ESPN Network: | | | | ABCSports | EXPN | INSIDER | FANTASY   

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Classic catches up with Ferguson Jenkins
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic

Ferguson Jenkins, one of the premiere pitchers of the 1960s and 70s, played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. Jenkins will best be remembered for his two stints with the Cubs from 1966-73 and again from 1982-83. As a Cub, he won his only Cy Young Award in 1971, going 24-1 with a 2.77 ERA. Jenkins was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. ESPN Classic's Phillip Lee recently spoke with Jenkins.

Ferguson Jenkins fanned Gary Templeton of the Padres giving him the 3,000th strikeout of his career on May 25, 1982.
Phillip Lee: What have you been doing lately?
Ferguson Jenkins: I own a ranch in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and I sell cattle and horses.

PL: How has that business been?
FJ: It's been pretty good. The cattle sales are more frequent because you're selling cattle at least twice a year -- late in November and then again in January.

PL: How did you end up in Oklahoma?
FJ: First of all, I was born in the little town of Chatam, Ontario. When I started coaching with the Texas Rangers, their Triple-A affiliation was with Oklahoma City. I took a pitching coach job with them in 1988.

PL: How long did you coach?
FJ: I coached with them for two years in the minor leagues. I decided to stay and bought this ranch. Two years later, I got a job with Cincinnati and coached with them for a couple of seasons (1993-94), and then I coached in the major leagues with the Cubs in 1995-96.

PL: And now you're back at your ranch?
FJ: When you're a coach, you're just away from the ranch way too many months and the only time you can converse is by telephone. It's a lot easier being here and getting things done.

Classic Chicago Road Show
On Monday at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic's Road show will be live at the ESPNZone in Chicago to celebrate the great sports history of the Windy City. Hosts Andrea Kremer and Rick Telander will be joined by Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson, Tony Esposito, Ferguson Jenkins, William Perry, Jimmy Piersall and Norm Van Lier
PL: How did you get involved in ranching?
FJ: I've been ranching for 27 years. My family background was farming. As a kid, I lived close to the country and did chores. My dad's family was from the Barbados and my mother's family came through the Underground Railroad. They were basically plantation workers -- cotton farmers. Then they got into raising cows and pigs and sheep.

PL: Do you miss coaching?
FJ: No, not really. I enjoyed it. I did it eight years. I tried to give something back that was taught to me. I basically learned how to pitch through the Phillies organization; then I got traded to the Cubs. I had some great pitching coaches -- Al Widmar, Cal Mclish. With the Cubs, I had Joe Becker and the late Larry Jansen. All the different methods and ideas that they had were basically taught to me and I tried to use them as much as I could on the field to try to win. With a combination of their ideas, my ability and my own ideas, I was able to win some ball games.

PL: So you felt that you needed to give something back to the game?
FJ: When I joined the Cincinnati organization and I was their pitching/roving instructor, I went to every major city where they had minor league teams. I had to basically show these youngsters what it meant to win and teach them how to win. The theory now in baseball is, 'Give me five or six innings and that's it.' The game isn't five innings. It's nine. You learn how to win from the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The starting staff doesn't really learn that now because the bullpen does all that. They don't know how to hold a lead. They don't know how to be aggressive enough to keep the pitch count down. The number one thing in holding a lead in those late innings is having to think and bear down on the hitters because that's their third or fourth time to the plate. A lot of these young men really haven't learned that. It's all given to the bullpen. You've got the long relief, the set up and the closer. They've learned how to win and hold the lead, not the starting staff.

PL: Do you think that the reason starters don't go any longer is the concern over injuries?
FJ: These athletes are big and strong and they lift more weights and injuries are part of the game, but I think they're on the DL far too often. When I played and you went on the DL, somebody was going to take your job. And back then there were only 16 teams. Now there are 30. It was much different back then.

PL: Talk about 1971 and what a great year that was. You won 24 games and had 30 complete games.
FJ: It started in spring training. We had a good ball club -- Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Don Kessinger. Randy Hundley (catcher) and I worked a lot together. I think that's an important part of winning ball games, knowing the catcher as well as you know yourself and knowing the different teams you're going to play. Right from opening day -- I was the opening day pitcher and won -- you kind of put your sights on how you're going to do. Things just fell into a pattern because you're playing so well and having fun. You're with the same bunch of guys. They know you as well as you know them. It works well when they trust your ability as much as you trust theirs. So when you're out there playing, the work that you do goes kind of hand-in-hand. They play hard for you -- defensively and offensively -- and you're supposed to pitch and hold that other team. It's a complementary thing.

PL: How did pitching in Wrigley Field help you as a pitcher?
FJ: At Wrigley, you taught yourself on different aspects of the game -- the wind blowing in, the wind blowing out, and the wind blowing across. It's a hitter's ballpark. You have to know how you're going to pitch certain hitters. You have to have a book on them, which I did. You can't change from the first inning to the ninth. I don't think a three- or four-run lead is safe in a small ballpark.

PL: What were some of your fondest memories of Chicago and the Cubs?
FJ: The camaraderie of the ball players. We had some good players like Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Joe Pepitone and Jim Hickman. The city had a warming effect on the players. It's similar to what they're having now. The Cubs are really playing good ball now. There's a mystique of playing in Wrigley and being a Chicago Cub. There was an aura of playing in Chicago. I really liked playing there.

PL: Has the game of baseball changed?
FJ: Baseball really hasn't changed, just the people who are running it. You still have to get three outs an inning and 27 outs to win a game. The dimensions of the ballpark have changed. The baseball has changed. Believe me, the baseball is not the same. There are more weight rooms in every clubhouse. It's just a trend now for these athletes to lift weights to get bigger and stronger. They think you have to be big and strong to play the game late in the season. You just have to be consistent and you have to stay healthy.

PL: You were traded by the Phillies to the Cubs in 1966 and spent most of the season with Chicago. You went 6-8 that year then went on to post your first 20-win season in 1967. What was the big difference between the two seasons?
FJ: I was in the bullpen in 1966. I had 61 appearances. I got a couple starts, but not many. (Cubs manager Leo Durocher) was kinda moving players around seeing who could do what. He was the one who made me a starter in 1967. I won the job in spring training and went on to win 20 games.

PL: Talk about your return to the Cubs for your final two years.
FJ: Dallas Green got in touch with me after the Rangers had said they were going to make some changes so I signed with the Chicago Cubs. Dallas wanted to know if I could still pitch and I said, 'Yeah, I can still pitch but the second time around might not be same as the first time.' They had a young team this time around with Ryne Sandberg, Jody Davis, Keith Moreland and Dick Ruthven.

PL: Was it sentimental going back to Chicago?
FJ: I always enjoyed pitching at Wrigley. The fans are knowledgeable. If a guy could win, they stand behind you. The year I came back I won 14 games.

Jenkins' pitching highlights
Wins 284
Losses 226
ERA 3.34
K's 3,192
Complete games 267

PL: What happened your final season? You only won six games.
FJ: I was in and out - bullpen, starting. You could almost read the handwriting on the wall. They were moving younger pitchers in.

PL: You finished just short of 300 wins. Why didn't you stick around to try and reach it?
FJ: I thought about it. I went to spring training and they were making deals to get younger pitching. They wanted me to pitch in the bullpen. I wasn't going to win 16 games out of the bullpen so I just decided to retire.

PL: Were there any other offers?
FJ: There was about eight teams. I made my mind up if I was going to try and win 300 games, I wanted to do it as a Cub.

PL: Is that a regret?
FJ: I wanted to finish my career as a Cub and I did. I decided to retire as a Cub. No regrets at all.

PL: What would you say is the highlight of your career?
FJ: There are three highlights. First of all, signing as a professional out of Canada at 18 out of high school; my first All-Star in 1967 where I struck out six batters including Mickey Mantle; and getting inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories