Charlie Ferguson

This article was written by Mitch Lutzke

Born to a prominent family doctor in central Michigan, this one-game major league pitcher later became more noted as an umpire, thanks to a run-in with a star ballplayer. One of the few men to play and umpire in the major leagues, Charles Ferguson traveled the across the country playing baseball, and after retiring from the game he became wealthy in real estate. Even in death he captured headlines as the victim of a tragic fishing expedition in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Ferguson was born May 10, 1875, in Meridian, Michigan, now known as Okemos, a small hamlet tucked halfway between the capital city of Lansing and the farming village of Williamston. In addition to his parents, he also had an uncle and paternal grandfather living nearby.

In his teen-aged years, Ferguson moved a few miles to Mason, Michigan, to live with his maternal grandfather, S.W. Hammond, a local justice of the peace. He attended the high school in that town. Ferguson’s debut in baseball and newspaper coverage occurred at the age of 18, when he played a challenge game. Apparently back in his hometown in August 1893, Ferguson was one of two Okemos boys picked up by the Williamston team to face their Mason rival. Ferguson led off, played shortstop, and also pitched in the contest. In a four-run ninth inning, Ferguson hit the ball over the short right field fence; by this game’s ground rules, it was not a homer. But Ferguson “was aided by Pulver, who in fielding the ball threw it against a tree and it bounded away from him.” The Okemos teen was credited with a three run homer.1 Pitching records are mostly incomplete, but Ferguson was credited with one strikeout on the mound. Still, his Williamston team lost the game, 14-11.

In 1894, Ferguson suited up for his hometown Okemos team and defeated the nearby Bath Juvenile Club by a score of 18-3. Ferguson struck out twelve batters in the game, in which “the home team had it all their own way from the beginning.”2 In September, Ferguson again loaned out his talents; he appeared as a second baseman and pitcher for a team in Webberville, a community thirteen miles from his home. He pitched two innings and scored a run as Webberville defeated Aurelius. Later that month, he pitched his Okemos club to a 13-2 victory over Aurelius, striking out two and walking two.

In 1895, the local Lansing Senators Class D minor league team needed players, and they scooped up the Okemos native. A blurb from April 10, 1895, noted the 5’11” right-hander would pitch for the Lansing team in the Michigan State League. Lansing joined Owosso, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Adrian, and Monroe, with the latter team being replaced by Port Huron before the season opener in late May. To ready for the season, it was reported, “Manager Parshall’s men (Senators) will go to Williamston next Saturday for a game with the Alerts of Webberville. The Alerts are a crack team and will probably hold the leaguers a close game.”3 The following week the newspaper noted an exhibition game was postponed due to poor field conditions. However, the Page Fence Giants, a travelling all-star Negro team based out of Adrian, Michigan, met the Senators on Friday, May 17, in Lansing for an exhibition contest. It would be Lansing’s final tune-up before the start of the official league action.

While the Lansing team played in the State League, they would also venture to the area towns to challenge the locals. On July 13, 1895, Ferguson, along with future Cincinnati Reds infielder, Jack Morrissey, played a game at the new Riverside Park in Williamston. About 200 people showed up to watch the pros crush the Williamston Base Ball club 16-5, in a game shortened to seven innings due to darkness. Ferguson pitched several innings and went 3-for-4 at the plate. The contest also featured, William Binga, a black Lansing resident, who was picked up by Williamston for this game against the professionals. “For putting amateurs against professionals the home team made a good showing.” 4

The Senators finished their inaugural year in the Michigan State League in third place, and Ferguson claimed the honor of pitching the team’s final game of the season. It was later claimed he was the best pitcher in the entire Michigan State League that season.

That fall a news story reported that Ferguson was offered $100 per month to sign with a Tacoma, Washington club and stated, “Charles has about concluded to sign.” 5

Before heading out west in the summer of 1896, Ferguson played some college ball. In April, as a student at Michigan Agricultural College, he played second and pitched an inning against the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In May 1896, Ferguson joined the newly created Pacific League as a pitcher and infielder for the Tacoma Rabbits under the guidance of Charley Strobel. The four-team league, which also included Portland, Seattle, and Victoria, British Columbia, was hampered by poor weather. In the great northwest that means rain and drizzle, which kept attendance figures far below expectations. The Tacoma Rabbits started out slowly, posting a 2-3 record. Ferguson started the second game of the year, but was relieved in the fourth inning of a contest the team eventually won. However, by the time the team had floated to the .500 mark, the Michigan man was getting more time as an infielder. “The playing of pitcher Ferguson at third is a feature. While he seems to fumble most hits knocked his way, his accurate and swift throwing to first has endeared him to the hearts of all lovers of the game.”6

Word of his exploits traveled back home to all of the Ingham County papers. The Williamston Enterprise noted Ferguson “is highly spoken of by the press of that state. They say Charles is a great pitcher and fielder.” 7 The Ingham County Democrat quoted a Tacoma paper as saying the local boy is a “big blonde pitcher (who) has all kinds of speed and curves. He can play any position in the field in first-class style, is a great fielder and hard hitter. He is young and willing and a gentleman both off and on the diamond. Strobel says the harder you hit him the harder he pitches. He don’t know what it is to let up, and never gives until the last man is out.”8

In early June Tacoma was in second place, but the Rabbits won acclaim as “the best team in the New Pacific League” from players and fans alike. However, before the end of June, the new Pacific League “gave up the ghost” and folded.9 Ferguson finished the season posting a 6-5 record in 89 innings, while tossing eight complete games.

Owner and manager Strobel was not about the sit out the rest of 1896. He traveled back to Findlay, Ohio, where he had managed the previous season. Strobel offered the release of his Tacoma players to other teams, but said he would bring east those interested in still playing with him and pay their expenses, as long as they engaged in some exhibitions along the way. In a few days, Strobel purchased Toledo of the Interstate league, fired its manager, and brought three of his best players with him, making Toledo “a dangerous factor in the pennant race.”10

By mid-August, Ferguson had joined the Toledo team and manager Strobel. But Ferguson’s business sense got him in a bit of trouble. While Strobel believed he had his pitcher under contract, another Interstate League team, New Castle, also made a claim for Ferguson. The Okemos man pitched one complete game and appeared in another before the dual claim was brought to the attention of league president, Charles Power. Ferguson was ordered not to appear in another game until the case was resolved. A week later, it was found that Ferguson had tried to play New Castle off against Toledo in order to get a better contract. “It seems that after accepting the offer made by the Toledo Club and after a railroad ticket had been sent him by Manager Stroble (sic), of Toledo, Ferguson misrepresented matters to the New Castle club management and agreed to report to that club at Jackson, hoping to get more money than had been offered him by Toledo.” Power reported from his league office that “the letters and telegrams in the case were very clear.” As a result, Ferguson had to remain with Toledo.11 It was good news for Toledo, as the influx of Tacoma players and a better manager boosted them to the league pennant. The team won 27 of the last 32 games; Ferguson pitched and played third base. A proposed final championship cup playoff was cancelled when Youngstown, Ohio, couldn’t guarantee a sufficient gate to pay expenses and player’s earnings.

In 1897, Ferguson returned as a player and helped Toledo to a second pennant. Starting off slowly, it took until late May for the Toledo squad to reach the .500 mark. Ferguson started strong on the mound, but by early July he was not pitching. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t even with the team. News reports in July and August mentioned him being home in Okemos with a “lame shoulder” and he ended his season early. 12

During the previous season, Toledo had been rejected for inclusion in the larger, more prestigious Western League. Although miffed over this, the Toledo community went” completely crazy” over its team when it defeated Dayton for the prized championship cup.13 Toledo sported an 83-43 record.

In 1898, Ferguson was back at Toledo and doing much more pitching than he had over the previous three years. He became the ace of the staff, going 25-17 in 43 appearances for the Mud Hens, and led the league in wins. He played in less than ten games in the field. Apparently, early in the season, the Okemos native struggled on the mound. But he hit his stride two months into the season. As the Toledo Bee claimed, “Charle (sic) Ferguson is certainly a great pitcher. He has, above all things, a head, and he is intelligent enough to use it. A pitcher will win as many games with his head as he will with his arm, and Ferguson knows how to use both and has both to use.”14 The Toledo team began the year strongly but faded and failed to capture the pennant.

During the season the 23 year-old ball player married 17 year-old Anna G. McGee. One account has them married in Windsor, Canada, in August, just across the border from Detroit. Another said they held a small, private ceremony in Toledo. Anna’s family operated a large hotel, the Burnett House, at 301 Perry Street, in downtown Toledo. She was called as one of Toledo’s “most popular young society ladies,” and was “highly accomplished.”15 Unfortunately, the union ended in divorce in 1902.

