The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #9 Fergie Jenkins

I was going to write this profile myself, but got busy with some of the other top 10 profiles and found myself in a time bind. So, I thought: who among the BCB community would most appreciate a guy who threw so many innings and so many CG's?

Naturally, it's danimal15. He was grateful for the opportunity, and this profile is his.

In Cub lore, the name Ernie Broglio lives in infamy. Broglio, of course, was the sore-armed pitcher the Cubs received in exchange for future Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock in a much-lamented 1964 trade with the Cardinals.

For Phillie fans, the names Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl likely evoke similar pain. Those are the two pitchers the Phillies received from the Cubs early in the 1966 season in exchange for first baseman John Herrnstein, outfielder Adolfo Phillips - and a young Canadian relief pitcher named Ferguson Jenkins.

The Cubs' main target in the deal was Herrnstein, whom they felt could spell the aging Ernie Banks at first base. The Phillies were happy to get two veteran arms in Buhl and Jackson. "It's the best deal we could have made," Phillies manager Gene Mauch said at the time. "I think it complemented our staff exactly the way we wanted." He would soon regret those words, and the trade.

Jackson ended up winning a respectable 41 games for the Phillies before retiring after the 1968 season at age 37. Buhl won six games for the Phillies in 1966 and none thereafter, retiring in 1967.

It was that year, during the "Summer of Love," that Jenkins had the first of six consecutive 20-win campaigns for the Cubs on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career spanning 19 seasons, 284 wins, a Cy Young Award and 3,192 strikeouts. Jenkins became the best starting pitcher in modern Cub history, though he played a good portion of his career elsewhere, and ranks among the great starting pitchers of an era that produced a bumper crop.

On a side note, the trade that brought Jenkins to the Cubs was almost never made. Cub general manager John Holland had wanted to acquire Orlando Cepeda from the Giants to replace Banks, but the Giants said no and traded Cepeda to St. Louis for pitcher Ray Sadecki instead. So Holland ended up dealing with the Phillies.

Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, Jr. was born in Chatham, Ontario, which is about fifty miles east of Detroit, Michigan, on December 13, 1942. His mother's family had come to Canada from the U.S. by way of the Underground Railroad. His father's family emigrated from Barbados. Jenkins' father worked as a chef and chauffeur for wealthy families in Chatham, but also loved sports and introduced his son to athletics. The elder Jenkins was an amateur boxer and a semi-pro baseball player.

Young "Fergie" excelled in all sports. His high school basketball team was the city champion, and he played hockey as well. Ironically, the one sport he didn't play for his high school was baseball, because his school didn't have a team. Instead, he played organized baseball through service clubs like JCs, Kiwanis, Kinsman and Rotary. Jenkins started off as a first baseman and an outfielder, trying to emulate his hero, Larry Doby.

Some believed he had the skill to be a professional hockey player, but he decided to pursue baseball instead. The Phillies signed him in 1962, as a pitcher, for $6,500 after scouting him for several years.

"The Phils said pitching would be a quicker way for me to sign professionally because I had a pretty good arm and I was the tallest kid on the team," Jenkins later said, according to "Wrigleyville, a Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs," by Peter Golenbock. "They felt that pitching might be a position I could learn and adapt to and maybe I could sign professionally. So I started pitching at age 16."

The Phillies gave an area scout, Gene DuJure, an instruction book on how to pitch. DuJure took the book to the field, and caught Jenkins.

In the minors, Jenkins played in Florida in the early 1960s and found out firsthand about racial discrimination when a restaurant refused to serve him and a Hispanic teammate. Jenkins didn't make too big a stink. "I wasn't down there to be a crusader. I was down there to be an athlete," he later said.

Later in his minor league career, playing in Arkansas, Jenkins faced catcalls from racists in the stands. "We don't want you here, nigger," some would yell.

Jenkins got called up to the Phillies in 1965, and teammate Robin Roberts saw his abilities and begged the Phillies' management to switch Jenkins from the bullpen to the rotation. His pleas went unanswered, and the Phillies traded Jenkins to the Cubs.

