Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson

My favorite baseball player of all time would have to be Robert Vavasour Ferguson, or
Bob Ferguson for short. Bob played on many teams including the New York Mutuals (1871), the Brooklyn Atlantics (1872-1874), the Hartford Dark Blues (1875-1877), the Chicago White Stockings (1878), the Troy Trojans (1879-1882), the Philadelphia Quakers (1883), and the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (1884).

Bob's best season was probably the 1878 campaign with the White Stockings when he was third in the league in batting (.351) and fourth in RBI with 39. Ferguson was a fan favorite that year at Lake Front Park.

My great-great-great-great-great grandfather Oscar Albert Jones was in Troy, New York at Haymakers' Grounds that fateful day in 1881 when "Death to Flying Things" hit his only career home run. It was the highlight of Oscar Albert's life.

Life in the 1870’s was particularly tough on Oscar Albert Jones. He was still living down the ignominy of his great- grandfather Nigel Jones, the man who killed George Washington. Because of this, Oscar Albert was generally shunned by most. His only friends were the oddly-shaped rocks he collected and named after his favorite baseball players such as
Art Allison and Caleb Johnson.

He was forced to move from town to town to avoid the large, angry mobs that were still bitter over the death of their country’s founding father. Once, in Peoria, Illinois, a crowd hog-tied Oscar Albert and dragged him behind a horse all the way to Chicago where they dumped him in Lake Michigan. The journey took six days and was described in an article in
Harper’s Weekly. The author of the piece, Arthur Charles Van Gelder Bach, was later awarded a Presidential Medal of Honor by Ulysses S. Grant in 1871 for his eloquent work.

As it turns out, the people of Peoria helped out poor Oscar Albert greatly. During the fourth day of his “death drag to the City,” as the Peorians called it, Oscar Albert decided that if he lived through the ordeal, he would surely end his life. On the sixth day, when he was eventually dumped into Lake Michigan, with great fanfare I might add, Oscar Albert finally felt he would be able to fulfill his destiny and once and for all end the horrid curse that was the Jones name.

Soon, the crowds dispersed and headed back to Peoria. Oscar Albert slowly regained consciousness and walked out of the water. He was hopelessly depressed. His only desire was for no one to notice him until his ultimate task could be completed.

He headed up one of the random streets heading away from the lake searching for the tallest structure he could find. He soon came across the Union Base-Ball Grounds where there was a baseball game going on between the Chicago White Stockings and the New York Mutuals. The structure itself wasn’t particularly high, but Albert had never seen baseball played at the professional level, live in person, so he apprehensively approached.

He entered the park and took a seat on the bench near the third base dugout. It was then he noticed the smooth play of the young third-baseman for the Mutuals, one Bob Ferguson. His play that day was inspired. Ferguson went 5 for 5 with 2 doubles, a triple and the game winning hit in the top of the tenth.

Oscar Albert walked up to the fence and called out to the third-baseman. “Great game,” he said. “Thanks kid.” He then looked around nervously and started waving his hands. Oscar Albert queried about the activity. “The flying things! They’re everywhere!” Bob then started screaming and ran into the dugout where he hid under a pile of bats. A minute later Bob sprinted out of the dugout with a pistol and began wildly shooting into the air. “You will die!” he shouted repeatedly.

One of Bob’s teammates,
Rynie Wolters walked up to Oscar Albert and explained that Bob was deathly afraid of the imaginary flying objects that surrounded him. Bob felt they were plotting against him and that the only way he could ward them off was by hitting epic doubles into the left or right field power alleys. Whenever he hit one of the epic doubles, he’d scream out to his invisible demons, and to the opposing players whom he felt they were conspiring with, “Death to Flying Things.”

True, it was quirky, but Bob was a great player so his teammates overlooked his idiosyncrasies. Of course it wouldn’t have mattered either way as Bob was also the manager of the Mutuals.

Oscar Albert was fascinated by Bob. He asked for a job with the team. As he had never played ball, he was denied. He soon left the park and stole a horse from one of the stables nearby. As fast as he could, he rode off to New York.

Upon his arrival, he approached every newspaper in town demanding to be hired as the baseball writer for their newspaper. All eleven dailies rejected him, as the Mutuals had. They only wanted “professional journalists” for their beloved papers. If any literate person could be guaranteed a job writing for a newspaper, 25% of the country would already be doing so.

Defeated once again, Oscar Albert sadly took his stolen horse to Central Park and dejectedly sat under a tree. Oscar Albert was broke, hungry and still sore from his six day “Death Drag” from Peoria to Chicago. For a while he contemplated chopping up his horse and eating it. But then he had a revelation. His obsession with Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson changed his outlook on life. He no longer wanted to end his life, but follow Bob Ferguson.

It was at this point that a haberdasher from one of the local haberdasheries noticed Oscar Albert quietly sitting with his horse and approached them. Apparently, the horse that Oscar Albert had stolen was a world champion thoroughbred. Certain clues should have lead Oscar Albert to suspect as such, particularly the fact that Oscar and the horse had made the 719-mile trek from Chicago to New York in 24 hours.

The haberdasher, noting Oscar Albert’s down-and-out appearance offered to buy the horse for $1,000. Oscar Albert gladly accepted the offer. With the influx of cash, Oscar Albert was able to purchase a small Victorian house on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn (not coincidentally, right next door to the house Bob Ferguson was born in), another horse for personal transportation (whom he later named “Death to Flying Things”), and a near-bankrupt newspaper called the Brooklyn Spoon.

Oscar Albert turned the Brooklyn Spoon into New York’s first sports-only newspaper. As the Owner/Editor of the paper, Oscar Albert used the incredible fortune he had amassed from the sale of his stolen horse into a Brooklyn legend that remained in print until the day he died in 1894.

The paper itself, was strange to say the least. It almost exclusively reported on the day-to-day activities of Bob Ferguson even after he had retired from baseball. Oscar Albert’s obsession with Ferguson was so pure that he only hired reporters that looked exactly like Ferguson.

Soon after the paper began publishing, Bob Ferguson became quite scared of Oscar Albert Jones. He had obviously heard the stories of Nigel Jones, but Oscar Albert seemed to be far more demented than his famous relative. It got so bad that Ferguson could no longer see the enemies that drove him to greatness, the invisible flying objects. The daily paper that greeted Ferguson each morning at his Brooklyn home had taken their place, and no amount of power-alley doubles could drive his new enemy away.

Ferguson went on to have a fruitful career, though never quite reaching the heights he had reached before my great-great-great-great-great grandfather got into his life. Ferguson died May 3, 1894. The shock to Oscar Albert was great. He releases an epic 800-page issue of the Brooklyn Spoon the next morning commemorating Ferguson’s life. Later that night, Oscar Albert Jones died of a broken heart.

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