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Star on rise in 1880s, Ferguson's life cut short

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Charlie Ferguson, a 6-foot, 170-pounder, was a gifted athlete with the Phillies during the early years of the franchise.

As a 21-year-old, he won his Major League debut on May 1, 1884, beating the Detroit Wolverines, 13-2. Not only was it a complete game, but he added a triple and two singles.

Many thought Ferguson would have gone down as one of the game's greatest players if his life hadn't ended April 29, 1888, from typhoid fever. Death came in Philadelphia less than two weeks after he turned 25.

His four-year pitching numbers were impressive: 21-25, 26-20, 30-9 and 22-10. In 183 games, he was 99-64 with a 2.67 ERA. In 1,514 2/3 innings, he allowed 1,402 hits and 290 walks, while striking out 728.

Ferguson's 99 wins rank seventh on the Phillies' all-time list.

When he wasn't pitching, he was used in the outfield, second base and third base. He was a .288 career hitter, driving in 157 runs in 257 games.

Ferguson was signed by the Phils for $1,500 off the sandlots of his hometown of Charlottesville, Va. He never played in the Minor Leagues.

He tossed a no-hitter on Aug. 29, 1885, 1-0, over Providence, the first in Phillies history.

During a three-city road trip to Chicago in 1886, Ferguson became ill and asked manager Harry Wright if he could return to his Virginia home for proper treatment. Wright refused, but Ferguson went anyway, taking a train. After spending 10 days in bed and missing the entire trip, he rejoined the team in Philadelphia with doctor's note in hand. While it isn't known how many starts he missed, Ferguson finished 30-9 with a 1.98 ERA that season. His 30 wins ranked sixth in the NL. The ERA was the lowest.

Ferguson won 12 in a row that season, a mark that stood in the Phils' record book until Steve Carlton's 15-game winning streak in 1972.

In 1887, Ferguson's final season, the Phillies came in second, their highest finish, and set a club attendance record of 253,671. They reached second by ending the season on a 16-game winning streak (plus one tie), including 11 on the road. By comparison, the club's modern winning streak is 13 consecutive games (1977, 1991).

Ferguson played in all 17 games, going 7-0 and hitting .361. Playing as the everyday second baseman when he didn't pitch, Ferguson led the club with 85 RBIs.

He never touched a baseball again.

Larry Shenk is the vice president of Alumni Relations for the Phillies. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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