I was going to make this article part of the “historical sleuthing” series, but when I found the second photo — below — I thought it would make a more interesting article to just tell you this story.
Fergie Jenkins had returned to the Cubs in 1982 after eight years with the Rangers and Red Sox. He’d thought about retirement after 1981, but Dallas Green — who was a minor league teammate of Fergie’s in the Phillies organization in 1964 and 1965 — contacted him and asked him if he could still pitch. Fergie’s answer was yes, and he turned in a fine season in 1982. His 118 ERA+ ranked eighth in the National League, and his 3.7 bWAR ranked 13th, not bad for a nearly 40-year-old pitcher coming off a bad 1981 season with the Rangers. He also registered his 3,000th career strikeout after his return to the Cubs, striking out Garry Templeton of the Padres in the third inning May 25, 1982.
1983 wasn’t nearly as good; by the end of that year he’d been removed from the rotation and relegated to middle relief.
Still, he came to spring training in 1984 at age 41 hoping to make the team. 1984 was the first year I attended spring training, and when I was searching through some old photos I realized I had one of Fergie pitching in the last game he ever pitched. The photo above is from that spring-training game at the old HoHoKam Park on March 9, 1984.
Dick Ruthven started that game for the Cubs and allowed three runs in three innings. Then Fergie entered in relief. He threw a scoreless fourth, but then got pounded for five runs in the fifth.
The Tribune article by Fred Mitchell and Mike Kiley summing up this game, which the Cubs lost 9-5, quoted Jenkins:
“Dallas Green doesn’t talk to me. They’ve never talked to me,” Jenkins said. “They don’t care who you are. When I came to the dugout [after giving up five runs in the fifth] Jim Frey [Cubs manager] didn’t even look me in the face. He looked away and said, ‘You’re coming out next inning.’
“I almost told him to take this game and stick it, but I decided not to. If the Cubs have something else in mind, like going with the young pitchers, then just tell Ferguson Jenkins to go home and hand me my pink slip. Don’t play games. They tell me that and I’m gone tomorrow. I only packed two suitcases anyway. I’ve got my farm and I’ve got a softball team in Canada I can go to.”
I remember that game well even though it was 33 years ago. Fergie really didn’t have anything left; he was done at 41. 10 days later, on March 19, the Cubs did give Fergie his release, and so the March 9 game was the last one he pitched in. I don’t think I’ve seen any other photos of Fergie from that game.
Obviously, Fergie wasn’t happy with the way he left baseball, but I’m glad he and the Cubs long ago reconciled.
Lastly, here’s a photo I took of the manually-operated scoreboard at the old HoHoKam that afternoon. That version of the park stood from 1979-96. (Yes, that looks like some kind of bear mascot standing there. I have no recollection of what that was.)