|The Baseball Biography Project is an
ongoing effort to produce comprehensive biographical articles on
every person who ever played or managed in the major leagues, as
well as any other person who touched baseball in a significant way.
The project is run by the Bioproject Committee of the Society for
American Baseball Research (SABR).
by Cindy Thomson
Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, Jr. was a dominant right-handed pitcher
known for strikeouts, eleventh on the all-time leader list with
3,192. He is the only pitcher to have more than 3,000 strikeouts
with less than 1,000 walks (997). While he pitched for the
Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, he is best
known for his tenure with the Chicago Cubs from 1966-1973. In
1982-1983, he finished his career in a return stint with the Cubs.
Although many baseball records declare that he was born in 1943,
Jenkins maintains that he was born on December 13, 1942. The only
Hall of Famer to be born in Canada, he hails from Chatham, Ontario
and is the only child of Ferguson Jenkins, Sr. and his wife Delores.
The elder Ferguson, a chef, was descended from immigrants from the
Bahamas. Delores' ancestors were slaves who escaped the southern
United States via the Underground Railroad. His mother was tall at
five feet ten inches, and Fergie grew to be six feet five inches
During his school years, his natural athletic ability began to
emerge. He tried several sports and excelled at most of them. In his
years at Chatham Vocational High School, Ferguson chose to compete
in track, hockey, and basketball, lettering five times. His mother
objected to hockey after he got fourteen stitches in his head.
Fergie gained a love for sports from his parents who were also good
athletes. His mother was an excellent bowler, and his father played
semipro baseball with the Black Panthers, an all-black team.
Ferguson, Sr. might have competed at the professional level had he
played after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
Ferguson played bantam baseball when he was a teenager. His long
arms and lanky legs made him a perfect first baseman. He also honed
his pitching by playing a boyhood game. Terry's Coal Yard was across
the street from his house. Jenkins and his friends used to pick up
pieces of coal or rocks and try to hit an ice chute when the rubber
flap opened. The exercise involved both accuracy and timing, but
wasn't exactly appreciated by the owner, who called Ferguson, Sr. to
When Ferguson and his buddies were not aiming at the ice chute, they
took aim at passing boxcars - not to hit them, but to time their
throws so their rocks would pass between the cars or enter open
boxcars. When a teammate hurt his arm and couldn't pitch, Fergie
volunteered to fill in. While he was not dominant that day, Jenkins
began to gain confidence in his ability to play, buoyed by his hours
of rock-throwing practice.
During those years, Fergie was encouraged to work on pitching by
Gene Dziadura, who had played shortstop in the Cubs' minor league
system. Dziadura was a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies who
recognized raw talent in Fergie. Their training sessions continued
until Jenkins graduated from high school and was signed by the
Phillies in 1962.
Fergie's minor league tour took him to Williamsport, Miami,
Chattanooga, Buffalo, and Little Rock. In the winter of 1963-64, he
played winter ball in Nicaragua. In 1965, he married Anne Katherine
(Kathy) Silas and was called up late that season to play for the
Phillies. He appeared in seven games, winning two and losing one. On
April 21, 1966, after appearing in only one game that season,
Jenkins was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Adolfo Phillips and John
Herrnstein. The Baseball Trade Register by Joseph L. Reichler
lists this trade as the fourth best in Cubs history.
Nineteen sixty-seven marked the beginning of Jenkins' best years as
a big league pitcher. After spending the previous winter playing in
the Dominican Republic and touring with the Harlem Globetrotters, he
was chosen for his first All-Star Game. Jenkins was only
twenty-three, the youngest All-Star player ever, and says he was
totally pumped that evening in Anaheim. He struck out six players
(Mickey Mantle, Jim Fregosi, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, Tony
Conigliaro, and Rod Carew) in three innings of work. Lacking the
ultimate experience of pitching in a World Series, Jenkins believes
that performance was one of his greatest. Later that year, he beat
the Reds 4-1 for his 20th win in his last start of the season. That
began a streak of six consecutive 20 win seasons, equaling Mordecai
Brown's Cub record that had stood for over six decades.
Jenkins believes in a pitcher's right to bat. "Pitching is only one
of your baseball abilities," he says. "Pitchers should know how to
run the bases, how to slide, how to move runners over." He believes
the pitcher on the mound should treat the opposing pitcher at the
bat with respect. "When you go up to the plate, you become a batter.
All you're doing is just changing positions. If you just stand
there, you're a weak sister. But if you swing the bat, you're a
dangerous part of the lineup." Not coincidentally, he was an
excellent hitting pitcher. In his first appearance for the Cubs he
hit a home run. In 1971, he drove in 20 of his own runs, assuring
five or six wins for himself, he estimates. That season Jenkins also
hit a career-high seven doubles, one triple, and six home runs. His
lifetime batting average was a respectable .243, and he hit 13 home
Ferguson's banner year was 1971 when he won the National League Cy
Young Award and appeared once again in the All-Star Game. He went
24-13 and had an ERA of 2.77. A significant accomplishment that year
was striking out 263 batters while walking only 37. He was miserly
with walks and believes that the pitcher's job is to get the batter
out, not walk him. "I tell youngsters to make the batter do half the
work. Throw strikes. If the batter takes them, he'll strike out. If
you don't throw strikes and give up a walk, you get angry with
yourself, your catcher is disappointed, your manager is mad, and the
pitching coach is unhappy. In today's baseball, the guys by far
don't throw enough strikes." Not being afraid to throw strikes at
Wrigley Field can lead to a lot of home runs. Fergie is number one
on the Cubs all-time list for home runs allowed with 271 in
The Cubs had great hopes of winning the pennant in the years Jenkins
played under Leo Durocher, particularly in 1969. On September 9th of
that year, the Cubs experienced what some called a bad omen. They
had been hot, but their four-man pitching rotation was burning out.
That night, a black cat wandered onto the field when the Cubs and
Mets played at Shea Stadium. It walked around Ron Santo, who was on
deck. The animal then approached the dugout and reportedly hissed at
Leo Durocher. Ferguson lost that game to Tom Seaver, and the Cubs
continued to spiral downward. It turned out to be the year of the
Fergie made one last All Star appearance in 1972. By that time he
had made several appearances on the leader boards. He was the
National League leader in starts in 1968, 1969, and 1971. In
addition, he led the National League in complete games in 1970 and
1971 and topped the league in strikeouts in 1969 with 273. During
the six-season period from 1967 to 1972 when he won at least 20
games each season, Jenkins was the Major League leader in wins and
strikeouts. Defensively, Fergie was superb. In four seasons (1968,
1976, 1981, and 1983) he had a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Seven seasons with the Cubs ended in 1973. Fergie had a poor year
and suffered a sore knee and tendonitis in his shoulder. The years
of continuous work were wearing on him. Rumors swirled, suggesting
he was over the hill at age thirty. The Cubs traded him to the Texas
Rangers the following season. He won a career-high 25 games in 1974
and was voted Comeback Player of the Year. Jenkins tied with Catfish
Hunter for the most wins in the American League in 1974. He spent
two seasons in Texas before being traded to the Boston Red Sox.
His two seasons in Boston were not as good, his record hovering
around the .500 mark. In 1978 Jenkins fared better when he returned
to the Rangers and posted an 18-8 record. He pitched with Texas for
four seasons before returning to the Chicago Cubs in 1982. Fergie
returned to the bullpen in Chicago before he retired in 1983 after
nineteen major league seasons.
He still paces the Cubs team records in strikeouts (2,038) and games
started (347), and is the fourth pitcher in history to win more than
100 games in each league. Three did it before him: Cy Young, Jim
Bunning, and Gaylord Perry. Since Jenkins reached that milestone,
Nolan Ryan and Dennis Martinez have also joined that exclusive club.
Some think of Ferguson Jenkins as baseball's most unlucky pitcher.
He never made the postseason because he never played for a first
place team. He joined Boston one year after they reached the World
Series. The year after he retired, the Cubs finished in first place.
During his career, Fergie lost thirteen outings 1-0 despite pitching
In 1980 Fergie hit the headlines, but not because of his pitching
performance. While he admits to occasional drug use at that
time-something he regrets-he claims he was innocent when drugs were
found in his luggage during a road trip to Toronto. He found the
incident humiliating and although the case against him was
ultimately dismissed, he says, "It was about two years before (my
father) believed me when I told him I didn't do it." Baseball wasn't
immediately convinced either. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended
Fergie for twenty games, fined him $10,000, and ordered him to take
part in Major League Baseball's drug education program.
The title of his latest autobiography, The Game Is Easy, Life Is
Hard, is an indication that Jenkins has endured numerous
personal struggles. He was very close to his mother, who was blind,
and she died of cancer in 1970. Fergie now supports charities for
those two ailments. His first marriage ended in divorce. In 1988, he
married Mary-Anne Miller, a softball player, and moved to a ranch
near Guthrie, Oklahoma. At that time, Fergie was working as pitching
coach for the Texas Rangers' Class AAA team. Sadly, Mary-Anne died
as the result of an automobile accident. In the fall of 1992 Fergie
planned to accept a coaching position with the Cincinnati Reds farm
team in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The news was not welcome to his
fiance, who committed suicide, taking Ferguson's three-year-old
daughter with her. They both died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"I learned early on that life is fleeting. I buried a mother when
she was young, fifty-two. I buried a wife when she was very young,
only thirty-two. I buried a daughter when she was only three. I
buried a close friend of mine who was in her thirties. I buried my
dad who was eighty-nine. In my life I've been a part of many
funerals. At one point I told a reporter I should be in a rubber
Rather than ending up in an asylum, Ferguson took his grief and
turned it into good works. He supports many charities and takes part
in numerous charity events in the United States and his native
Canada. In 2000 he registered his charity foundation, The Fergie
Jenkins Foundation. On a happy personal note, Ferguson married Lydia
Farrington in 1993.
In 1987 Ferguson Jenkins was elected into the Canadian Baseball Hall
of Fame. Induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in
Cooperstown, New York came in 1991, and he was named honorary
pitching coach for the 1995 National League All-Stars. SABR voted
him one of the top 100 baseball players of the twentieth century in
In his book, The Game Is Easy, Life Is Hard, Fergie says,
"There are two things in (this) sport. Either you win or you lose.
Life is like that, too. How you get through it depends on how strong
your faith is."
Chicago Cubs Information Guide, Cubs Media Relations Department,
Enright, Jim. Baseball's Great Teams, Chicago Cubs. New York:
Rutledge Books, 1975.
Jenkins, Ferguson, Jr. Personal interview. August 8, 2003.
Reichler, Joseph L. The Baseball Trade Register. New York:
Collier Books, 1984.
Turcotte, Dorothy. The Game Is Easy, Life Is Hard: The Story of
Ferguson Jenkins, Jr. Grimsby, Ontario: The Fergie Jenkins