Fergie Jenkins Led the Majors in Wins for 14 Seasons

© 2001 By Darl DeVault

From 1967 to 1980, Oklahoma resident Ferguson Arthur Jenkins achieved the improbable— he led Major League Baseball with the most wins (251) in that 14-season span while pitching at home mostly in hitter’s ballparks.

"During those 14 seasons, and for all my career really, I didn’t consider pitching to be work— I was having fun getting most hitters out in the major leagues," Jenkins said. "I had some great managers, such as Leo Durocher, Billy Martin and Don Zimmer. I also had some super guys around me like Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Randy Hundley, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Jim Sundberg, Mike Hargrove and others who made it fun to play in the big leagues."

He earned induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by pitching the only six-straight, 20-win seasons in the last 40 years. He joined the most elite company in baseball history. 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.

With a fastball that moved in the strike zone and a hard slider, Jenkins was a power pitcher with incredible command— the best control strikeout artist of all time. He is the only MLB pitcher to throw more than 3,000 strikeouts (3,192) with less than 1,000 walks (997). "Jenkins was a dominant pitcher I could have caught with a pair of pliers," said Randy Hundley, his catcher for the first three of the 20-win seasons. "His location was near perfect, and he could blow his fastball by hitters, although sometimes we didn’t agree on the sign."

The Canadian-born athlete had an All-Star second season as a starting pitcher in `67 with the Chicago Cubs after Durocher converted him from a reliever. Scouted and signed from Chatham, Ontario, Canada, by Gene Dziadura for the Philadelphia Phillies in `62, Jenkins developed a slider in Winter ball in Puerto Rico and worked his way out of the minors. After a trade, he starred for the Cubs.

It was July 11, when the 23-year-old Cubs ace took the mound for the National League at Anaheim Stadium in the `67 All-Star Game. He had a 2.80 ERA at the break, and was getting ahead in the count throwing a 93-94 mph fastball, and mixing it up with a tough-to-hit slider with pinpoint control that evening. Known as Fergie, he was on pace to lead the majors with 20 complete games, notch his first 20-win season, and place second in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander proceeded to strike out six of the best sluggers in modern American League (AL) history. He sat down Harmon Killebrew (led AL with 44 homers), Tony Conigliaro (hitting .297), Mickey Mantle (hit his 500th homer on May 14), Jim Fregosi (went on to be a six-time All-Star), Rod Carew (future seven-time AL batting crown winner) and Tony Oliva (who would win three AL batting crowns).

"I had a good first half of the season and was eager to get in there and perform because I knew I was facing the best hitters in the American League," Jenkins said. "I ended up throwing three pretty good innings of high-velocity game plan, striking out those six great batters. I also gave up a Brooks Robinson home run that tied the game."

Jenkins’ six strikeouts in an All-Star Game (where pitchers may only work three innings) put him in the MLB record book. Only Carl Hubbell, Johnny Vander Meer and Larry Jansen match his record as an All-Star strikeout artist. He was selected to the All-Star Game again in `71 (when he led the NL with 24 wins) and again in `72.

Jenkins proved to be a durable, consistent strikeout artist for many years to come by mentally charting every batter’s tendencies. He led the NL with 40 starts in `68, going 20-15 with a season-record five 1-0 losses, and led again in `69 and `71. He went on to lead the NL in complete games again in `70 and `71, as well as the AL in `74.

He led the NL in strikeouts in `69 with 273, and showed his durability by starting 42 games, tops in the NL that year.

Jenkins set a Cubs’ modern-day record with 274 strikeouts in `70 and pitched 308 or more innings a season from `68 to `71. He walked less than 84 batters a season during his history-making span as a Cub.

He led MLB in wins and strikeouts in those six-straight, 20-win years. He built a good lead with 11 more wins and 86 more strikeouts than Tom Seaver, finishing almost 60 percent of his games.

Jenkins’ mastery of the strike zone won in double figures his first 14 years after becoming a major-league starting pitcher and he finished with 267 complete games. With 49 career shutouts, his career-total 284 wins are the most victories ever for a black MLB pitcher.