In the off-season the newlyweds lived in Lansing, only a few miles from Ferguson’s Okemos homestead. In 1899, his latest baseball job was to coach at Michigan Agricultural College for that spring. At the forerunner to Michigan State University, Ferguson’s boys posted a 6-5 record, his only stint as their coach. It was reported that Ferguson would again be pitching for Toledo in the Interstate League when their season began later that spring.

As was the case in the previous season, the 1899 Mud Hens started out the year strongly. During the early part of the schedule they had reeled off 17 straight wins. But by late August, the Ohio squad had lost its grasp of first place and had slumped to third. Ferguson dropped a pair of games in early September to Wheeling, West Virginia, and to the Mansfield, Ohio Haymakers, adding to the slide. “The Toledo’s after having a lead of seventy-five points one month ago have weakened again, the same as they did last year and will not be in it at the finish.” 16 By September their torrid early winning streak was a faded memory. Toledo slipped to fourth place in the final standings.

A year-end Interstate League pitching summary credits Ferguson with a three-hitter against Wheeling, a four-hitter against Springfield, a pair of five-hitters against Youngstown and Mansfield, and two six hit games. Shortly after the season, Toledo reserved the Okemos hurler for the 1900 season.

But, the newly revamped National League was also looking into signing Ferguson. “Lansing papers are authority for the statement that Chas. Ferguson, for the past three years pitcher for the Toledo Interstate League ball team, has received offers from the Philadelphia and New York National League teams and has them under consideration.”17

The turn of the century brought a turn to Ferguson’s affairs, as he renegotiated a deal and left the Toledo ball club. “Chas. Ferguson, the well-known ball twirler of Lansing, has signed with Sioux City of the new six team Western League for the coming 1900 season. He gets $175 per month and all expenses.”18 He reported to the team and posted a 15-15 record, batting a dismal .164 while playing some games in the field, too. On the good side, he was second on the team in wins, and posted an excellent ERA of 1.76 while starting 35 games and giving up less than a hit per inning. The team’s travel took him far beyond the confines of the old Interstate League, including trips to Denver, St. Joseph, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska.

It was the following year, 1901, that Ferguson played in his one and only major league game, as a pitcher for the National League’s Chicago Remnants, who were also known as the Orphans. In 1903 they adopted the nickname Chicago Cubs.

Incidentally, his major-league debut came after a winter in which it was reported he wouldn’t play ball in the 1901 season, “but will take up the business of a traveling salesman.”19 The Ingham County Democrat was more precise, stating he would travel for a cigar and tobacco firm in Sioux City, Iowa, “the town of his previous baseball exploits.”20 But fortunes changed; by the spring he decided to play baseball again and joined the Minneapolis Millers, as the Sioux City franchise had been moved to that Minnesota town. Confirming his short retirement, in April a newspaper reported that he “met with quite an accident in a practice game last Saturday.”21 Whatever it was, it didn’t hold him out as long as his lame shoulder had four years earlier.

The Minneapolis Millers manager, Johnny Beall, needed to weed out pitchers during early pre-season tryouts, but Ferguson was one “sure to stay with the team.”22 The first mention of Ferguson in the box that year came on May 22, in a 13-3 win over Denver, in which he struck out nine, but walked five while allowing six hits, including a home run. Around that time, Ferguson was nicknamed the “Big Blonde from Michigan.”23 His follow-up start was a 4-3 loss to Kansas City, a four-hitter in which the Michigan native gave up the tie-breaking run in the eighth inning. His pitching pattern that year seemed to alternate evenly between wins and losses (there are no known compiled statistics for this league in 1901). On May 30 against St. Paul, he won a game. He relieved on June 2, and then, on his next start, June 3, lost to Omaha 9-2, giving up eight runs in the fourth inning. He then won back-to-back games in mid-June, and also began playing in the field. When not taking his turn in the rotation, the Big Blonde from Michigan occasionally batted cleanup for Beall’s squad while playing first or second base.

