Cubs pitching coach Ferguson Jenkins is a towering presence as he watches young Steve Trachsel warming up in the bull pen. Sure, Fergie’s a tall man, but there’s more to it than that. He doesn’t yell. He isn’t animated. He doesn’t gesture grandly. He exudes the quiet confidence of a man who’s seen the best and worst life has to offer and stoically accepts whatever may come his way.
Trachsel’s still a bit green. Last year as a rookie he may have been the team’s best starter, but this season things aren’t going so well. He can’t seem to win in Wrigley Field. His career won-lost record at home is a frustrating 1-12. Fergie’s job is to help Trachsel regain his poise. As he flings fastballs and curves, Trachsel appears relaxed, in charge. If only he could have Fergie standing behind him during games.
Jenkins rarely talks during the warm-up. But when he does, each word seems to matter. Trachsel pauses to listen, and Fergie’s soft, milky voice soothes the youngster: throw strikes; be patient; don’t let adversity throw you off your game plan. If anyone can get Trachsel to win at home, it’s Ferguson Jenkins.
Sportswriters and football coaches constantly call up that old saw about sports being like life–what you learn on the field is supposed to help you make it in this world. It’s bullshit, of course. Nine times out of ten, sports has nothing to do with life. But Fergie’s story is that one exception. The same qualities that helped him pitch in the big leagues have also helped him through personal tragedies. What made him the greatest pitcher in Cubs history continues to guide the Hall of Famer to this day. He’s patient. He doesn’t let misfortune drag him down. He’s a survivor.
When the Cubs collapsed at the end of the 1969 season, a certain 13-year-old was convinced that something was stolen from him. Justice hadn’t been served. Right was wrong. This is what usually passes for tragedy in the insular world of sports. As the kid got older, he started believing that old sports saw. That summer of suffering couldn’t have been without significance–it must have made him and the players on his beloved team better men. Twenty-six years later, that kid would meet Fergie Jenkins, a major figure from that star-crossed season and the pitcher in two key games. The grown-up kid would realize that winning isn’t everything–perhaps it’s nothing at all.
When he thinks of 1969, he recalls some heady days. The Cubs came flying out of the gate and held on to first place through the summer. North-siders were in a dreamland, delirious. A man may have just walked on the moon, but more importantly the Chicago Cubs were hurtling toward the World Series for the first time since the end of World War II. Their closest pursuer? Hah! The New York Mets, an eight-year-old expansion team that had managed to climb out of the cellar only twice in its history. The Cubs looked to be shoe-ins.
The Cubs were packed with all-stars: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert. The pitchers, though shut out of all-star selection that year, were nonetheless shutting down the league. Jenkins, Ken Holtzman, and Bill Hands stifled the opposition almost every time out. Phil Regan, “the Vulture,” swooped down to save games in relief with numbing regularity. The Mets? They boasted such titanic names as Art Shamsky, Cal Koonce, Ed Kranepool, and little Al Weis. OK, they also had the last two rookies of the year in Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. But please! The Mets?
That’s exactly how the Cubs viewed the New Yorkers. Several days before a July stay at Shea Stadium, Ron Santo had given New York Daily News reporter Dick Young plenty of material for a series-preview column. Santo compared the Cubs to the Mets position by position and came to the conclusion that the Mets shouldn’t even be in the same ballpark as the Wrigleys. The Mets knew how to read, though, and somebody taped the column up in the Mets clubhouse to serve as inspiration for the miracle underdogs.
At this point in the season the idea that the Mets might snatch the pennant away from the Cubs was considered outlandish; no one thought the mighty, swaggering Cubs would end up giving it away. But while most of Chicago was planning on a late-October parade, some of the Cubs were starting to look over their shoulders. Even the eternal Pollyanna, Ernie Banks, reportedly confided to a teammate that at least four players were nearly paralyzed for fear of losing.
The first game of the New York series started on July 8. The Mets were in a surprising second place, but they were still five games behind the Cubs. After eight innings the Cubs had a 3-1 lead. Fergie had held the Mets to only one run, a fifth-inning home run by Ed Kranepool.