Fergie's debut for the Cubs came on April 23, 1966. He pitched 5.1 innings of 4-hit, no-run relief, and got the win in a 2-0 Cub victory. He also drove in both of the Cub runs with a 2-out, 2-run homer off Don Sutton in the 5th inning. Only 6,974 were on hand at Wrigley that day to see Jenkins' heroics.

Though Jenkins went from being an unknown rookie relief pitcher with the Phillies to a 20-game winner with the Cubs in just over a year, his progress in Chicago wasn't without a hitch. First, he had to deal with the team's prickly manager, Leo "the Lip" Durocher.

In his book, "The Cubs of '69," former Chicago Tribune sports columnist Rick Talley tells the story of Jenkins, a fresh-faced 23-year old in 1966, standing on the mound at Wrigley Field blowing bubbles with his gum as he pitched. Cub owner P. K. Wrigley was watching the game on television.

The next day, Durocher called a team meeting.

"Who owns this team, Jenkins?" Durocher said.

"Mr. Wrigley," Jenkins replied.

"That's right, Mr. Wrigley," Durocher said. "And what does Mr. Wrigley do for a living?"

"Sells chewing gum," Jenkins said.

"That's right, chewing gum. Not bubble gum!"

A day later, Jenkins found that equipment man Yosh Kawano had filled the top of his locker with Wrigley's Spearmint gum.

"So I chewed it," recalled Jenkins. "But it wouldn't make bubbles."

Even without bubbles to blow, Jenkins soon became a regular in the Cubs' starting rotation. Credit for that goes to Durocher, who recognized the 6-5, 205-pound right-hander's talent and designated him to be the Opening Day starter in 1967 despite the fact that Jenkins had started just 12 games the previous year. Jenkins rewarded Durocher for his good sense by throwing a six-hitter in a 4-2 Cub win that started off a year in which the Cubs were competitive for the first time in two decades.

Another standout moment in Jenkins' early Cub career came later that season on July 2, 1967, when Jenkins beat the Reds 4-1 in front of a Wrigley Field crowd of 36,062 to put the Cubs into a tie for first place. It was the first time in two decades that the team had been in first place so late in the season.

"Wrigley Field was packed, and after the game was over, the fans all stayed there to see what would happen on the East Coast, whether the Cardinals would lose, to see if our pennant would fly on top of that pole in Wrigley Field," Jenkins remembered. "And I can recall that when they announced we went into first place - the Mets had beaten the Cardinals - there was a cheer for, man, ten minutes. A lot of us were in the dressing room, and when this cheer came up, we knew with all the excitement that something was happening. We said to each other, 'Hey, the fans are still in the ballpark.' And we were happy to hear we were in first place for the first time. We all rushed outside to see what the heck was going on. We stood in the doorway and watched them put that Cub flag on top of the pole. We were jubilant."

Jenkins had an entire stable of pitches that worked for him, including a good fastball, a decent curve and an outstanding slider. Jenkins also threw a 70 MPH pitch he called a forkball, but later realized was an early version of the split-finger fastball that Bruce Sutter eventually made famous.

Jenkins also possessed fantastic control. His regular catcher, Randy Hundley, said he could put his glove out and catch Jenkins with his eyes closed. In 1967, his first full year as a starter, Jenkins walked 83 batters in 289 innings, but he never would walk that many again. His control peaked in his Cy Young award season of 1971, when he walked only 37 hitters in 325 innings. He was the first 3000-strikeout pitcher to reach that plateau while walking fewer than 1000. Since then Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling have matched that, and Pedro Martinez will do so with his second strikeout of 2007.

Jenkins racked up a ton of innings for the Cubs, and often had to go beyond the ninth to win his games. Between 1968 and 1973, Jenkins had four 10-inning wins, as well as a 12-inning loss and a 12-inning no-decision. For six years in a row, he never threw fewer than 20 complete games.

"My mother told me, "Once you start something, try to finish it," Jenkins wrote in his autobiography. "I always knew my job. I was a starting pitcher. My job was to stop losing streaks, to pitch consistently and to pitch well."

He also knew that Durocher didn't care much about his players' physical condition. "If a man had a slight injury or was just plain tired, Leo didn't want to hear about it," Jenkins wrote. "He just rubbed a man's nose in the dirt and sent him back out there. You played until you dropped."

All that playing seemed to agree with Jenkins, who never lost any significant time to injury during his career. He pitched 289 innings in 1967, 308 in 1968, 311 in the tragic 1969 season, 313 in 1970, 325 in 1971, 289 in 1972 and 271 in 1973. He led the league in complete games four different years, going the distance an astonishing 30 times in 39 starts in 1971. He also set team strikeout records in four consecutive years starting in 1967 with 236, 260, 273 and 274.

In his days with the Cubs, Jenkins was often the victim of a weak offense. In June 1968, he lost back-to-back 1-0 games, throwing ten innings in the first and an 8-inning CG in the other. Indeed, those were just two of the six 1-0 defeats he suffered in that "Year of the Pitcher." Jenkins won 20 games in 1968, but it's fair to say he could have been a 25-game winner had his team just scored some runs for him.

Jenkins also found himself hurt by poor Cub defense in a game that echoes down through the ages. On July 8, 1969, it was Jenkins on the mound at Shea Stadium when Cub centerfielder Don Young played two separate fly balls into hits - the second one coming with two outs in the ninth inning and allowing the Mets to score the winning run. Although the Cubs' infamous collapse didn't begin for another six weeks or so, that game was certainly prelude.

Unlike Durocher, who griped within earshot of Young after the game, "My three-year-old could have caught those balls," Jenkins didn't have a temper tantrum about the defensive lapses. Nor did he let Durocher bother him too much, even when Leo at another point during the 1969 collapse called Jenkins a "quitter" - an interesting choice of words considering Jenkins' record. From all accounts, Jenkins was a mild-mannered fellow who just went out every fourth day and did his job.

"We started the season in first place, and we kept on winning," Jenkins said years later, recalling 1969. "It was enjoyable to go to the ballpark, because you knew that the ballclub you had was going to score runs for you. That makes it easier for you, makes the game a lot more interesting, and the game becomes more fun.

"We had a good ball club. We scored four or five runs a game. We had good defense, and we played well. And we were all getting along. Leo was hard. He didn't let you lay back. If you had a good home stand, hey, you didn't sit back and say, `Hey, I'm hitting great.' You had to keep doing it because Leo was the type of guy who wouldn't let you sit back."

He later said Durocher's big mistakes in 1969 were riding the starting position players too hard and not getting extra bullpen help.

Often, Jenkins seemed to draw the best pitcher on the Cubs' opponent as his mound foe:

"A lot of times when I pitched, I got the number one pitcher on the opposing team. Against the Dodgers, I didn't usually pitch against Koufax. I got Drysdale most of the time, or Don Sutton. I got Juan Marichal a lot, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and sometimes Gaylord Perry.

"I pitched a lot of times against Bob Gibson. I had some good games against him. We had some battles. If Gibson knocked our players back, hey, I was going to knock their players back. Brock, Flood, Shannon, Boyer, whoever they were. Bill White, hey, I was going right after them, because if I didn't get my teammates' respect, the guys wouldn't play for me.

"There are a lot of times I'd pitch against Seaver, and he might knock Santo back, or Ernie. If he didn't come up in that inning, I'd knock their leadoff hitter back. If Seaver came up, I'd let him know."

The Jenkins vs. Gibson match-up is among the most ballyhooed in baseball history. These two fierce competitors often faced each other in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and usually ended up in classic pitching duels.

Jenkins came out on top of Gibson more often than not. In the eight games that they pitched against each other between 1967 and 1972, Jenkins had a 5-2 record; Gibson was 2-5, with a no-decision for both in the other game.