Early in 1901, Minneapolis was near the top of the Western League’s standings, but by the end of July they had slumped to fourth place. The slide continued into August, helped somewhat by Ferguson, who dropped three straight games in the middle of the month. By now he was taking regular turns at bat while playing first base, as the squad was beset by numerous injuries. The Millers were “crippled:” “They have struck the toboggan…and nothing can stop them,” wrote one scribe of the late season tailspin.24

After a 10-day unexplained absence from the lineup, Ferguson reappeared. “Several uncouth moments experienced by C. Ferguson in the second part of the double attraction put on at Minnehaha Park yesterday afternoon spoiled all chance to give the locals a double boost in the percentage column.” Winning the opener against the St. Joseph Saints, Ferguson “slumped” in the nightcap. “C. Ferguson relied mostly upon an underground curve that forced John McConnell (catcher) to pose as a human jumping-jack during the larger part of the second affair. J. McConnell stopped enough ones to pass six men to first and C. Ferguson threw enough over the plate to permit nine buxom swats, two of them having extra base attachments.” 25 Poor fielding by the Millers’ contributed to six Saints’ runs, all unearned, in a 6-1 victory. By this time, Minneapolis was well under .500, and had fallen to sixth place.

Ferguson didn’t play in the few remaining games for the Millers that season. Instead he joined the roster of the National League Chicago club, dubbed the Remnants by the Chicago Tribune and the Orphans by other newspapers.

That September, the nation was beneath the pall that fell after the shooting and death of President William McKinley. His subsequent funeral ceremonies postponed the nation’s baseball on Thursday, September 19; all games were pushed back a day. Cold weather already had postponed Chicago’s Wednesday contest with Boston; the Remnants had to play back-to-back doubleheader make-ups on Friday and Saturday at West Side Park. The team needed additional pitchers for the four-game set against the Beaneaters.

With the flag at hanging at half-mast in honor of President McKinley, Friday was another chilly September day in Chicago. Kid Nichols pitched for the visiting Boston club and won the opener 3-1, on a four-hitter in ten innings.

In the nightcap, Chicago’s Mal Eason hurled the first six innings and gave up seven runs in a “contest (that) did not posses even the merit of being close.” 26 Boston’s Vic Willis was en route to becoming a twenty-game winner and was pitching a 7-0 gem by the time Ferguson entered the contest at the top of the seventh inning. “No more runs were secured, but it would be unfair to pass judgment on the short trial, in which he gave two bases on balls and was saved from trouble only by a running catch by Topsy Hartsel.”27 Ferguson faced all nine men in the Boston line-up during the seventh and eighth innings, and was throwing to John Kling, a young catcher who had played against Ferguson the year before in the Western League. Ferguson walked left-handed right fielder Pat Carney, who in the first game of the double header had made his major league debut. Ferguson also walked shortstop, Herman Long, who had led the National League in home runs in 1900 but now was struggling at the plate. Ferguson gave up one hit, didn’t strike out anyone, uncorked a wild pitch, but held Boston scoreless. Ferguson also made a plate appearance against the tall, right-handed Willis, and recorded an out. Before the ninth inning could begin, the game was called on account of darkness. Willis, a future Hall of Famer, cruised to a three-hit shutout while striking out eight Chicagoans. So, seven years after appearing as a teenager with the Lansing Senators, the 26 year-old Ferguson had made it to the majors.

Short though his appearance was, his effort garnered a headline in the Chicago Tribune the following day: “Remnants Lose in the Cold; Secure Only One Run in a Double-header against Boston-New Pitcher is Tried.”28

Although Chicago finished the season with an extended home stand, Ferguson didn’t appear in the team’s games against Philadelphia, New York, or Pittsburgh.

The Okemos man was planning on another major league season in 1902. Around Christmas time, he signed a contract with the National League Chicago team. His contract was assigned to the St. Paul Saints, in the newly formed American Association, which replaced the Western League.

For the next four years, despite winning 63 games and losing just 40, Ferguson never played his way back to the major leagues. In 1902, the Big Blonde posted his second-best season on the mound, going 21-10 for Saints. Ferguson also batted .282 — his highest batting average since his abbreviated 1896 season — and played about 30 additional games in the field. The Saints finished around the .500 mark, with Ferguson as ace of the staff. Playing second base was Miller Huggins, who later managed the New York Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig and earned induction to the Hall of Fame.

Ferguson did face major league competition on an April Sunday doubleheader that year against the Detroit Tigers American League. The Saints dropped one contest 4-3, in which Ferguson pitched and slugged a double at the plate.

During the off-season Ferguson wed again, this time to Anna Roler of St. Paul, on February 24, 1903. A week later the newlyweds made the rounds of Lansing and Okemos before heading back to Minnesota for another season.

