atlantic decided not to participate and Pearce moved to the New York Mutual. He was 35 and on the downside of his career. He didn’t do particularly well in either ’71 or ’72 with the Mutual and went back to the Atlantic (now a part of the Association) for 1873 and 1874. He had one last decent year in ’74, then moved on to St. Louis. He stayed there through the founding of the National League and finally left the team at age 41 in 1877.

He played a little minor league ball, umpired a bit, did some semi-pro work, and managed. Frankly he wasn’t very successful at any of them. He was roundly criticized for his umpiring skills, frequently by both teams (At least he was fair in his awfulness). He clerked for the Brooklyn water board, worked at the Polo Grounds, and finally became a farmer in Massachusetts. He died of heart disease at his farm in 1908. As he has only two seasons in the National League and the National Association is not recognized as a “major league,” he is not eligible for the Hall of Fame except as some pre-professional league pioneer.

Pearce's grave at Find a Grave

Pearce’s grave at Find a Grave

Anybody Got $50,000?

June 30, 2015
1860 Brooklyn Atlantic

1860 Brooklyn Atlantic

Just saw that a great bit of baseball memorabilia is up for auction at Heritage Auctions in Chicago (you can go to their website and see the details).

Apparently this woman in Massachusetts has a copy of a carte de visite showing the about 1860 Brooklyn Atlantic team. It includes Joe Start and Dickey Pearce along with the rest of the team. They’re not quite sure the exact year of the picture because it seems everyone isn’t identified, but it’s presumed to be pre-Civil War. I put a copy of the picture from the auction house website above.

Anyway, they expect it to go for about $50,000. So far I’ve got a ten. A little help here, team.