But by the ninth inning Jenkins was flummoxed. He’d spent the entire eighth inning trying to position his center fielder Don Young, who refused to move. Ron Santo motioned to Young but to no avail. Jim Hickman shouted from right field, and Young ignored him. Between innings, Santo collared Young in the dugout and tried to talk some sense into the mercurial center fielder.
In the bottom of the ninth, the first batter hit an easy pop fly to shallow center. Young froze, and the ball dropped safely for a hit. Fergie was angry; he thought Young should have gloved it. The next Met batter made an out.
Now Donn Clendenon, a pinch hitter with good power, stepped to the plate. Fergie tried to position Young once again, but Young continued to ignore him. Fergie called to third baseman Ron Santo, and both men started to gesture emphatically for Young to move. Cub manager Leo Durocher raced out to the mound and barked at Santo, “Get his ass over there.”
Finally, Young was coaxed to move into position. Immediately, Clendenon smacked a drive to center field. Young jogged back, caught the ball, his back grazing the fence, and then dropped it. The Mets should have been retired but now had the tying runs on base.
A hit and a walk later, the Mets tied the game. Then Ed Kranepool singled to left and the winning run scored. The loss was catastrophic. From that moment on, Cubs players and fans alike saw the Mets as charmed, a team of destiny.
Fergie was uncharacteristically upset after the game. Durocher blew a gasket. He shouted at reporters loud enough for everyone in the clubhouse to hear, “My two-year-old could have caught those two fucking balls!” Stories by Jerome Holtzman and Dick Young quoted Santo, in a tirade, blaming Don Young for the loss. “He was just thinking of himself, not the team,” Santo said. “He had a bad day at the bat, so he’s got his head down. He’s worrying about his batting average and not the team. All right, he can keep his head down, and he can keep right on going, out of sight for all I care. We don’t need that kind of thing.” Young immediately was taken out of the starting lineup and spent the rest of the year in Durocher’s doghouse. Within a couple of days, newspaper stories had Young transformed into a pitiable creature, having endured the bullying of Santo and Durocher. Conventional wisdom in the sports pages reminded us that no single man is responsible for the fate of a team. Santo began to receive hate mail and death threats.
Improbably, Jenkins was the starter in another backbreaking loss in ’69, this time during the heat of the September pennant race. Santo describes Jenkins’s game in his autobiography For Love of Ivy:
“I felt my usual confidence in him. It was a cold, raw September day with the wind blowing in–truly a pitcher’s day. Fergie was outstanding, but so was Pittsburgh southpaw Bob Veale. We took a 1-0 lead into the ninth. Fergie got the first two outs, but then Willie Stargell took a 1-2 fastball that would have required a cannon to hit it out of the park. Sure enough, Stargell blasted it on to Sheffield Avenue against the gale. We were tied. For the first time in this magical season, I felt the confidence and the momentum sliding away. I suspected others on the team were experiencing the same feeling.”
The Pirates went on to win that game in extra innings, and the Cubs watched the Mets go on to win the World Series. Some Cubs fans still can’t think about 1969 without choking up a bit. Fergie, though, describes the Cubs’ tumble philosophically with an ironic grin. “We had a series against the Phillies,” Fergie says of that September, “and we ended up losing three out of four games. We went to New York and lost four out of four. We went to Saint Louis and they beat us. And then it was “Katy, bar the door.’ It was over. The Mets went ahead, and we never did recover.”
Fergie’s story doesn’t start with the hardscrabble, tear-inducing details so often told about black pro athletes. He wasn’t a disadvantaged youth overcoming all obstacles to achieve success. It was a quiet start for Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, born on December 13, 1943, the son of Canadians Ferguson Holmes Jenkins and the former Delores Louise Jackson. The Jenkins family lived on the second floor of a two-story home owned by Delores’s mother on the outskirts of Chatham, Ontario, a farm community.
Everyone called Fergie’s father Big Ferguson, to distinguish him from his son, Little Ferguson. He’d played baseball for the Windsor Black Barons before World War II. But he knew he could never play in the majors in those pre-Jackie Robinson days, so he settled in Chatham, married Delores, and became a private chef and chauffeur for wealthy families like the Seagrams of whiskey fame.
