Jenkins, Fergie 1943–
Fergie Jenkins 1943–
Professional baseball player
“Pitchers are a breed apart…,” wrote Eliot Asinof in a Time biography of pitching great Fergie Jenkins. “They are special, and they know it. Ferguson Jenkins was the perfect pitcher.” Over 19 baseball seasons, the three-time All-Star finished with a record of 284 wins and 226 losses, despite pitching at home in some of baseball’s hitters’ ball-parks, including Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston. Jenkin’s unprecedented combination of 3,000-plus strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks made him one of baseball’s most controlled finesse pitchers.
The six-foot-five, 200-pound right-hander joined Major League Baseball’s elite early in his career and was lauded by baseball fans in the United States and Canada after his retirement in 1983. The first Canadian elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, Jenkins also became Commissioner of the newly formed Canadian Baseball League (CBL) in 2003.
Ferguson Jenkins, Jr. was born in Chatham, Ontario, on December 13, 1943. His mother went blind during the birth. His father, Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, Sr., was a talented baseball player but “born too early to break the organized-baseball color line,” observed Asinof. A well-rounded athlete—he played hockey, soccer, basketball, track, and swam—the younger Jenkins adored baseball most. Asinof reported that as a youth Jenkins practiced his pitching by “throwing chunks of coal at open doors of passing freight cars 100 feet away.”
Philadelphia Phillies scout Gene Dziadura took notice of Jenkins’s game after watching the lanky teen play in a local Chatham league. According to a 1991 Maclean’s article, Jenkins began “a regimen of splitting firewood…even though his parents’ home had no fire-place” after Dziadura advised him to build his upper body. In 1961, Jenkins signed a $7,500 contract with Philadelphia. He worked on improving his game with the club’s minor league team for three-and-a-half seasons before joining the Phillies for the first time in 1965 as a relief pitcher. He took the mound seven times that season, performing well. Nevertheless, the Phillies traded him to the Chicago Cubs early in the 1966 season.
At a Glance…
Born Ferguson Arthur Jenkins on December 13, 1943, in Chatham, Ontario, Canada; married Kathy Williams, 1965 (divorced); married Maryanne (died 1991); married Lydia Farrington, 1993; children: Kelly Delores, Kimberiy, Raymond (stepson), Samantha (died 1993).
Career: Philadelphia Phillies (National League), professional baseball player, 1965-66; Chicago Cubs (National League), professional baseball player, 1966-73, 1982-83; Texas Rangers (American League), professional baseball player, 1974-75, 1978-81; Boston Red Sox (American League), professional baseball player, 1976-77. Team Canada, pitching coach for Pan-Am Games, 1987; Texas Rangers (Oklahoma City 89ers minor league team), pitching coach, 1988-89; Cincinnati Reds, roving minor league coach, 1992-93; Chicago Cubs, minor league coach, 1995-96; Canadian Baseball League, commissioner, 2003-.
Membership: Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association
Awards: National League All-Star, 1967, 1971, 1972; Sporting News National League Pitcher of the Year, 1971; Lou March Trophy, 1971; Cy Young Award, 1971; inducted into Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, 1987; inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1991.
Addresses: Office—The Fergie Jenkins Foundation Inc, 3280 Schmon Pkwy, Thorold, Ontario L2V 4Y6, Canada; Web site — www.cmgww.com/baseball/jen-kins/index.php.
Cubs manager Leo Durocher soon made Jenkins a starter. According to Maclean’s, Durocher called Jenkins “one of the best pitchers in baseball, ever.” Durocher’s hunch regarding Jenkins’s pitching potential was proven when Jenkins struck out six of the American League’s greatest hitters in the 1967 All-Star game, including Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Jim Fregosi, and Tony Oliva. Cubs catcher Randy Hundley praised Jenkins as “a dominant pitcher I could have caught with a pair of pliers.” According to an article found on Jenkins’s official Web site, written by Darl DeVault, Hundley said, “[Jenkins’s] location was near perfect, and he could blow his fastball by hitters, although sometimes we didn’t agree on the sign.”
Leading the National League in starts in 1968, 1969, and 1971, and in completed games in 1970 and 1971, Jenkins’s talent was showcased with the Cubs, bringing his pitching prowess to the attention of baseball fans across America. DeVault wrote, “Jenkins proved to be a power-pitching, durable, consistent strikeout artist for many years to come by mentally charting batters’ tendencies and devising a game plan to get them out.” Jenkins led the National League in strikeouts in 1969 with 273, and he set the Cubs strikeout record in 1970 with 274.