The versatile and talented Ferguson was a popular player in Minnesota. A story reprint in the Ingham County Democrat from May 28, 1903, said Ferguson was featured with a picture and an article in the St. Paul Star: “This is St. Paul’s Star Pitcher…Charles Ferguson, better known to the fans as ‘Fergy,’ is unquestionably the best slab artist on the St. Paul team. In addition to his profuse assortment of curves, he has a well balanced top piece and is a diamond general. In case of an accident to a fielder, ‘Fergy’ is a most reliable substitute, and last year, he had the distinction of playing every position on the team, except backstop, in perfect style. “Fergy” lives in St. Paul. His host of friends and admirers include everybody from the captain of the Windjammers to Mayor Smith.”29 St. Paul won the American Association pennant that year and Ferguson went 19-10 in 35 games, ranking second on his team in wins and eighth in the league.

“Fergy” started 26 games for St. Paul in 1904, posting a 14-8 record. His season was cut short, not by injuries this time, but by a suspension. League President J. Ed Grillo banished Ferguson from the first week of September until the end of the season and fined him $100 for assaulting an umpire. Newspapers reported Ferguson punched umpire Frank Killen in the face and kicked him in the legs, leaving some bad spike wounds. Ferguson, who had been pitching, apparently disagreed with a call at first base that led to a pair of runs against Minneapolis.

Ferguson posted a 9-12 record in 1905, but his batting average in limited plate appearances rose to .290 Early in the season Ferguson was on a torrid pace, hitting at the “lively clip” of .421, good for second in the American Association.30 He and Anna lived on Aurora Avenue in St. Paul during that season.

In 1906, he tried his hand at umpiring. In the fall the Ingham County Democrat noted, “Chas. Ferguson, now an arbitrator of base ball contests…” was back in mid-Michigan and visiting friends.31

After one year behind the plate, the Big Blonde returned in 1907 to the playing diamond and finished out his career in Class D ball. He played 104 games for Wausau in the Wisconsin State League. He batted .261 in nearly 400 at-bats as an outfielder and player-manager. His average led the team and he was fourth in hits, with 92. The following year he returned to the Lumberjacks as a player-manager in the newly organized Wisconsin-Illinois State League. In just 47 games, he posted a dismal .150 batting average, worst on the team. The next year, Wausau no longer fielded a team and Ferguson moved to the Appleton Papermakers, again as a player-manager. Ferguson raised his average to .256 in 38 games. He guided the squad to a third-place finish at 66-57, 10 games behind league winner, the Madison Senators. That season was the end of Ferguson’s playing career.

In 1910, he resumed minor league umpiring. In 1913, he ascended to a major league post. Debuting on April 1, Ferguson sailed along until May 3, when he was involved in an incident that grabbed headlines weeks afterward. He ejected St. Louis Browns manager, George Stovall, from a game for arguing balls and strikes. It was the first time Ferguson had tossed a player or manager that year, but this was no ordinary ejection. Stovall managed to get himself suspended from the team as both a player and manager, courtesy of the league office.

Playing in St. Louis that day, the Cleveland team was drilling Stovall’s Browns. In the sixth inning, Ferguson called Stovall out on strikes. It was already a bad day for the manager-first baseman, who also had made a throwing error and a questionable decision to leave his pitcher in the box, leading to runs scored. Stovall’s foul mood escalated to rage after the called strike out. A noted hothead, he began to argue with the umpire. When Ferguson had had enough, Stovall was tossed from the game.

In the custom of the day, Stovall had left his glove on the field while his team was at bat. He took his sweet time retrieving it from the first base area. According to the Browns Jimmy Austin, Stovall picked up his glove and then strolled, “maybe even slower” back to his third-base line dugout.32 To antagonize Ferguson, Stovall detoured behind home plate, and Ferguson allegedly told him to hurry up. “I guess that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Austin said. Stovall responded by spitting a large wad of tobacco, juice and all, onto Ferguson’s face and coat. Austin said it “was an awful mess.”33 Other accounts claimed that in addition to the spitting, Stovall grabbed Ferguson’s cap off of his head and kicked the umpire.

American League President Ban Johnson immediately got wind of the incident in a post-game telegram from Ferguson. He suspended Stovall. But it was about to get worse for the St. Louis manager. Johnson, known as a law and order commissioner, pledged to get to the bottom of the incident and threatened that “drastic measures” would be used to preserve discipline.34 “As soon as Ferguson wired me his side of the affair I decided that Stovall deserved immediate and indefinite suspension, but after reading the umpire’s letter which came this morning, I am more of the opinion that Stovall was more at fault than ever, and immediately notified him that he had been relieved of his duties as manager.”35 In addition, Stovall was suspended without pay.