“When I was born,” Fergie says, “the labor was so difficult for my mother it affected her optic nerves. She lost most of her sight in the process.” But this didn’t stop Baptist Delores Jenkins from running a tight ship. “My mother had a keen sense of things around her. She could always tell when the mailman or the delivery man was coming up to the house. If a chair was out of place, she would sense it. Even walking downtown, people would never suspect she was blind. My mother wore glasses. She smiled a lot. She would look straight ahead, but she didn’t have cloudy eyes or anything like that.”
Delores kept close track of her only child. “I went to Sunday school and church with my mom,” Fergie says. “I said grace before meals. We always thanked the Lord for providing that particular day, hoping that the next day would be even better.
“My mother always called me Junior,” Fergie says. “But when I really got in trouble she called me Arthur.” Once Little Ferguson and some pals knocked down a neighbor’s fence. The police came to the Jenkins home, and Delores was so ashamed she made Little Ferguson rebuild the fence with his friends.
The only bad-boy activity Fergie repeated just might have prepared him for a career in baseball. Across the street from his first home on Colborn Street was Terry’s Coal and Ice Yard. Behind the house ran the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad. Little Ferguson and his pals would throw pieces of coal at passing freight trains, aiming for open doors on boxcars. “I would not be surprised,” Fergie wrote in his autobiography Like Nobody Else, “if throwing the coal helped me develop the control I have as a pitcher.”
Ferguson Jenkins takes huge strides through the Cubs clubhouse. He’s scheduled to throw batting practice for his pitchers, who are already on the field. He sticks some gum in his mouth and winks at a new reporter, who’s standing near the bulletin board looking lost. The reporter introduces himself, and Fergie shakes his outstretched hand. “Pleasure,” Fergie says, and the reporter visibly relaxes.
Fergie’s walking through the winding passageway connecting the clubhouse to the dugout when pitcher Turk Wendell collars him.
“I can’t take batting practice today,” Wendell says.
Fergie has heard pitchers come up with a million excuses for skipping batting practice. The coach squints at the young pitcher, but says nothing.
The pitcher holds up his right hand. “I got a bad cut on it today.”
Fergie stops dead in his tracks, his mouth agape. The last thing he needs is to have one of his charges disabled from some bonehead accident. He studies the top of the pitcher’s hand and turns it over. No gash. No blood. No bandages. He looks up at the pitcher’s grinning face and realizes he’s being put on. Fergie’s shoulders droop, and the pitcher pats him on the back. The two step gingerly through a minefield of chewing tobacco spittle on the gangway floor.
Jenkins has just been named honorary captain of the National League all-star team. As he emerges from the dugout, he’s pounced on by reporters. Everybody from ESPN’s Peter Gammons to an Illinois Radio Network crew asks the same question: What does it feel like to receive such an honor? He answers them all, patiently, for ten minutes.
First-base coach Dan Radisson is already throwing to the hitters. He catches Fergie’s eye and nods toward the clock on the center-field scoreboard. “OK, I’ll be right there,” Fergie says, politely excusing himself.
The pitchers, ten in all here, split into two groups and stand on either side of the batting cage. Larry Casian, a little-used middle reliever who’s spent some time on the disabled list this year, tries to intercept Fergie before he gets to the mound. There’s tension among the fringe pitchers right now. A few guys whose positions are secure are scheduled to come off the disabled list soon. Someone will get shoved to make room for them. Innocently enough, Casian asks Fergie, “Am I s’posed to throw today or tomorrow?”
“Wha’d I tell you?” Fergie replies.
“You said tomorrow,” Casian says. “Today. You know what I mean. Yesterday you said tomorrow, meaning today.”
Casian pauses. He’s tense. Finally he asks what’s really on his mind. “When am I being traded, tomorrow or Friday?”
Fergie smiles embarrassedly.
“No, no,” Casian says quickly, laughing. “I’m all right with it.”
Fergie laughs. “You can handle it?”