All of this occurred at a time in MLB when Jenkins worked his game plan in facing sluggers hitting more than .300 on every team. His power-pitching control caused opponents to start their ace against him. This made winning even more difficult and his record more impressive.

"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 said. "Beginning a series I always wanted to start against the No. 1 pitcher on the opposing ball club, even if it meant pitching with only two or three days rest."

Jenkins put together one of the best seasons in the modern era in `71 and became the first Cub to win the NL Cy Young Award. With a 2.77 ERA, he led the NL with 24 wins, 325 innings and a career-high 30 complete games. Besides his blazing fastball, his control and offspeed repertoire earned The Sporting News NL `71 Pitcher of the Year status.

That year he halved his normal number of walks by giving up only one per nine innings pitched. He strengthened his dominance in being both the best power and control pitcher in baseball in `71 by throwing 263 strikeouts and only giving up 37 bases on balls (a 7.1:1 ratio).

"By far the most productive year for me as a Cub was `71. I pitched great in spring training and threw great right on through to win 24 games," Jenkins said. "I also helped by hitting .243 with six home runs, including two in one game. My RBIs won eight of those 24 games that year."

Jenkins was a good hitter, posting one of the best home run totals for a pitcher. He homered against the Dodgers in his first Cubs game to win the game. Often his Cubs did not hit as well. His nine-shutout losses in `68 were the most in the 20th Century by a 20-game winner.

Unfortunately for Jenkins, his tenure with the Cubs meant he pitched in the smallest, most hitter-friendly ballpark in MLB, Wrigley Field. Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park is also known as a hitter’s friend.

"Some of the ballparks I pitched in at home were small by big-league standards, and some of the parks had favorable winds for the hitters," Jenkins said.

In `72, he worked with David Fisher to write an illustrated book, Inside Pitching, featuring conditioning for pitching, delivery and control of movement of the ball. His autobiography, Like Nobody Else: The Fergie Jenkins Story, as told to George Vass, was published in `73.

Jenkins was a complete player. On defense in four seasons (`68, `76, `81, and `83) he had a 1.000 fielding average. Those four years saw him tie the all-time MLB record as a great fielding pitcher. He also led the NL in putouts as a pitcher in `71, `72, and the AL in `78. He led the NL in double plays with five in `68.

Traded after the `73 season to the Texas Rangers, Jenkins easily adjusted to AL batters. He became the Rangers’ first 20-game winner in `74, posting 25 victories, five against the World Champion Oakland Athletics. He is still the Rangers’ only 25-game winner.

This career-high win total tied for the lead in the AL. He also led the AL in finishing 29 complete games and closely followed Nolan Ryan’s 332 innings with 328 for second. His 45 walks (1.2 per nine innings) and 245 strikeouts gave him a 5.4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He earned The Sporting News AL Comeback Player of the Year nod in `74.

Jenkins and Catfish Hunter tied for the `74 MLB lead with 25 victories. Hunter edged him in the `74 AL Cy Young Award voting, although Hunter won five of his games sitting in the dugout watching the best relief staff in baseball at the time, while Jenkins only won three in the dugout on a last place club.

"It was an outstanding year with Billy Martin managing and great rookies hitting the ball well," Jenkins said. "Fortunately for me, they also played some great defense helping me win 25 games that year."

During his major-league-best 14 seasons from `67 to `80, Jenkins’ 251 victories led Steve Carlton (four Cy Youngs, MLB’s second-most career strikeouts) with 246 wins and Tom Seaver (three Cy Youngs) with 245. Gaylord Perry (two Cy Youngs) won 244 games and Phil Niekro was fifth with 227. Jenkins had even greater margins over future Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer (three Cy Young Awards) and Nolan Ryan (most MLB career strikeouts).

"I am grateful to have won my Cy Young Award, and to make the top three in balloting five times, although it was difficult to figure out the voting some years," Jenkins said. "I sometimes threw better than guys who won in my time, but they had starred in postseason the year before. Maybe the writers voted for pitchers with 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."