Jenkins told DeVault that he never considered pitching work. The competition was a thrill for him. “From ‘67 through ‘75 there were a lot of premier pitchers performing in the major leagues, such as Don Drysdale, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, and Tom Seaver,” Jenkins told DeVault. “Beginning a series I always wanted to start against the number-one pitcher on the opposing ball club, even if it meant pitching with only two or three days rest.”
Jenkins began a streak of more than 20 wins a season for six consecutive years. He would have seven total 20-win seasons. While with the National League Cubs, Jenkins proved an effective batter. In 1971, the year Jenkins became the first Cub to capture the Cy Young award for best Major League pitcher, he batted .243, including six homers and 20 RBIs. DeVault speculated in his 2004 biographical article on Jenkins, “Since today’s pitchers start fewer games with five-man rotations, and managers depend on their bullpens more, Jenkins will likely be the last pitcher to put a six-year, 20-game win streak together.” Asinof summed up Jenkins’s baseball savvy this way: “Statistics have always been the sportswriters’ measure of a ballplayer. But Jenkins’s special talents take him beyond the stats. There was a purity to his pitching, often described as water flowing from a glass. He had pinpoint control of his 90-m.p.h. fastball and was always ahead of the count.”
Jenkins was traded to the Texas Rangers before the 1974 season, after a rare losing season with the Cubs. He posted 25 wins during his first season as a Ranger, becoming the first 20-win pitcher in a Rangers’ uniform. “It was an outstanding year with Billy Martin managing the Rangers and great rookies hitting the ball well,” Jenkins reported to DeVault. “Fortunately for me, they also played some great defense helping me win 25 games that year.” The Sporting News voted Jenkins the American League’s Comeback Pitcher of the Year for 1974. He played two seasons with the Rangers, falling to 17-18 in 1975, before he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. After two seasons with the Red Sox, where he threw inconsistently, Jenkins was traded back to the Rangers, where he played for four more seasons.
Following the 1981 season he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs, determined to improve his game. In 1982, he became the seventh Major League pitcher to notch 3,000 career strikeouts. When he retired in 1983, Jenkins had posted 49 career shutouts.
Though Jenkins played for teams in the United States, Canadian sports fans took notice of Jenkins’s achievements in baseball. Canadian sports writers named him the Canadian Press Male Athlete of the Year four times between 1967 and 1974. And in 1974, Jenkins became the first baseball player to be awarded the Lou March Trophy, an annual honor recognizing Canada’s top athlete.
Jenkins won more Canadian than American sports awards, a point of controversy among baseball commentators who believe that Jenkins ought to have won more than one Cy Young award. Jenkins admitted to DeVault that he felt his stats made him a terrific Cy Young candidate during several seasons, but he often pitched for mediocre teams. “I am grateful to have won my Cy Young Award, and to make the top three in balloting five times,” he said, “but it was hard to figure out the voting some years. I sometimes had a better season than the guys who won in my time, but they had starred in postseason the years before. Maybe the writers voted for pitchers who had good seasons who they saw bask in the spotlight of pennant races and the World Series. Unfortunately, I never got to do that, so my Cy Young chances suffered.”
In 1980, Jenkins was convicted of cocaine possession after being found with three grams in his suitcase at Toronto International Airport. Fortunately for Jenkins, a judge—who described Jenkins as “a person who has conducted himself in exemplary fashion in the community and the country”—declared his criminal record wiped-clean. But the incident became a cloud shadowing Jenkins’s otherwise golden reputation as a player and person. The incident delayed Jenkins’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, which came in 1991. He had become the first unanimous inductee into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. Jenkins was eligible for the Cooperstown Hall in 1989, and thought to be a shoe-in by many sports commentators, given his superior record on the mound. While some sports writers admitted to overlooking Jenkins in 1989 and 1990, perhaps unconsciously because he was a rather modest and subdued baseball hero, others charged the lack of votes to a bias against Jenkins for his conviction for drug possession. The exclusion of Jenkins and Gaylord Perry for the 1989 induction did not go unnoticed by many observers, including Peter Gammons of Sports Illustrated, who wrote in a January, 1989, article, “Jenkins and Perry would have been locks for Cooperstown if they had been judged as Ruth, Drysdale and Ford were—simply on the basis of performance.” Incidentally, Perry and Jenkins were, respectively, the third and fourth pitchers to win more than 100 games in both the American and National leagues.
After agreeing to a pitching coach position for the Texas Rangers minor-league team, the Oklahoma City 89ers in 1988, Jenkins sold his 100-acre farm in Blenheim, Ontario, near Chatham, and settled on a 300-acre ranch in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where he bred and raised Appaloosa horses and hunting dogs. “After playing in big cities, I found that going to the country and relaxing was good therapy,” Jenkins told Time’s Kevin C. Bias in 2003. “As a pitcher your job is to be intimidating. When the off-season comes, you try to be laid-back.” Following his retirement from pitching in 1983, Jenkins occupied himself with family and with coaching for several more clubs, including the Reds and Cubs, as well as for Team Canada in its competition in the 1987 Pan Am Games.
Three days after Jenkins’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 1991, his wife Maryanne died from injuries sustained in a car accident a few weeks earlier. “It took a while to grasp that I was left without a partner,” Jenkins told Maclean’s in July of 1991. “I had thought that Maryanne and I would be around together for a long while, and maybe have some more children.” They had an infant daughter at the time, Samantha.
The tragedy did not end there. In February of 1993, only days after Jenkins accepted a pitching coach position with the Cincinnati Reds, Jenkins’s girlfriend, Cindy Takieddine, took her life and that of Jenkins’s three-year-old daughter by carbon monoxide poisoning. According to Jet, in his first public appearance since the murder-suicide, Jenkins told an audience at a Chicago Cubs convention, “There’s moments when you just can’t cope with (the tragedy), and you go back to your room, try to relax and try to control yourself. But I’m not the only one who had to suffer through pressures, so I don’t feel like I’m alone in the situation.” Jenkins likely benefited from counseling he received as a member of a bereaved parents support group, which he joined shortly after the loss of Samantha. “You have to talk these things out,” Jenkins told Maclean’s in 1998. “Life’s a lot brighter for me now.” Jenkins then sought reassignment to a position of minor-league roving instructor, citing his determination to remain close to his 12-year-old stepson, Raymond. Later in 1993, Jenkins married his third wife, Lydia.
During the 1990s and early twenty-first century, Jenkins frequently appeared on baseball broadcasts on American and Canadian television and radio programs for interviews. He also served as a color analyst for Major League games. In 1999, the Society for American Baseball Research selected Jenkins as one of the top 100 baseball players of the twentieth century.
Since the 1990s, Jenkins has been a committed activist for the promotion and preservation of baseball. In 1992 Jenkins helped found the Oklahoma Sports Museum. He spent hours at the museum, running clinics and speaking to youngsters about baseball and about the perils of drug and alcohol use. He also tapped into his sports-world connections to acquire items for the museum’s displays. In August of 2002 he wrote a letter (which can be found on Jenkins’s official Web site) to the Major League Baseball commissioner arguing against the disparities in income available to teams and about the stifling impact this has had on competition. The best players gravitate to the wealthiest clubs, Jenkins observed, leaving many teams with no chance to win a pennant. “The lack of parity is killing the game,” Jenkins wrote, “because fans want to watch talented players display their skills and have a chance to win in every game they start.” Jenkins urged that teams stop salary dumping and that the league cease team expansion. Jenkins also advised the league to test players for performance-enhancing drugs three times a year.
In 2003, Jenkins moved from his ranch in Oklahoma to one in Arizona. Retired from playing and coaching, Jenkins continued to dedicate himself to charitable works and to the promotion of the game he loves. The Fergie Jenkins Foundation, headquartered in Thorold, Ontario, raises money for several charitable organizations, including the Canadian Red Cross, the Special Olympics, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, CRIED-Abused Women’s Program, and several children’s camps. As the first commissioner of the Canadian Baseball League (CBL), beginning in 2003, Jenkins sought to encourage young Canadians to pick up the game he has loved. “We need to get kids back into the game,” he told Asinof. “The Canadian Baseball League offers them a chance to play a good brand of ball in a good baseball environment.” The winner of the CBL championship will receive a trophy named the Jenkins Cup, after one of Canada’s most beloved baseball heroes.
(With Dave Fisher) Inside Pitching, NTC Contemporary Publishing, 1972.
(As told to George Vass) Like Nobody Else: The Fergie Jenkins Story, NTC Contemporary Publishing, 1973.
(With Stanely Pashko) Ferguson Jenkins: The Quiet Winner, Putnam, 1975.
(With Dorothy Turcotte) The Game Is Easy —Life Is Hard: The Story of Ferguson Jenkins, Jr., The Fergie Jenkins Foundation, 2003.
Jet, February 8, 1993, p. 48.
Maclean’s, July 8, 1991, p. 42; September 14, 1998, p. 9.
Sports Illustrated, June 23, 1989, p. 78; January 21, 2001, p. 10; June 9, 2003, p. 12.
Time, June 20, 2003, p. 56.
Fergie Jenkins, www.cngww.com/baseball/jenkins/index.php (May 19, 2004).
“Ferguson Jenkins,” Baseball Library, www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/J/Jenkins_Ferguson.stm (May 19, 2004).
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