“Yeah, I can handle it.” Casian pauses uncomfortably until he realizes the answer is not forthcoming.
Fergie takes a bag of baseballs from behind a protective screen on the mound. He still wears the same type of glove he used as a pitcher for 19 big-league seasons. His career won-lost record was 284-226, with a lifetime earned-run average of 3.34. He had his greatest success as a Cub, when he won 20 or more games six years in a row. That streak is rightly mentioned whenever the career of Ferguson Jenkins is discussed. It’s not the longest such streak in major-league history, but it was accomplished in that windy telephone booth known as Wrigley Field. Most pitchers consider it an accomplishment to escape the ballpark with their sanity intact. But Fergie was dominating in his games there. That’s why he was hired in January by the new Cubs regime of club president Andy MacPhail, general manager Ed Lynch, and manager Jim Riggleman. They hoped Jenkins would impart to what was then considered a suspect pitching staff the qualities that not only allowed him to keep his sanity but also led to a Hall of Fame career.
The pitchers in the batting cage are practicing their bunting, and Fergie throws lightly to them. Even though he’s not in a game situation, he still has the old delivery. Jenkins would stand tall on the hill in those glory days, his face impassive. He always wore a long-sleeved shirt under his uniform. The loose ends of the sleeves flapped slightly in the breeze. He’d look for signals from catcher Randy Hundley, remaining erect, not bending over at the waist like other pitchers trying to get a closer look at their catcher’s wiggling fingers. Nothing bowed Fergie, not a home run, not a 1-0 loss, not even events off the field. He’d nod his head once, slightly, to let Hundley know they were on the same wavelength. He’d tuck his glove in, close to his chest, like a parson holding a Bible near his heart. Then, seemingly without effort, Fergie would flick out his left foot toward home plate and wind up his right arm. At this point, Fergie’s back would almost face the batter, who’d see the uniform number 31 with two dark eyes peering over the left shoulder, focusing on the strike zone. As that long leg extended, it seemed as though Fergie was only a short step away from shaking hands with the ump. His left foot would land oddly, pointing toward the third base dugout. He’d finish pigeon-toed. But those gangly legs and knock knees made Fergie look oddly graceful as he released the ball, like a giraffe trying to get a sip of water. The ball would almost always cross the strike zone low, skirting over the edge of the plate. Fergie had great control. He’d paint the corners, confusing hitters with that holy trinity of pitching attributes: location, changing speeds, and movement.
After bunting practice, Fergie orders the pitchers to pick up the loose balls in front of the batting cage and prepare to take some real swings. They liven up batting practice by playing a game of sorts, with Fergie deciding what counts as a hit or an out. The pitchers split into competing teams and cheer each other on. Each of the pitchers swings sweetly; most make good contact. But their swings are slower than those of position players, and they don’t hit the ball as far.
One pitcher smacks a liner into left field. “That’s a knock,” he exclaims to his cheering teammates.
“No it isn’t,” Fergie says softly.
The pitcher bites his lip. What’s the sense of arguing with a legend?
The regulars start to emerge from the dugout to take batting practice. Today’s starting pitcher is a 26-year-old from Evanston named Kevin Foster. He carries a bat as he hits the top step of the dugout. He peers into the overcast sky and bounces on his toes nervously. “Goddamn!” he shouts. “Don’t let it fuckin’ rain today.” Then Foster sees his pitching coach quietly and smoothly delivering the ball over the plate. Foster studies Fergie and soon stops bouncing on his feet. He too becomes quiet.
Another coach takes over batting practice, and Fergie lopes out to the bull pen to play catch with Larry Casian. After warming up, Casian climbs the mound and starts throwing to a catcher. Fergie stands behind him, watching. “That’s it,” Fergie says as Casian’s pitch crosses an imaginary strike zone.
Little Ferguson loved sports as a young boy in Chatham. “When I was 14, I had a dream of being a professional hockey player,” he says. “In our area, hockey was very, very big. It was a sport that I played devotedly all winter, and I played road hockey in the summer. The one sport I really loved was hockey. Second was basketball, and third was baseball.”