Perhaps their most legendary face-off came on Opening Day at Wrigley, April 6, 1971. The game went into the 10th tied at one, and Jenkins was perfect in the 10th against the Cardinals. Gibson came out for the bottom of the 10th, and with one out allowed a game-winning solo homer to Billy Williams. Jenkins struck out seven and walked none in throwing a 3-hitter.

Gibson got his revenge the next year, when he faced Jenkins on May 31, 1972 in what turned out to be their last match-up. Although Jenkins allowed just 8 hits and one run in a complete game effort, it wasn't enough, as Gibson tossed a 3-hit shutout in a contest that lasted just an hour and 47 minutes.

Starting in 1967, Jenkins won 20, 20, 21, 22, 24 and 20 games. The only other post-19th century Cub pitcher to notch six-straight 20-win seasons was Three Finger Brown, who did so between 1906 and 1911. Jenkins' 24-win season came in 1971, possibly the best year of his career. He went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA and 263 strikeouts, walking only 37, to win the Cy Young award. As if his pitching weren't enough, he also gave a great performance at the plate, belting six homers - a team record no Cub pitcher matched until last season when Carlos Zambrano collected six round-trippers. Indeed, Jenkins was multi-talented, playing with the Harlem Globetrotters to keep in shape during winters.

It must have been disappointing to Jenkins, though, that the Cubs, who posted winning records during each of Jenkins' six 20-win seasons, never finished in first place during his time with the team. However, he had the consolation of a big salary, which rose to $125,000 in 1972, making him one of baseball's richest players.

Though Jenkins was among the toughest pitchers around, there was one hitter who had his number: Roberto Clemente of the Pirates.

"Clemente was a nemesis for me," Jenkins said. "He'd come up with a big hit in the eighth or ninth inning to beat me 2-1 or 3-2 with a double. He had that knack. He beat a lot of people, but when the Cubs faced Pittsburgh - and I would get five or six starts against them - I just knew psychologically Pittsburgh was the team we had to beat, and unfortunately, I didn't have a winning record against Pittsburgh. I was something like 11-22 lifetime against Pittsburgh."

But that's Jenkins being overly critical of himself, because even if he had trouble against the Pirates, who had a very strong lineup in the early 1970s, Jenkins was a nemesis for hitters in the rest of the league. He won 127 games over the six years between 1967 and 1972, with 24 shutouts during that stretch. He also threw a one-hitter and three two-hitters over the course of those six years.

By 1973, Durocher was gone, replaced by Whitey Lockman, who brought a different managerial style that Jenkins didn't admire. After completing at least half of his starts each year between 1967 and 1972, Jenkins had just seven complete games under Lockman in 1973, and his ERA soared to an uncharacteristic 3.89. The Cubs suffered one of their epic collapses that year, and Jenkins didn't pitch particularly well down the stretch (excepting a 12-inning, one run start on July 22 in which he didn't get a decision). His record was a disappointing 14-16. Some began to worry that all the innings had taken their toll on his arm.

"That's when the criticism got really heavy...when they said I had a bad arm," Jenkins said later. "I didn't have a bad arm. I had a manager who didn't show any confidence in me. Leo would give me the ball and say, `This is your game to win or lose.' I pitched a lot of nine-inning ball games, 11 innings, 12 innings, whatever it took to win a ball game under Leo. But Whitey didn't show the same confidence in me. I remember in this one game Whitey took me out in the seventh inning with the score tied 2-2. After I came into the dugout, I threw the bats out on the field. I was so angry."

By 1973, the Cub organization was eager to break apart the team, trading veterans of the 1969 squad and trying out new talent such as Rick Monday, Jose Cardenal, and soon, Bill Madlock. Madlock - a third baseman to replace the aging and soon-to-be-traded Ron Santo - and Vic Harris were the two Texas Rangers who came to Chicago for Jenkins in a trade on Oct. 25, 1973. It was one of those rare trades that helped both teams. Harris never amounted to much, but Madlock went on to win consecutive batting titles for the Cubs. And Jenkins had one last season of eye-popping statistics in 1974 for the Rangers and their new manager, Billy Martin.