This was just one incident in Stovall’s record of misbehavior, which also included tossing a chair at a manager. But oddly, he had briefly been an umpire in the Imperial League in 1910 before making his way back to the major leagues as a player. Interestingly enough, a column in The Sporting News claimed Stovall’s shocking behavior with Ferguson was “some stuff that used to go 20 years ago, but which is not permitted in well regulated base ball as the present generation knows it.”36

The Stovall-Ferguson incident made the front page of the next TSN issue. President Johnson claimed he couldn’t recall any thing as serious as this, and declared that Stovall’s suspension as a player and as manager were two different things. “There isn’t room in the American league for players who commit offenses against public decency. I am astonished that any manager should create such a scene by losing his self-control in the presence of a large assemblage of patrons of the game.”37

As Johnson took his time reviewing the case, Browns fans became unhappy with Stovall’s absence from both the dugout and the field. Crying “Stovall is Needed,” a TSN column wondered if the delay was “part of the deep-dyed conspiracy to keep the Browns from winning the pennant and to put Colonel Hedges out of baseball.”38 The wild-eyed conspiracy theory surmised that Stovall was actually set up by another umpire who had given the manager the tobacco in the first place as a trick. The same article blasted the game’s two umps, saying “it is admitted by all hands who write for the papers that O’Loughlin and Ferguson have gone from bad to worse and worser.”39

President Johnson lifted Stovall’s managerial suspension after three weeks, and told him to pen an apology to Ferguson. For his umpire assault, a TSN editorial claimed “the difference between decency and indecency has been drilled into Stovall…and he is not likely to repeat with anything akin to the act that brought him into the limelight.”40 Two years later, in a midweek, 1915 Federal League game in Kansas City against Brooklyn, Stovall slugged an umpire named Corcoran while disputing a double play. He was ejected from that game. His behavior forced the Kansas City management to postpone a “George Stovall Day” meant to honor his many years in baseball.

Ferguson tossed only one more manager in 1913: Detroit’s Hughie Jennings, in early June. Ferguson also gave the heave-ho to four players, three for arguing balls and strikes (Cleveland’s Doc Johnston was ejected for bench jockeying). None reached the fevered heights of Stovall’s indecent actions.

Ferguson was still respected in the game following the end of his first tumultuous season as a man in black. In the off-season, the Washington Times interviewed the former hurler about the spitball. Ferguson had used the pitch, in addition to a curve and fastball. “Take my own case. Once I had as good an arm as any pitcher needs. Finally it went back on me, but by cultivating a slow ball I got by for several seasons. But I was persuaded to take up the spitball and though I had good success with it for one season it killed my arm completely in less than five months. As I look at it the spitball is popular because by using it pitchers can dispense with using their brains to some extent.”41

Ferguson’s umpiring career ended after one game in 1914.

Eventually, Charles and Anna would return to Lansing, and later to the ball player’s hometown, living on Okemos Road in Meridian Township. His Okemos property included a kennel where he raised trophy winning pointer dogs, which were shown in field trials across the United States and Canada. He continued to work in real estate, became wealthy and traveled the country hunting and fishing in his spare time.

Charlie’s love of the outdoors led to his tragic death in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On Sunday, May 17, 1931, along with a cousin and a friend, he headed north for a fishing trip. After piling equipment into a small rented boat at Emerson, a fishing village at the mouth of the Tahquamenon River, the trio headed out into Whitefish Bay. Their destination was Neomekang Point, a few miles to the east. The boat owner, Hugh Clark, reportedly warned the men to stay close to the shore and stay in Tahquamenon Bay due to their heavy load and strong winds. Clark told authorities the men ignored his advice, and “put well out into the (Whitefish) Bay on a wide turn up the bay toward river’s mouth.”42 There were no witnesses to what happened next. However, authorities surmised the boat was too weighted down and it either capsized or sank. The three men were plunged into the cold Lake Superior water.

No one knew of the tragedy at the time, and it wasn’t until the men had failed to return to Emerson at the end of their planned, week-long vacation, that a search was undertaken. Two of the bodies were found in the following three weeks, but not the ball player’s. A month after the May 17 incident, hope for finding Charles Ferguson’s body was fading. But on June 19, a fisherman finally discovered his body floating a mile east of Parisienne Island, nearly twenty miles across Whitefish Bay and in Canadian waters.

