Posts Tagged ‘Death to Flying Things in 1953’

Death to Flying Things in 1953

August 15, 2017

Manager Jack Chapman of the 1889 Syracuse Stars (shown here in street clothes) was one of two 19th century players nicknamed “Death to Flying Things” for his defensive skills. The other, Bob Ferguson, is pictured below.

Bob Ferguson

At any rate, this column is not about Chapman or Ferguson, but how their identity nicknames reached all the way into the mid-2oth century to strike a chord with at least one kid player who read about them enough to love their nickname and what it represented to him nearly seventy years later.


Death to Flying Things in 1953

By Bill McCurdy

It’s hot. Hot as hell. This is good old humid Houston in August, where practically everything painfully hellish starts with an “H”. They couldn’t spell August with an “H” so they spelled it with the weather. And that was hot enough.

A singular bead of sweat rolls down the in-seam skin area of your right leg, ‘neath the blousy grey woolen baseball pants you wear, as you stand, feet apart in center field, just waiting for anything that may come your way in the game that’s about to start.

“Death to Flying Things!”

The war cry of a legendary 19th century player you’ve only read about has become your private battle cry at the start of every new game. Everything that comes your way needs to be pursued with all you’ve got, as though it were the last damn out needed by the winning side of a seven game World Series. You never let up. Letting up is giving up. There is no other way to put it.

Five batters into the game, nothing has come your way, but a single to right and two walks, sandwiched around two strikeouts, has left the bases loaded and a big cloud of early threat by the visiters – who are still knocking hard at the door.

“They must be stopped. We’ve gotta have another “K”, or else, a batted ball that we can turn into a run-stopping out. – Hang loose. – Stay ready.”

You decide to play shallow, even though the #6 batter is a lefty with both the power and the appetite for towering long fly balls. You and your coach decide to play him shallow because you’ve both seen him dink some singles to the shallow reaches of right and center when he wanted – and neither of you want to invite that now by playing him too deep. Besides, you are better at going back for a long fly ball – and nobody’s any good at catching an unreachable liner single under normal outfield defensive depths.

The key to success here is intuition and luck.

On a 2-2 pitch, you decide to start moving in with the pitcher’s delivery. Lucky for you. The lefty swats a line drive that is about four feet high off the ground, but moving intently to a normal base hit touchdown to the right side of 2nd base in shallow center. Your already-in-motion body has continued to accelerate from its with-the-pitch early start. You can see the blur of the rapidly descending ball aiming for the ground to your approaching left side. Your early departure from a short field spot has given you a chance that otherwise never exists.

You go into a hard slide on your left leg, with your left-handed glove extended out and moving as though its upward extended pocket were riding the surface like an emergency vehicle to a potential disaster scene. Your every interactive eye-to-hand bodily movement is now controlled by the laws of physics and a part of the brain that cannot be called into play at will. It’s either there. Or it isn’t.

The memory of it all is precious. And it belongs to you forever.

The glove pocket arrives just in time to prevent the descending ball from touching the ground. Your gloved hand quickly closes around any hopes the motion-energized ball also may have for pushing through your grasp and reaching the ground anyway. You hold on to the sucker. It’s an out. It has to be. After the catch, you leap to your feet in joy. And the umpire quickly flashes the right-handed out sign in confirmation. No matter how small the game, it’s now officially an out – forever – and more importantly – it is a scoreless inning for your adversaries. And the summer league game can now move to the bottom of the 1st, still 0-0 between the home team and the visitors.

“Death to Flying Things!”


Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle