Ferguson Jenkins never won a World Series ring.
That’s hard to do, when you spend most of your career wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform.
But Ferguson Jenkins is, and always will be, the first Canadian elected to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Last year, U.S. baseball fans discovered what Canadians already knew, after Roy Halladay was traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Philadelphia Phillies: Halladay is a great pitcher.
And he’s a horse.
One of the stats that stood out in his Cy Young-winning season is that Halladay threw nine complete games.
In 1971, Ferguson Jenkins had nine starts in which he DIDN’T throw all nine innings.
And, in that year, the six-foot-five hoss from Chatham, Ont., won himself a Cy Young award to cap a stretch of statistical dominance. And many complete games.
“I had 30 that year. I had seasons of 26, 27. But the game has changed now,” said Jenkins.
So, what? Are all these young pups just a bunch of pampered wimps?
No, he said. They just liked to ride the horses in his day.
“The rule of thumb was, managers saw you out there pitching (well) and they’d tell you, ‘We’re not going to the bullpen today.’
“You were out there and it was your game to win or lose. That was how the game was played back then. Now it’s a little different.”
What Jenkins was, was old school — a big ol’ kid who could throw a baseball past batters all day long, every day.
Jenkins debuted with the Phillies in 1965 at the age of 22, moving to the Cubs the next year. His first year as a starter was 1967, when he finished second in the Cy Young. Jenkins won 20 games or more and struck out more than 200 batters each season of his stretch with the Cubs, while averaging 305 innings pitched. And, oh yeah, 87 complete games (16 of which were shutouts).
In his 1971 Cy Young season, Jenkins walked just 37 batters in the 325 innings he tossed.
With all the mllions invested in a pitcher’s arm now, it’s all about the 100-pitch count. And there are all those bullpen specialists.
Jenkins doesn’t think that today’s pitchers can’t play a complete game, it’s just that is what they have become conditioned to.
“Now it’s, ‘All I want is six innings.’ But, also, in my era there was only nine guys on the staff. Now there’s 13 or 14, so the managers have matchup situations and there’s all these bullpen strategies around the bullpen.”
Conditioning was also a different thing for pro athletes then. Training camps were mostly about sweating out the off-season’s brews and BBQs.
“That’s right. They all have personal trainers now. They stay in shape for 12 months. But I’m not sure if that hurts them, to the point where their muscles are stretched too much and they come up with bad hamstrings, bad backs, those types of injuries. I always took four months off. Season’s over, I went hunting and fishing in October, November. January I started getting back in shape and then would head to spring training.
“You have to give the body some rest in some respects. But I played a little basketball (including a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters) in the off-season, even played some hockey. I stayed busy, but I think these young men, maybe the conditioning aspect might be a little too much for their systems. Who knows?”
While Jenkins brought the Maple Leaf to Cooperstown in 1991, he doesn’t think he’ll be the last.
“I think Larry Walker has a good shot,” said Jenkins, and he wasn’t giving a scouting report on the B.C. Boy’s hockey skills.
“He only got 20% of the vote.
It took me a few years to get in.”
Jenkins retired in 1983 after his second stint with the Texas Rangers.
“You have to wait your turn,
I think. (Walker’s) percentage will get higher and higher each year he is on the ballot.”
There were only a handful of Canucks in the bigs in his day, and Jenkins named pretty much every one of them. And he just as easily rattled off several of today’s.
“They are making their way. Guys will have off-years,” said Jenkins. “It takes luck and health. You’ve got to put up big numbers, but you’ve got to stay healthy, that’s the No. 1 thing.”
Edmontonians are already wearying of the long-to-go new-arena debate.
There is no argument about the long-standing place where Jenkins shined the most.
Chicago’s ancient Wrigley Field could never be replaced, he said.
“Oh, they can’t. It’s part of the makeup of the city and I don’t think they’ll ever tear it down. They try and repair it, update it,” said Jenkins, who pitched in front of the famous ivory walls before the lights were installed in the old ballpark.
“I think it’s part of the landscape there. They are not ever going to get rid of Wrigley Field. It’s like Fenway Park in Boston,” said Jenkins who pitched for the Red Sox in 1976 and ’77. “That’s not ever going to leave, either.”