But it was baseball that Fergie could play best. He started pitching for his high school team when he was 16, a tall, gawky skinny kid. “The game seemed to come pretty easy,” he says. “I was picking up the things I had to learn as a pitcher: poise on the mound, the breaking ball.”
Soon he began putting on weight and gaining strength. “I started throwing the ball a little harder,” he says. “I thought this might be the best way to become a pro athlete.”
In school, Ferguson loved art and thought he might one day become a draftsman. But his pitching began to attract attention. He met a Chatham schoolteacher named Gene Dziadura, who also served as a bird dog for the Philadelphia Phillies. Bird dogs are amateur scouts who keep their eyes open for young talent. When they find it, they drop a line to their connections in the big-league club. If the player ever makes it to the majors, the bird dog might get a nice check in the mail. Dziadura phoned Tony Lucadello, a fabled scout based in Ohio, and told him he’d found a good prospect.
Dziadura took Ferguson under his wing. He brought a sledgehammer to the Jenkinses’ house and told Fergie to pound a block of wood with it for a half hour every day. “This’ll help strengthen your wrists and forearms,” Dziadura said. “It’ll help you throw a better curveball and withstand the stress on your arm.”
Ferguson dutifully followed Dziadura’s instructions. When winter came, he switched to an ax and chopped firewood even though the Jenkins home had no fireplace. Dziadura kept feeding positive reports to Lucadello. Eventually the Phillies scout visited Chatham to see this promising young man with his own eyes. Lucadello patted Dziadura on the back. “Yep,” he said, “we got a good one here.” Then Lucadello started to give Ferguson some real pitching lessons–how to grip the ball, how to hold men on base, how to field.
By the time Ferguson graduated from high school, the Phillies offered him a contract. The Jenkins living room was packed for the signing. Dziadura and Lucadello were there. Reporters and photographers from all the area newspapers showed up. It wasn’t often that one of their own signed with the major leagues. Big Ferguson and Delores talked terms with the Phillies’ scouts. It didn’t take long for them to agree–Fergie would receive a $6,500 signing bonus and $400 a month to pitch for a Phillies farm team.
“I got the check and gave it to my father, and we paid off the mortgage on the house,” Fergie says. “At the end of that year I’d saved up some money, and the next year I signed and bought my first car, a Pontiac.”
Now on his own, Fergie learned some lessons about life that he thankfully was spared as a child. He had never been made to feel inferior because of his color. The Jenkinses’ first house was in a mostly black section of Chatham, but when Fergie was seven his family moved to an all-white neighborhood. He had just as many friends there as in the old neighborhood. In Like Nobody Else Jenkins wrote, “As I look back now, I can see that I had an extremely harmonious childhood, that I was fortunate to escape the indignities that have embittered the childhoods of so many of my people. Growing up in Chatham was a great deal different from growing up in Harlem or Mississippi.”
“I didn’t hear any racial slurs like “nigger’ or “blackie, we don’t want you here’ until I went to play professional ball in Florida,” he says. “When I signed in 1962, I went to Williamsport [Pennsylvania] for a short spring training, and then they sent me out to play ball in Miami. We were in Palatka, Georgia, and I heard kids screaming out behind the fence, shouting racial slurs. I said to myself, “I can get by this. Nobody’s pointing a gun at me or throwing rocks at me. I’m here as an athlete to play ball.’ That was my total focus.”
Playing ball in the south opened Fergie’s eyes. On his first road trip with the Miami Marlins, the team bus stopped at a restaurant. Fergie followed all the white players off the bus, not noticing the black and Latino players who remained behind. In the restaurant the waitress refused to serve him. He returned to the bus and was taught the rules of the time–ask a white ballplayer to get you something and bring it back to the bus. At other restaurants the black and Latino players had to eat in the kitchen. Some of them resented the kitchen treatment, but not Fergie. “I was just happy to get off the bus and sit down,” he wrote in Like Nobody Else. “Alex Johnson and I actually got to prefer the kitchen. For two or three dollars we got ten dollars’ worth of food and better service in the back.”
The Phillies had two future superstars on its Little Rock farm club in 1963. Each reacted differently to the racism encountered there. “Dick Allen and I played together at Little Rock,” Fergie says. Allen, then known as Richie, one day would become what baseball considered a bad guy. He bristled at any hint of racism. He became alienated from his fans and teammates. He fought openly with some less tolerant southern players. Allen was suspended once for replying to his enemies by writing with his spikes in the infield dirt, “Shit,” the letters large enough to be read from the upper deck.
“We were the first black players at Little Rock, and this as much as anything else was the cause of Richie’s later attitude toward the press and the fans,” Fergie wrote. “At Williamsport he had been friendly, outgoing, and relaxed. He was happy playing ball in his home state of Pennsylvania. Then at Little Rock he was exposed for the first time to racism, and it changed him greatly.”
Fergie and Allen roomed together in Little Rock’s black section. Allen bought an old Plymouth to get them to and from the ballpark. They’d come out to the parking lot and find handwritten signs placed on the car saying “Niggers go home,” “We never had any niggers before,” and “You don’t belong.” Even though Allen had a terrific year in Little Rock, the fans booed his every move. He requested a transfer and threatened to quit.
“Unlike Richie, I had no problems at Little Rock. This was partly because I am less emotional and partly because as a pitcher, playing only occasionally, I did not have to face fan abuse like a regular in the lineup,” Fergie wrote. The Phillies organization ended up reassigning Fergie to Miami, and from there he went to the big leagues.
In 1965 the Phillies called Fergie up for a late-season look, and he pitched well in a handful of appearances. Next year he made the final cut in spring training and headed north to Philadelphia. But he appeared in only one game before being traded to the Chicago Cubs along with outfielder Adolfo Phillips and first baseman John Herrnstein, a couple of promising kids. In return the Phillies got Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl, both established starting pitchers. “I was a throw-in,” Fergie says. While Phillips and Herrnstein didn’t pan out, the swap could still be called one of the key trades transforming the lackluster Cubs into pennant contenders in the late 60s and early 70s.
Fergie’s first appearance as a Cub on April 24, 1966, was an omen of good things to come. Sun-Times reporter Edgar Munzel wrote, “A star was born at Wrigley Field Saturday. Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, a big rawboned pitcher the Cubs acquired in a deal with the Phillies Thursday, made a sensational debut as he led the Wrigleys to a 2-0 triumph over the Dodgers. Fergie, as he prefers to be called, was virtually a one-man gang. He not only won in relief with 5 1/3 innings of superb relief pitching but also knocked in both runs with a homer and a single.”
In late August 1980, Fergie was an elder statesman among baseball players. He’d been traded away from the Cubs after his first losing season as a starter in 1973. Management couldn’t get rid of him fast enough following a late summer incident at Wrigley Field when he threw bats on the field after being removed from a game. He went to Texas and promptly won 25 games for the Rangers. He tore his Achilles tendon the next year and was sent packing to Boston, where he helped keep the Red Sox in contention for a couple of years. Then Boston sent him back to the Rangers, where he was a wise old hand on a youthful pitching staff.
What happened next still confounds people. The Texas Rangers boarded a charter flight to Toronto for a series with the Blue Jays, both teams going nowhere in the American League standings. The flight landed at Pearson International Airport not long before midnight. Fergie and his teammates gathered around the baggage carousel, but Fergie’s luggage never arrived. He was told to board the bus bound for the hotel without his bags.
At the time it was routine procedure for Canadian customs officials to open misplaced luggage. When Fergie’s bags were opened, the authorities found three grams of cocaine and small quantities of hashish and marijuana with a street value estimated at $500.
The next afternoon’s game was about to begin when two Royal Canadian Mounted Police entered the Rangers’ clubhouse and handcuffed Fergie, taking him into custody. Since his flight had crossed national boundaries, under Canadian law Fergie could have been charged with importing narcotics, which carried a possible seven-year prison sentence.
When confronted with the evidence by police and customs officials, Fergie made an admission that ought to make every defense attorney gag. “I said, “This is my suitcase. What was in the suitcase belongs to me.”‘
Now Fergie faced jail and the end of his baseball career. He hired criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan, who then swung into action. Greenspan had to convince Ontario prosecutors not to seek an indictment against Fergie but a summary conviction instead. Under U.S. immigration law, a person found guilty in Canada of an offense by indictment could be barred from the country. Yet, someone found guilty of the same offense by summary conviction was still eligible to enter the U.S. But there was still a risk. Even if prosecutors agreed to proceed by way of summary conviction, Greenspan feared the maximum fine of $1,000–a likely sentence–would qualify the conviction as a felony under U.S. immigration law.
Then Fergie had to contend with the wrath of baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. “Keeping the sport clean is one of the preoccupations of the office of commissioner of baseball,” Greenspan wrote in his 1987 book The Case for the Defence. “There was reason to fear that the baseball authorities might bring immediate sanctions against any player accused of a felony–just accused, never mind convicted. The baseball authorities had to see that what Jenkins was being charged with was only a misdemeanor at worst.”
Greenspan estimated that Fergie might lose up to $1 million in future wages as well as a shot at the magical 300-victory mark if he were barred from baseball by Kuhn. “The greatest Canadian player of all time had a lot at stake for having been found with three grams of cocaine in his luggage,” he wrote.
Greenspan proved to be an adept negotiator. Jenkins pleaded not guilty, and within 24 hours of the arrest prosecutors agreed to proceed with a charge of simple possession by way of summary conviction. His trial was set for December 18.
Within a week of the arrest, Fergie was sitting in the commissioner’s office in New York, getting grilled by Kuhn’s security chief, Henry Fitzgibbon. Fortunately, Fergie had another powerful ally following his arrest–Marvin Miller, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association. In his book A Whole Different Ballgame, Miller described Fergie as “an outstanding man with a fine reputation on and off the field, held in high esteem by his community.” Fergie had friends.
“The commissioner wanted to find out was I the “dope dealer’ of the Texas Rangers. Who was I buying my dope from? Who was I giving it to?” Fergie recalls. The meeting with the security chief was not privileged and therefore anything Fergie said could be used against him. Greenspan advised him not to answer any of Fitzgibbon’s questions on grounds that he might incriminate himself. Kuhn was outraged. He ordered the Rangers to suspend Fergie until the courts cleared up his case. “Talk about hardball,” Greenspan wrote. “Kuhn spoke like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland: sentence first, verdict later.”
With the blessing of the players’ association, Greenspan met Kuhn with hat in hand. He asked the commissioner to reconsider Fergie’s sentence, and Kuhn told him, in effect, to go to hell. Marvin Miller then filed a labor grievance on Fergie’s behalf. An arbitrator ruled swiftly against Kuhn. He ordered Fergie’s reinstatement, amazed that Kuhn, an attorney, didn’t realize he was coercing Jenkins to risk self-incrimination. Miller later wrote, “Unconscionable, undemocratic, and ignorant were the appropriate adjectives for Kuhn’s actions.”
Fergie’s baseball problems were cleared up for now, but his legal entanglement remained. The prosecutor indicated to Greenspan that he would seek a $1,000 fine. Greenspan wanted an absolute discharge, meaning a guilty verdict would be entered but no sentence would be passed and no record would remain. Fergie could resume his life as if nothing had happened. But if the judge in the case agreed with the prosecutor’s desired sentence, then Kuhn might try to suspend Fergie if the U.S. didn’t bar him first.
Greenspan thought about bringing in a dream team of witnesses to attest to Jenkins’s achievements and upright character. After all, Fergie had earned the Order of Canada, the country’s top civilian honor, as well as the Cy Young and bushels of other awards. Celebrities from Canada and the U.S. would gladly make the trip to Ontario to testify on his behalf. But then Greenspan decided against the tactic, fearing that the judge might feel he was being pressured. So he called in only four people: the doctor who’d treated Delores before she had died; a Chatham insurance man who’d done some charity work with Fergie; Chatham’s former mayor; and Gene Dziadura. Each of the four testified about Jenkins’s generosity, his dependability, his courteousness. It’s a wonder the prosecutor didn’t interrupt the proceedings to apologize to Fergie.
