Professional Baseball Player (Retired), Arizona. Born: Chatham, ON.
Ferguson “Fergie” 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 pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, Fergie is best known for his time playing with the Chicago Cubs from 1966-1973. In 1983, he finished his career with the Cubs.
The only Baseball Hall of Famer to be born in Canada, he was born in Chatham, Ontario and is the only child of Ferguson Jenkins, Sr. and his wife Delores. Fergie’s father, a chef, immigrated from Barbados, while his mother Delores’ ancestors were slaves who escaped the southern United States by way of the Underground Railroad.
Fergie gained a love for sports from his parents who were also good athletes. His mother was an excellent bowler; his father, an amateur boxer and semi-pro baseball player 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 colour barrier.
During his school years, Fergie was a natural athlete. He tried and excelled in most sports; choosing to compete in track, hockey, and basketball, lettering five times. As a teen, Fergie played bantam baseball. His long arms and lanky legs made him a perfect first baseman. He honed his pitching skills at a local coal yard with friends by throwing pieces of coal or rocks at an ice chute when the rubber flap opened. When they weren’t 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.
During those years, he 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 Fegie’s raw talent. Their training sessions continued until Fergie 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 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, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs.
1967 marked the beginning of Fergie’s best years as a major 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 at Anaheim Stadium. He was only twenty-three, the youngest All-Star player ever. That night, throwing 93-94 mph with pin-point control, he struck out six players: Harmon Killebrew (who led the league that year with 44 homers), Tony Conigliaro (hitting .297), Mickey Mantle (who had hit his 500th homer on May 14), Jim Fregosi (1966 AL Rookie of the Year), Rod Carew (1967 AL Rookie of the Year) and Tony Oliva (who topped the American League in doubles that year with 34). In three innings of work, Fergie’s six strikeouts put him in the major-league record books. That began a streak of six consecutive 20 win seasons with the Chicago Cubs from 1966-1973, equaling Mordecai Brown’s Cub record that had stood for over six decades. In 1971, his accomplishments garnered him the Cy Young Award.
He was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1974 amid suggestions that he was over the hill at age thirty. With the Rangers, Fergie won a career-high 25 games in 1974 and was voted Comeback Player of the Year. He spent two seasons in Texas before being traded to the Boston Red Sox. In 1978, Fergie 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. In 1983, after nineteen major league seasons, Fergie retired from the game as a Cub just a few months shy of his 40th birthday.
Other: From 1967-1969, Fergie opted to fill his off-season hours by brushing up his basketball skills with the fabled Harlem Globetrotters. In 1992, he helped found the Oklahoma Sports Museum. In 2009, he registered his charity foundation, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation, which raises money for several charitable organizations, including the Canadian Red Cross, the Special Olympics, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, CRIED-Abused Women’s Program, and several camps for underprivileged children. Fergie was also the first commissioner of the Canadian Baseball League (CBL), which began in 2003. He’s served as a colour analyst for Major League Baseball games, and is a committed activist for the promotion and preservation of baseball. He is also considered the anchor of the Black Aces, a group of African-American pitchers with at least twenty wins in one season. (Fergie is included in this group, though he’s African-Canadian. Despite having lived in the U.S. for decades, he has never given up his Canadian citizenship.)
Honours: Include, the first Canadian to win the Cy Young Award; the first and only Canadian to be inducted into Major League Baseball’s National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. (1991); induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (1987); Lou Marsh Award recipient as Canada’s top athlete; Canadian Athlete of the Year (1967, 1968, 1971 & 1974); selected as one of the top 100 baseball players of the 20th century by the Society for American Baseball Research (1999); inducted onto Canada’s Walk of Fame (2001); inclusion in Who’s Who in Black Canada (1st & 2nd editions; 2002 & 2006 respectively); Honorary Doctorate of Law from McMaster University (2004); and the Order of Canada (2007). In 2009, Fergie’s number, 31, was retired at Wrigley Field in Chicago was raised up the historic right field foul pole enshrining him among the other greatest Chicago Cubs players in their storied 138-year history. In February of 2011, Fergie will be honoured with a special commemorative Canadian postage stamp celebrating his accomplishments in sports and to Black History.
Works: Has co-written best-selling books: the 1974 instructional volume Inside Pitching (with David Fisher); his 1974 memoir, Like Nobody Else: The Fergie Jenkins Story (as told to George Vass); The Game is Easy – Life is Hard: The Story of Ferguson Jenkins, Jr. (2003); Fergie: My Life from the Cubs to Cooperstown (2009).
Favourite book? My third book, The Game is Easy – Life is Hard, by Canadian writer, Dorothy Durcotte. She got to the point where I was giving her information on life outside of the game; when you take the uniform off. I was living on a farm at the time and had a couple of deaths in the family. Baseball was not easy, but it is the sport I loved.
Favourite quote? “Give a 100%, always.”
Given the chance, what would you love to do that you haven’t done yet? To go back to Africa just to sightsee; go to another country. I’ve been all over, England, Germany, Russia, Cuba, South America. My father is from Barbados and I tried to look up the family name, but there were so many Jenkins it would’ve taken me a couple of weeks to find out who my relatives were; I was only there a day and a half. Travel is something I would like to do extensively in the next few years.
Who inspires you? My dad was my hero. I was very fortunate to have two parents that raised me. They understood that I was going to be an athlete; maybe not as good as the outcome was. Gene Dziadura, the scout that signed me, probably knew more than anyone else the potential I had.
Why do you do what you do? With Gene seeing the potential of me being a pitcher, I put hockey & basketball on the backburner. I was a better baseball player. When I look back, I think I made the right choice.