clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Today in Cubs history: The time Fergie Jenkins threw bats on the field

This game might have been the trigger for the breakup of the great teams that never won anything.

Fergie Jenkins at Wrigley Field in 1973
Getty Images

1973 started out well for the Cubs. After splitting a doubleheader with the Mets July 1, they finished the first half 48-33, in first place in the N.L. East, eight games ahead of the Cardinals.

What could go wrong?

These are the old Cubs. As you well know, plenty did go wrong back in that time when things looked that good, and they did in fact go wrong, in spectacular fashion. After a few wins and losses in early July, the rest of that month brought losing streaks of six and seven games, and in early August, another loss streak began that had reached eight by the time the Cubs and Braves met at Wrigley Field August 14.

I'll let Richard Dozer of the Tribune tell the rest of the story:

The violent world of the Chicago Cubs, where it is as difficult to predict human behavior as it is to accept defeat, brought an emotional outburst from mild-mannered Ferguson Jenkins yesterday in Wrigley Field, site of the Cubs’ ninth consecutive loss.

Jenkins was dismissed in the fifth inning with five runs already across the plate in a 6-2 victory by the Atlanta Braves, who had come to town with little to win except continuing acclaim for Henry Aaron.

Jenkins, from whom Manager Whitey Lockman extracted the ball with a firm resolution, walked calmly to the dugout. He looked cool. But somewhere within the man who was on the verge of losing his 12th decision — and sixth out of seven — there burned an unquenchable fire.

Burt Hooton was at the mound to replace him. So was Lockman. Also a number of infielders, and Umpire Jerry Dale, who was working the plate and now was making marks on his lineup card.

Suddenly from out of the dugout, a bat flew in the direction of home plate. Then another. Then two more. It was Jenkins, venting his pent up wrath with distance throws from the bat rack that one observer said should qualify him for the hammer throw on the Canadian Olympic team.

Coach Ernie Banks tried to restrain him and got an elbow to the jaw when Fergie broke free. Then, to the accompaniment of boos which were louder than the ones he heard when he was walking off the mound, simmering apparently from ball-strike calls from Umpire Dale, he was escorted toward the Cub bullpen by Coach Larry Jansen.

Sorting out the facts behind the blow-up by Jenkins was not easy, because Fergie, who had ample time to think about what to say, chose to be noncommittal after the game.

”I don’t have anything to say. You couldn’t print it in your papers anyway,” he said. After further prodding, he said only, “I thought the batboy needed some extra work.”

It was the kind of thing you rarely saw in those days, especially from, as Dozer wrote, someone with as gentlemanly a reputation as Jenkins had. The frustration of going 8-29 over a 37-game stretch could do that to a player, I suppose. Here’s a photo of Fergie in the middle of the bat-tossing:

The Cubs wound up losing the game 6-2, their ninth straight, and the losing streak eventually reached 11 games, thus making an 8-31 run, the worst such stretch in Cubs history up to that time. (It was later matched in 1999 and 2000, two horrendous years for the Cubs.)

Jenkins received no suspension for this outburst, but it could have been the catalyst for the "backing up the truck" trades that followed that season, as Fergie, Ron Santo, Glenn Beckert, Bob Locker, Jim Hickman and Randy Hundley were all shipped elsewhere before the 1974 season. It truly was the end of an era.

Fergie’s bat-throwing episode happened 50 years ago today, Tuesday, August 14, 1973.