Cubs 101 - Pt. 10 - Fergie
Along with Billy batting third, another thing we all took for granted was that every fourth day, Ferguson Jenkins would take the mound, and we could count on a great game, usually a win. In today’s pitch-count era, what Fergie did was mind-boggling, inhuman, video game-esque. His stats simply do not compare to today's pitching stats.
Because we're frequently accused of pessimism, let's begin bylooking at Fergie's worst season with the Cubs. In 1973, he won 14 games. These days, that, alone, would earn you close to an 8-figure annual salary. But let's also look at his past history, shall we?
Well, he won 20 games in 1967, and 20 more in 1968. He won 21 in 1969, 22 in 1970, and 24 in 1971! He won 20 in 1972, but that was a strike year. He sucked royal ass in 1973 – only 14, remember – then bounced back with 25 W’s in 1974. Unfortunately, he was a Texas Ranger by then. If you’re keeping track, that’s 6 20-game seasons in a row, 7 of 8, and after his one-year “decline”, P. K. Wrigley gave up on him and shipped him to Texas. We got a 2-time batting champ for us, Bill Madlock in return, who Wrigley refused to pay, possibly based on race, and then brought in a broken-down Yankee (of another race)who he paid more than Madlock was asking for, but hey, I’m not bitter. Not at all.
Fergie DID lose it one day in 1973, went totally batshit crazy, cleared out an entire batting rack out onto the field. Hell, Fergie did more just that one afternoon than noted hothead Milton Bradley has ever done in his entire career, combined. If that happened today, he would probably be suspended for fifty games, if not an entire year. Thing is, though, the incident did not seem terribly out of place on that frustrating, dysfunctional squad. By then, Wrigley had finally managed to force Leo Durocher out as manager, and was beginning to dismantle the great Cubs team of my early childhood. The team suffered through a 12-game losing streak that summer, a skein of such panic and hopelessness that a whole community was affected. Players as well as fans knew the last great chance to break the (then relatively miniscule) 60-year drought had passed, so it was not the end of the world that Fergie went nuts that day. Everybody forgave him, except for the perpetually out-of-touch Wrigley, who used the tossed bats as the skids to push the greatest pitcher in Cubs history out of town.
I mean, my God! In 1971, he threw 325 innings, completed 30 games, and hit 6 home runs! Did I mention he won 20 games 6 years in a row? This simply is not a man that should be traded. A year or two later, Billy Williams himself was traded to Charlie Finley's A's, but by then,Billy could not play the outfield anymore to his standards, and the newly created DH position seemed tailor-made for an old-warrior like he.
So perhaps one could rationalize that particular trade, but trading a man one year removed from a 20-12 record with 23 complete games is simply the most criminal act P. K. Wrigley ever perpetrated, and that includes Brock-for-Broglio.
Now I have met the man as well, several times, albeit not always in the best circumstances. I hate "autograph opportunities", because is the man up front furiously signing all the bats, balls, photos, cards that much more of a human being than all of those standing in line for the privilege? I always felt Fergie kind of felt the same way about it, too. To that end, he has established his own Foundation that supports a variety of Canadian charities, and he raises the money by typically charging 20 bucks for autographs. It's a good thing to be charitable. In the last couple of years, he has come to my hometown in support of his Foundation. He comes to our Elks club, a decent sized group of us gather around, chat a bit, we get to see the man in a bit more social setting. He still charges the twenty for the autograph, and believe me, I do not begrudge him or his Foundation. I believe though, his decision to charge is motivated as much by a desire to prevent mob scenes and autograph vultures as it is to support Canadian charities.
Fergie isn't as sunny as Mr. Cub, as smooth as Billy, as emotional and outgoing as Ron Santo, or as down-home as Rebel Hundley or Don Kessinger. Then again, my God, the man lost both a wife and a daughter in a bizarre incident. He also completely got raked over the coals in 1980 over a drug arrest. It wasn't quite the frenzy that the mid-eighties Willie Wilson/Dale Berra/Keith Hernandez/Dave Parker cocaine bust, or the recent steroid cheats, but unlike these other incidents, it was only Fergie, he had to weather the storm alone, and it had to affect him. He's had to deal with a lot in life, and that may explain why he isn't as "comfortable" in the spotlight as some of his 1969 Cubs peers.
But if you get the chance, pay your twenty, help a Canadian like Kurt get a proper pair of braces or something, and take the time to thank the man for everything he did for us in the pinstripes. There won't be another Fergie Jenkins.
Sponsored by Coast to Coast Tickets, your reliable Chicago Cubs ticket broker!