That year, at the age of 31, Jenkins went 25-12 with 29 complete games in 41 starts. He tossed 328 innings and finished with six shutouts, 225 strikeouts, a 2.82 ERA and just 45 walks. His first start for the Rangers was a one-hit, 10-strikeout 2-0 shutout vs. the reigning world champion Oakland A's in a game that lasted less than two hours. Clearly, Jenkins felt he had something to prove to his old team. He just missed another Cy Young Award that year, finishing a few points behind Catfish Hunter, who also went 25-12 but had a slightly lower ERA.

Not that it was all beer and Skittles for Jenkins playing in Texas. He had to deal with Martin. According to Talley, on Jenkins' first day of training camp with the Rangers, Martin approached him and said, "I've heard two things about you: One, you've got a bad arm. Two, you're a clubhouse lawyer."

"Well," Jenkins said later. "I just looked him in the eye and said, `You're wrong on both counts.'" He went on to that 25-win season and followed up with 17 wins in 1975.

Jenkins didn't last long in Texas, heading to Boston for the 1976 and 1977 seasons. He was 33 when he arrived there, and clearly his best years were behind him. Eventually, manager Don Zimmer banished Jenkins to the bullpen, and was enraged one night in September 1977 when Jenkins allegedly fell asleep on the bench and had to be woken to warm up (Jenkins denied it). He never pitched again in a Boston uniform.

Jenkins returned to Texas for another four years starting in 1978, and he posted decent numbers, notably an 18-8, 3.04 performance his first year back. His 16-14 record in 1979 wasn't too shabby, either, though his ERA rose quite a bit, perhaps a sign of his approaching age 37.

In 1980, Jenkins got into trouble. That August, he was caught with three grams of cocaine in his luggage. Charges of possession were eventually dismissed, and Jenkins didn't end up facing jail time. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, however, suspended Jenkins and ordered him to pay $10,000 to a drug education program in Texas. At the time, some wondered if Jenkins' drug bust might keep him from the Hall of Fame. Jenkins later said he had been transporting the drugs for teammates (whom he wouldn't name), and admitted smoking pot in the past.

On a brighter note, Jenkins got his 100th American League win in 1980, becoming only the fourth pitcher to win 100 in both leagues (two others have accomplished the feat since).

The drug bust, along with Jenkins' forgettable seasons for the Rangers in 1980 and 1981, spelled the end of the road for Jenkins in Texas. But the Cubs, under new ownership and with a new general manager, Dallas Green, came calling in late 1981. They signed Jenkins to a lucrative free agent contract that made him one of the highest-paid players on the team.

"Dallas got ahold of me and asked point blank, `Can you still pitch?'" Jenkins later recalled. "I said, `Yeah, I can still pitch.' He said `We need a veteran right-handed pitcher.' So I signed with the Cubs. He gave me the money I wanted. I had second thoughts at first about coming back. `I'm 39. I wonder if I can catch the magic again?'"

Cub fans were happy to have Jenkins back. No one thought Jenkins could help the team much, but after a horrendous 38-65 showing in the strike-shortened 1981 season, Green knew the team needed something to get fans interested. Average Wrigley Field attendance in 1981 was 9,923, and embarrassingly, the Cubs were sometimes outdrawn that year by the Chicago Sting soccer team, with whom they shared the ballpark. Average attendance did rise to over 15,000 in 1982, partly because of the new ownership and their "building a new tradition", but certainly, Fergie's presence drew some fans back to the ballpark.

Jenkins rose to the occasion, going 14-15 on an 89-loss Cub team in 1982, leading the club in wins. He also led the team in innings pitched with 217. Jenkins started the home opener on April 9 and threw 6.2 shutout innings in a 5-0 win highlighted by a Bill Buckner home run. With a high temperature of just 40 and a low of 27 that day, only 26,000 fans showed up (I was one of them). There were snowball fights in the bleachers. [Note from Al: I can confirm this, as I was there too -- plus, people were whipping snowballs at us from the buildings across the street on Sheffield. We all figured if anyone had an arm that good, they should be playing for the Cubs!]

