Home Sports Fergie Jenkins’ statue will be unveiled Friday at Wrigley Field. His former teammates reflect on the Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer’s career.

Fergie Jenkins’ statue will be unveiled Friday at Wrigley Field. His former teammates reflect on the Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer’s career.

by staff

Fergie Jenkins already has his 10-minute speech prepared well ahead of his monumental recognition.

Jenkins joked he will try not to bore anyone but hopes to enlighten people about his baseball journey and thank those who helped him along the way. When Jenkins’ statue is unveiled Friday morning, it will join those of former teammates Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams in the newly established monument row in Gallagher Way outside Wrigley Field.

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Jenkins, 79, arrived in Chicago on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s ceremony. He anticipates about 150 family members and friends will attend the unveiling.

“It’s an honor in itself because of the fact that a lot of generations have never seen me play, especially youngsters,” Jenkins told the Tribune. “It’s going to impact a lot of different people to stand by my statue and read some of the stats I’ve put together as an athlete: winning games, complete ballgames, winning the Cy Young, that type of thing.

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“It’s an honor to have people stand in front of my statue and have their picture taken.”

Ahead of the ultimate honor a team can give a player, the Tribune spoke to five of Jenkins’ former Cubs teammates about their memories playing with the right-hander and what made him an elite pitcher.

When the Cubs acquired Jenkins from the Philadelphia Phillies three weeks into the 1966 season, the 23-year-old Canadian had only eight games of big-league experience. Cubs manager Leo Durocher used Jenkins out of the bullpen before putting him in the rotation at the end of August for the rest of the season, and he posted a 2.13 ERA with two complete games in his last nine starts. Jenkins went on to make 594 starts in his 19-year MLB career, including 347 in 10 seasons with the Cubs.

OF Billy Williams (teammate of Jenkins from 1966-73): “It was a long, lanky guy when he walked in the clubhouse, and he didn’t know anybody — like we all do when you move around — and all of a sudden Leo put him in the bullpen. The thing with him, he always had good fastball control, a real good slider and a good changeup. He threw the changeup different than any pitcher I’ve seen. His right foot kind of went back off the mound a different way. But you can’t teach that.”

Jenkins was a workhorse throughout his career. As a Cub he threw 154 complete games, including 29 shutouts. Once he started full time in 1967, Jenkins averaged 301 innings over seven seasons during his first stint in Chicago.

LHP Ken Holtzman (1966-71): “Fergie is impossible to describe by today’s standards and protocols. He was among an elite group of pitchers who were supposed to finish what they started and produce wins for his team. The workload of the starting pitcher was much greater than today’s pitchers and is probably why most of the pitchers of that era had their best years in their 20s, as opposed to many elite pitchers of today who have their best years in their 30s.”

Williams: “A strong individual. There’s so many times we’d go out a little bit, come in a little late and he’d be on the mound the next day. I remember we were in Pittsburgh and we had a good time that night — he and I went out. And then we had to go fishing at 4 o’clock in the morning (40 miles away) in Latrobe. So we rushed back to the hotel, we stayed up there fishing, then we rushed back to the hotel and the bus left at 5:15 p.m. We run in, take a shower, get on the bus and we go to the ballpark. And I say, ‘Ferg, who’s pitching tonight?’ He said, ‘I am.’ That’s when I knew he was a strong individual.”

Over the course of Jenkins’ career, 32 catchers caught him at least once. But none more than former Cubs catcher Randy Hundley, who was behind the plate for 240 of Jenkins’ appearances. Jenkins had a 3.21 ERA, 3.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio, .279 on-base percentage and .646 OPS against him when paired with Huntley.

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C Randy Hundley (1966-73): “He was just a delight to catch for. He had a good, natural delivery on the ball and kept the ball down and did the hard work between starts, getting a lot of running in, keeping his arm in shape. He had command of all of his pitches. The slider was maybe his best pitch. During that time, Leo didn’t want to go to the bullpen and bring somebody else in to take his place. He just wanted to pitch him through the whole game and see if we couldn’t get the win. He was a good hitter too. He hit 13 home runs, and it helped him stay in the lineup. Most pitchers were not that good and would get pinch hit for if we were behind.”

After the 1973 season, the Cubs traded Jenkins to the Texas Rangers. He spent the next eight seasons in the American League with the Rangers and Boston Red Sox and pitched at an above-league-average level. His Cubs tenure, however, had another chapter. Jenkins signed with the Cubs before the 1982 season, pitching two more years before his career ended three months shy of his 41st birthday. The next season, the Cubs won the division and made their first postseason appearance in 39 years.

3B/2B Ryne Sandberg (1982-83): “In those two years, I didn’t really realize he was at the end of his career. That didn’t set in because he was so effective. After I moved to second base, I would look at the hitter and to see the sign and and to watch him execute that pitch. For me, I could just get a huge jump mentally or position myself because he was going to hit that spot and would have movement on it. He’d take the sting off of the ball. We needed to play defense behind him because he missed the sweet spot of the bat somehow with his slider and his moving fastball. So to play defense behind him was just a luxury, and we were able to just be at the right place at the right time. The infield would work hand in hand with him because he was so locked in.”

Jody Davis was Jenkins’ primary catcher those two seasons and ranks third in games caught that Jenkins pitched. Davis was behind the plate for Jenkins’ 3,000th career strikeout on May 25, 1982, in San Diego when he struck out Garry Templeton. The milestone baseball went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Jenkins kept strikeout ball No. 3,001, and he gave No. 3,002 to Davis.

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C Jody Davis (1982-83): “It’s here in my trophy case, and I’m pretty proud of that. An unbelievable competitor, human being. He was ‘Pops’ to me at the yard. Catching him was almost like a day off because Fergie had such great control of all his pitches that you go out there and you call a pitch and you set up, catch the ball and throw it back. It was so much fun. Looking at his numbers is just astronomical. I mean, it’s breathtaking. He was such a great competitor, he never threw two pitches at the same speed and in the same spot. I mean, he made it look easy to move the ball around.”

Sandberg: “I remember a game in April, he was in his windup when he turned toward me at third base and said, ‘Heads up, Ryno.’ And then he threw the pitch, and I flinched and saw a bullet hit over to my right foul. In between innings I went to him, ‘Fergie, what did you mean by that heads up?’ And he goes, ‘Well, I was just alerting you that I was throwing a big power right-handed hitter an inside changeup and I wanted him to pull it foul for a strike. If he happens to be right on it, it’s going to be a rocket right at you, so I’m trying to help.’ So he did that the rest of that season throwing big guys inside changeups, and they couldn’t keep it fair.”

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Jenkins’ statue cements his status as the greatest Cubs pitcher. He can still be found throughout the Cubs record book, including most games started and most career strikeouts. Jenkins, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, became the first Cub to win the National League Cy Young Award in 1971 and finished in the top three four other times. His former teammates remember Jenkins’ career beyond the well-deserved accolades.

Williams: “When that statue is unveiled and when the kids go running up to look at it and see it, they should say: This was a durable pitcher. He wanted to be on the mound. His thing was going out to pitch. You don’t find too many people with the complete games that he had. But he wanted it. He wanted people to say, ‘There was a guy that pitched his heart out for the Cubs.’”

Davis: “The ultimate competitor. His numbers are off the charts. If you look at his numbers compared to today, pitchers would laugh at them. But really he’s a great human being, a great friend, a great teammate. I’m glad I got to be a little part of it.

Sandberg: “If I was walking to home plate to face to him, just his height, his looseness of his arm and his legs coming at you and arms would be a lot. They’re coming at you and then the ball darting in different directions. That’s deception. And he had that naturally. But to see his 20-win seasons that he strung out, I don’t see that happen in today’s game. That’s pretty incredible.”

Holtzman: “Fergie was highly respected by both his opponents as well as his own teammates because of his reliability, consistency and excellence, which are his qualities that I most tried to emulate. His statue should be made of granite to symbolize his determination and strength, and I hope people who see it are reminded of his greatness.”

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