Jenkins became only the fourth pitcher in history to win more than 100 games in both leagues. Cy Young, Jim Bunning, and Gaylord Perry were the first three to accomplish this rare feat. Only Nolan Ryan and Dennis Martinez have since joined that elite group.

Jenkins played two years for the Rangers and then was traded to the Boston Red Sox. After two years with the Sox, he was traded back to the Rangers, where he played four more years.

In late `81, Jenkins became a Cub again as a free agent. In `82, he was the seventh pitcher to amass 3,000 career strikeouts. He finished his career the following year as the Cubs’ career and modern-day season leader in strikeouts with 2,038 and 274 in the `70 season.

His six-year, 20-game win streak was rare. Jenkins retired in `83 and it was not until `93 that NL Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine could string together three-straight 20-win seasons.

His power and pinpoint accuracy allowed him to retire as the ultimate control pitcher, setting the best finesse record in the 128 years of MLB. The Cubs’ strikeout king averaged walking fewer than two batters per nine innings for his 19-year major-league career. He finished with a superb strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.2:1). At career end, he was ninth on the all-time strikeout list, and is now 11th.

"Jenks (Cubs nickname) made it easy for us outfielders. When he pitched I could move to get a jump on the ball," said Hall of Famer Billy Williams. "When Hundley gave him a target inside I could move to anticipate the hitter, since I knew Fergie was always on target."

In `88, Jenkins moved from Canada to become the pitching coach for the then Oklahoma City 89ers, the Triple A Texas Rangers farm club. During his two-year stint as an 89ers coach, he bought a 160-acre ranch just north of Guthrie, Okla., and began raising Appaloosa horses.

Jenkins was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, on July 21, `91. He was voted in with Rod Carew (one of his six `67 All-Star Game strikeouts) and Gaylord Perry. Nolan Ryan recently joined Jenkins and Perry as the only Texas Rangers in the HOF.

Jenkins is the only Canadian honored in Cooperstown. He was the first unanimous inductee into Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame in `87.

After coaching minor-league pitchers for the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds, he was the Chicago Cubs’ pitching coach `95-`96.

Exactly 28 years after his power-and-pinpoint-control six strikeouts in the `67 All-Star Game, Jenkins was the NL honorary coach for the `95 All-Star Game. His selection heralded his return to MLB. The Texas Rangers were the host club at The Ballpark in Arlington. Retired Ranger Nolan Ryan was the AL honorary coach that year.

Displaying a blend of sincerity and credibility as the ultimate control pitcher of the modern era, Jenkins has moved easily from the world of sports. He has adapted to business as a farmer and rancher and assumed a role in Oklahoma’s sports heritage preservation and civic involvement. Jenkins was a Oklahoma Sports Museum founder in `92. He speaks to youth groups about his career and the dangers of using drugs and alcohol. "I’m proud to speak to youth groups and ask Oklahoma Olympic and pro athletes for items for museum displays," Jenkins said.

Jenkins was a Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association board member for several years. He helped raise money for worthy causes and charities by making public appearances and speeches. He made several trips overseas to represent the MLBPAA to the American troops serving there. Attending the annual induction ceremonies and special functions at the Hall of Fame are annual highlights for him. He donates his time to many charity events organized by former teammates.

On the broadcast side, he has granted countless interviews to the national media and been a color analyst for MLB games. He has appeared in many American and Canadian baseball-oriented programs.

Jenkins was voted one of the top 100 baseball players of the 20th Century in June of `99 by the Society for American Baseball Research.

Jenkins is now the founding commissioner of the Canadian Baseball League, the newest international professional baseball league. He helps direct league policy and makes appearances promoting CBL community involvement.

The league begins play in May of `03 in Canada’s 10 provinces to showcase Canadian talent and provide a world-class platform to display their abilities as professional ballplayers. The CBL drafts high school, college and pro players from the USA, Latin America, and Asia, and will feature at least five Canadian-born players on each team.

The league-owned teams will play 72 games, a mid-season All-Star Game, and a postseason championship, The Jenkins Cup, in Sept. of `03.

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