Later in 1982, Jenkins notched his 3,000th career strikeout, fanning Garry Templeton in San Diego. He finished the year with four complete games, a shutout and an excellent 3.15 ERA.

The magic ran out for Jenkins in 1983, when he could only muster a 6-9 record and a 4.30 ERA. He shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen, and wound up with 15 no-decisions. His last appearance came in relief against the Phillies at Wrigley on September 26. Jenkins threw one inning and allowed two runs, including a homer to Joe Lefebvre (not a relative of the future Cub manager).

Though Jenkins was 40 at the end of the 1983 season and coming off his worst year ever, he hoped the Cubs would keep him around. But Dallas Green and Jim Frey - the new Cub manager - had no intention of filling a roster spot with the aging Jenkins, who was making around $400,000, big money at the time. Instead, they placed their bets on the aging Rick Reuschel and the aging Dick Ruthven - neither of whom helped the 1984 Cubs all that much. It's interesting to think what might have happened had Jenkins been allowed to come back. Perhaps he would have helped lead the team to its division title; more likely he would have been hit hard, just as he had been the year before. Whatever the case, Jenkins' release from the team in spring training meant that he never got a chance to pitch in the post-season.

For Jenkins, who was 16 wins shy of 300 victories, being released was a huge disappointment.

"I would have won more games for the Cubs even if we'd had any kind of bullpen," Jenkins said later, referring to his second go-around with the team. "For that matter, I could have won some games for the 1984 Cubs. Unfortunately, Jim Frey didn't agree with me. They released me in the spring, and that was the end of my quest for 300 victories.

"You know, it's funny about that 1984 team. That was the year they were finally going to dislodge the hatchet from the back...finally win a pennant for the Cubs. But it didn't work. They couldn't get the hatchet out."

After being released by the Cubs, Jenkins got calls from six different teams. But he decided if he was going to win 300 games, he wanted to do it for the Cubs and no one else. He didn't want to be a hanger-on, bouncing from team to team.

Jenkins moved back north and played semi-pro ball in Canada for a while. He also tended his soybean farm in Ontario and coached the Canadian National baseball team. He eventually moved to a 160-acre ranch in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where he raised horses. After some time coaching pitchers in the minors, he returned to the majors as a pitching coach for a short stint coaching for the Cubs in the mid-1990s under manager Jim Riggleman. Jenkins did a good job, but was fired because of philosophical differences with Riggleman.

Sadly, Jenkins suffered a two separate family tragedies in the early 1990s. In 1991, his wife died from injuries she suffered in a car crash. And two years later, his babysitter and three-year-old daughter died in what police classified as a murder-suicide.

Since leaving the Cubs' coaching job after the 1996 season, Jenkins has worked with Major League Baseball's Player's Alumni Association, making appearances to raise money for worthy causes. In Canada, he launched the Fergie Jenkins Charitable Foundation, which raises money for the Red Cross, cancer treatment and summer camps for underprivileged children. Jenkins remains a national hero in his home country.

Jenkins, voted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, remains a Cub icon. He certainly was the team's greatest pitcher in the second half of the 20th century, and it's unlikely any future Cub pitcher will approach his performance. Since Jenkins was traded in 1973, only three Cub pitchers have had even one 20-win season (Rick Reuschel in 1977, Greg Maddux in 1992 and Jon Lieber in 2001), let alone six in a row.

And whatever happened to John Herrnstein, the first baseman the Cubs wanted from the Phillies in the trade that netted them Jenkins? He went 3 for 17 for the Cubs in 1966, got traded mid-year to the Braves, where he went 4 for 22, and then quietly departed from major league baseball forever at the age of 28.

Fergie Jenkins' career stats at baseball-reference.com

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Bleed Cubbie Blue

You must be a member of Bleed Cubbie Blue to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bleed Cubbie Blue. You should read them.

Join Bleed Cubbie Blue

You must be a member of Bleed Cubbie Blue to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bleed Cubbie Blue. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker