Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#87 - Fergie Jenkins

Okay, so let's start with the good things. First of all, it's Fergie Jenkins. Second, how often do you get a card whose player's first name is the same as the last name of the guy on the last card! Now for the bad. It's a non-Traded traded card. Because of that, Topps used a photo with no hat and no discernible uniform. But it's not a uniform; it's an undershirt! And how far back did they go for this card? Pre-mustache obviously. This card could be anywhere between one and six years old. Sorry Topps, but Fergie Jenkins deserved a lot better than that. And Fergie also delivered a lot better than his '73 season. After winning 20-plus for six straight seasons, nearly everything went awry for him in '73: he led the league in homer give-ups, but he almost always did that. But the complete games dropped by over two-thirds; the ERA floated up to league average; he posted his first losing record since '66; and during the season he indicated that year would be his last in baseball. Did all the Chicago pratfall seasons over the years take their toll? Who knows. But what probably nobody figured on was that it would take this trade - to the worst team in baseball - to revive Fergie's achievement level in baseball.

So what kind of guy is Fergie Jenkins? About the best, to which I can attest from personal experience (probably the only time I can say that about a guy in this set). I was lucky enough to spend some time with him a few years ago. For anyone interested there is a wonderful SI article regarding him here. It was written around the time he got in the Hall and is very poignant and gets to the nature of the guy pretty completely.

Fergie Jenkins is from Ottawa, Canada, from a small town outside Chatham. He played hockey and hoops growing up and his dad played in the Canadian version of the Negro Leagues. Fergie picked up baseball relatively late and honed his skills tossing rocks down a coal chute. A local scout got him a tryout with the Phillies in '62 and they signed him to a minor league contract. He started off really well at the lower minor levels - a combined 19-7 in two years of A ball; 10-6 in a '64 in Double A - but couldn't get a decent Triple A run until later that year when he went 5-5 with a 3.16 ERA. A better '65 (8-6 with a 2.95 ERA) at that level followed and he then came up at the end of that season and threw some very nice ball in relief. Fergie's trademark pitching style was already apparent - lots of hits and homers, but excellent control resulting in some miniscule walk totals. He remained on the Philly roster to start the '66 season but only got in one game before he was on the right side of one of baseball's worst trades: in late April Fergie went to the Cubs with Adolpho Phillips for Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson.

Jenkins spent his first season as a Cub initially in the pen - he recorded five saves - and then the rotation. The next spring manager Leo Durocher installed Fergie in the rotation full-time, a very good move as Mr. Jenkins would win at least 20 each of the next six seasons. He tended to give up a bunch of home runs - his 484 career total is third all time - and to compensate he became a low ball specialist which also helped his strikeout totals since the NL Is a low ball strike league. He also had amazing control and his K to walk ratios generally led the league. During that time frame he also led the league in starts three times and complete games three times. In '67 he came in second in the Cy race. In '68 he added innings and dropped his walk totals. In the heartbreaking season of '69 he led the NL in strikeouts. In '70 he led MLB in baserunners allowed per nine innings. In '71 he won the Cy via hi NL-leading win total and a sick total of only 37 walks in 325 innings. '72 was a third-place Cy year and was followed by his last forgettable season in Chicago, at least for the first run. That October he was traded to the Rangers for new infielders Vic Harris (second base) and Bill Madlock (third base).

Jenkins continued his record of doing well in new environments asx well as performing well for difficult managers. Going from Leo Durocher to Billy Martin wasn't anbody'd idea of a picnic but Fergie made it work. In '74 he went 25-12 with a 2.82 ERA, 225 strikeouts, and six shutouts to nearly ride the Texas train to a divisional championship. He came in second in AL Cy votes and won comeback player of the year. But because things never went well in Biolly-land for long, the following off-season Fergie hurt his knuckles punching out a guy in a pick-up hockey game and his stats declined the following year and went 17-18 as the homer tally ratcheted up a bit. In November he went to Boston for Juan Beniquez as the piece to guarantee the Sox' continued playoff presence. While Fergie put up way better than average numbers league-wise he was only a game over .500 the next two years, winning just 22 in that span, and ended up in manager Don Zimmer's doghouse (he was viewed as way too friendly with Bill Lee, a personal adversary of Zimmer's). From there, Fergie's career reversed itself geographically. In '78 he returned to the Rangers where he won 18 his first year and was the best Texas starter for three seasons. He had an off '81 and the next year went to the Cubs as a free agent. He won 14 in '82 at age 39, pitched one more season and was done. He finished up with a record of 284-226, a 3.34 ERA, with 3,192 strikeouts, 267 complete games, 49 shutouts, and seven saves. He, Greg Maddox, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez are the only guys to have over 3,000 lifetime Ks and less than 1,000 career walks. Not a bad hitter, he poked 13 homers with 85 RBI's lifetime and made four All-Star teams. He got in the Hall in '91 on his third attempt.

Following his career Jenkins coached a bit, first for Texas, and then for other organizations. But he has since spent most of his time running his working farm back in Texas.

The card back is not nearly as bad as the front, but I'd tweak it a little. For the cartoon, Fergie definitely played hockey, but by his own admission he wasn't so great so I am pretty sure he didn't get several pro hockey offers. He did, however, get to show off his basketball skills by touring with the Harlem Globetrotters a couple years. The year he won the Cy he also hit a ton: .243 with 6 homers and 20 RBIs in 115 at bats. He still holds the season K mark for the Cubbies. And this is the first card that we see the little notation regarding the trade. There will be a couple of these. And that number sucks. 87??!! Even if his '73 was below standard for him, Fergie was deserving of at least a "5" card.

So how do we connect the Fergusons?:

1. Jenkins and Bill Buckner and Ron Cey '83 Cubs;
2. Cey, Buckner, and Joe Ferguson '73 to '76 Dodgers.

I love the guy, but Fergie gets an ugly card here, just because of the t-shirt.

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