Baseball

MLB Nicknames: Death to Flying Things

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Mr. November. The Great Bambino. The Splendid Splinter. Old Hoss. Nicknames are an integral part of baseball, turning players into icons. They are often a unique representation of a player. Some are based on a player’s name (such as “Miggy” for Miguel Cabrera and Miguel Tejada) while others are based on experience (such as Mr. October and Mr. November).

Nicknames provide character to the sport. Ernie Banks is not just a Chicago Cubs legend, he is Mr. Cub. Major League Baseball has begun to embrace nicknames even more with Players’ Weekend each season. However, today’s look at nicknames concerns three retired players who share the same nickname.

There are three kinds of repetitive nicknames. Most of these are derivations of a player’s name. For example, all sorts of Wills, Williams, Wilsons, and even Willsons are referred to as Willy.

The second category is player identifiers. This is most often seen with the “Lefty” nickname. Knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Steven Wright are both referred to as “Knucksie” on Baseball-Reference.

The third category is best embodied by a shrug emoji. Today’s nickname falls into this category. Let’s meet the three players in MLB history known as “Death to Flying Things.”

Bob Ferguson

Ferguson was the 69th player to debut in the Majors. His career lasted from 1871 to 1884. He began his career with the New York Mutuals as a player-manager. He lasted one season with the Mutuals before moving to the Brooklyn Atlantics for three seasons. Ferguson spent the next three years with the Hartford Dark Blues (NA and NL) and Hartfords of Brooklyn (NL). He played and managed for the 1878 Chicago White Stockings as well. He had his best season in 1878, leading the Majors in on-base percentage while posting a 149 OPS+.

There were three more stops on the player-manager train: the Troy Trojans, Philadelphia Quakers, and Pittsburgh Alleghenys. After 14 seasons of being a player-manager, Ferguson played his final game at age 39. He returned to be a manager for two seasons with the New York Metropolitans, but they posted just a .365 winning percentage.

Ferguson was a slick-fielding third baseman and second baseman. In 824 games, he racked up +39 total zone, and he likely would have been in contention for several Gold Gloves had the award existed in the 1870s. He also had some solid seasons at the plate late in his career, posting a 115 OPS+ between his age-33 and age-37 seasons.

Jack Chapman

Chapman debuted in 1874, playing for his hometown Atlantics. However, 1874 would be the only Chapman-Ferguson equinox as Chapman played for the Saint Louis Brown Stockings in 1875. Chapman finished his career as the player-manager of the 1876 Louisville Grays.

Chapman may have discontinued his playing career after three seasons, but he stuck around as a manager until 1892. He managed 867 games for six teams including two teams called the Grays and two Louisville-based teams.

For his playing career, Chapman had a solid debut season with a 102 OPS+. He was also a competent defender in the outfield, posting +2 total zone runs. Across 53 games, he accumulated 0.9 wins above replacement.

His next two seasons were more of a struggle, but he only played 60 games for the Brown Stockings and the Grays. He had a 77 OPS+ in this span and was a 0.0 WAR player. Chapman retired after his age-33 season.

Franklin Gutierrez

Gutierrez debuted near the end of the 2005 season at age 22. He had a modest rookie season in 2006 through 43 games. He struggled at the plate (OPS+ of 66), but he was strong in the field (+7 DRS). With more playing time in subsequent seasons, he began to blossom.

In 301 plate appearances for the playoff-bound Cleveland Indians, Gutierrez had a breakout season. He had an OPS+ of 104 while elevating his defense to +10 DRS. Gutierrez had six hits including a home run in the playoffs, but Cleveland blew a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.

Over the next two seasons, Gutierrez was perhaps the best defender in baseball. In 2008 and 2009, Gutierrez combined to accumulate +55 DRS. Second place Adrian Beltre was the only player within 12 DRS in that span. In a classic case of Gold Glove delay, Gutierrez did not win a Gold Glove until 2010 when he had an average statistical season.

In 2009, Gutierrez ranked seventh in the AL with 6.6 bWAR. He never reached this peak again, but he did have an absurd power stretch from 2015 to 2016 in which he hit 29 home runs in 157 games. He averaged nine home runs per 162 for his career, but for those two seasons, he had an ISO of .255.

Gutierrez finished his career with a less-than-stellar season for the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers. Like Ferguson, Gutierrez’s career was defined by his excellent defense and slightly below-average hitting skills.

Why Is It “Death to Flying Things”

The operative “flying things” are baseballs. The name is particularly fitting for both Ferguson and Gutierrez as they were both strong defensive players. Chapman may have been an excellent fielder, but he did not exactly show that at the MLB level in his short stint.

Ferguson, Gutierrez, and Chapman may not be MLB legends, but they share one of the best nicknames in MLB history.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.