A large funeral was held at the People’s Church in East Lansing in honor of Charles Ferguson. He was buried in Lansing’s Mount Hope Cemetery. Anna Ferguson died in 1955 and is also buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. The couple had no children.

Ferguson’s cup of coffee in the major leagues and minimally longer stint as an umpire were salient achievements of a career that began on the ball fields of Ingham County, Michigan, during the game’s infancy. He rose, albeit ever so briefly, to its highest ranks both on the field and behind the plate, something very few men could ever claim.

 

Sources

 

Archives of Ontario, Marriage Records, 1801-1928

Baseball Almanac

Baseball-Reference.com

Federal Census Reports, 1870-1930

Ingham County News

Ingham County Democrat

Lansing Journal

Lowenfish, Lee, Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, First Nebraska Paperback Printing, 2007.

Michigan Divorce Records, 1897-1952

Minnesota State Census, 1905

MSUSpartans.com

Reichler, Joseph L., Baseball Encyclopedia, 4th Edition, New York, MacMillan Publishing Company, 1979.

Retrosheet.org

Ritter, Lawrence S., The Glory of Their Times, New York, Harper Perennial, 1984.

Sault Ste. Marie, The Evening News

Spokane Daily Chronicle

The Sporting News

Washington Times

Wiggins, Robert Preston, The Federal League of Baseball Clubs, This History of an Outlaw Major League, 1914-15, McFarland Company, 2009.

Williamston Enterprise

 

 

Notes

1 “On to Richmond,” Ingham County Democrat, August 24, 1893, 1.

2 “Okemos,” Ingham County Democrat, April 19, 1894, 8.

3 Lansing Journal, May 10, 1895, 1.

4 “”The Ball Game,” Williamston Enterprise, July 17, 1895, 3.

5 Williamston Enterprise, November 20, 1895, 3.

6 “New Pacific League,” The Sporting News, May 23, 1896, 4.

7 Williamston Enterprise, May 6, 1896, 3.

8 Ingham County Democrat, May 7, 1896, 1.

9 J.A. Miller, “Turned Up Its Toes,” The Sporting News, June 27, 1896, 6.

10 “Interstate Gossip,” The Sporting News, August 1, 1896, 6.

11 The Sporting News, August 16, 1896, 6.

12 “Your Folks and Our Folks,” Ingham County Democrat, July 15, 1897, 5.

13 “Why Strobel Succeeds,” The Sporting News, October 2, 1897, 1.

14 Ingham County Democrat, June 30, 1898, 1.

15 Ingham County Democrat, October 27, 1898, 1.

16 A.L. Lichenswalter, “Fighting for Second Place,” The Sporting News, September 16, 1899, 5.

17 Ingham County Democrat, November 16, 1899, 1.

18 Ingham County Democrat, March 15, 1900, 1.

19 Ingham County News, February 14, 1901, 1.

20 Ingham County Democrat, February 14, 1901, 1.

21 Ingham County Democrat, April 18, 1901, 1.

22 The Sporting News, May 18, 1901, 5.

23 Ingham County News, May 30,1901, 1.

24 “St.Paul Coming Fast,” The Sporting News, August 31, 1901, 4.

25 J.A. Miller, “Made an Even Break,” The Sporting News, September 21, 1901, 7.

26 “Remnants Lose in the Cold,” Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1901, 6.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ingham County Democrat, May 28, 1903, 3.

30 Ingham County Democrat, June 15, 1905, 1.

31 Ingham County Democrat, September 12, 1906, 5.

32 Lawrence S. Ritter, “The Glory of Their Times,” (New York: Harper Perennial, 1984), 76.

33 Ibid, 76-77.

34 “Johnson Outs Stovall,” New York Times, May 6, 1913.

35 Ibid.

36 “High Water Marks,” The Sporting News, May 8, 1913, 4.

37 “Johnson Severe on George Stovall, The Sporting News, May 8, 1913, 1.

38 “Stovall is Needed,” The Sporting News, May 15, 1913, 4.

39 Ibid.

40 “Stovall’s Real Punishment,” The Sporting News, May 29,1913, 4.

41 “Is the Spitball Out of Fashion,” Washington Times, December 27, 1913, 12.

42 “Lake Superior Takes Lives Two Okemos Men,” Ingham County News, May 28, 1931, 1.