Not that the testimonies were insincere; the witnesses’ words were heartfelt and honest. Greenspan’s instincts were correct. The judge issued a verdict of guilty with absolute discharge. No fine, no jail sentence, no record. “The judge spoke to me afterward,” Fergie says. “He brought my wife and myself and my attorney in his chambers. He said, “Mr. Jenkins, we look to you as an individual of upstanding character. If we hear of anything to the contrary, we’ll have to retry you.’ I said, “There won’t be anything happening to me.”‘
All Kuhn could do was order Fergie to make antidrug public-service announcements.
There’s a strange postscript to this story. Greenspan wrote, “In the spring of 1983 Fergie Jenkins was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but my lawyers told me that if I wanted to stay in baseball I’d have to bend, so I bent.’ I would have hoped that having said this much, Fergie might have gone further. As his lawyer, I can’t. Only he is entitled to make all the circumstances public. Maybe he will, one day.”
I asked Fergie if he’d dabbled in substances like those found in his luggage. His answer was interesting. Read carefully:
“No. There were a lot of guys smoking marijuana. But hashish and cocaine? That wasn’t my bag at all.”
But were you really guilty of possession?
“The articles were found in my suitcase because of the fact that there were individuals on our ballclub dealing with that. My suitcase was unlocked at the ballpark [Arlington Stadium in Texas], and I didn’t know how those articles got in. But when they showed up, I was the one at fault. I didn’t accuse anybody. I took the brunt of the case.
“To this day, I don’t know who put what where. I didn’t divulge any names. Edward Greenspan wrote a book saying one day Fergie Jenkins will let the baseball world know what happened. But I never have. I never bring it up.”
Fergie was a valuable hand for the 1966 Cubs in both starting and relief roles. But the following year Fergie became a star. He was inserted into the starting rotation and by midseason had been chosen to pitch in the all-star game. By season’s end he’d won 20 games.
That first big year Fergie already showed two tendencies that would become trademarks. One was throwing strikes. He set the Cubs season strikeout record and walked relatively few batters (later he’d become even more parsimonious with walks). The other was a penchant for giving up home runs (his total is the second highest in major-league history). His first all-star game provides a lovely illustration. Fergie set a record by striking out six batters in three innings, but he also gave up a home run to Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson.
Most young pitchers get rattled when they allow a home run. Even if a batter hits a long fly out, the pitcher begins to fear throwing the ball in the next batter’s wheelhouse. Rather than pitching aggressively, a scared hurler throws away from the batter. Soon he’s given up a walk or two. Now his catcher, manager, and pitching coach are hollering at him to throw strikes. The pitcher lays the ball right down the center of the plate. Boom–he gives up a home run with men on base, and his manager and pitching coach are steaming. But Fergie never went through the typical scared-pitcher routine. He simply threw strikes all the time, and if a batter hit a home run little harm was done because it was a solo shot. He was the perfect pitcher for the tiny confines of Wrigley Field.
Today Fergie appears to be the perfect pitching coach for the Cubs. The staff of unheralded youngsters has performed surprisingly well this season. Most wags attribute the success to the throw-strikes part of Fergie’s creed, but the statistics don’t necessarily bear out this contention. Comparing starters only, the Cubs ranked 10th out of 14 National League teams in walks allowed. The youngsters aren’t as parsimonious as Fergie would like them to be, but perhaps they’re doing well because they don’t see the pitching coach steaming every time they give up a home run.
“He’s laid back,” says Frank Castillo. “He doesn’t mess with you unless you need help. His presence is a big factor.”
Jim Bullinger says, “He’s real easy to get along with. He communicates really well with the pitchers. He doesn’t try to get too much into your head. He lets you go out there and pitch, which is good because most of us have a pretty decent idea of how to pitch.”
Bullinger just might want to thank heaven that Fergie is such an easygoing guy. The night before, Bullinger lost a game to lowly Pittsburgh because he gave up a grand slam home run to the Pirates pitcher. On some other team Bullinger might’ve had his head torn off for the transgression, but that’s not Jenkins’s style. “Shouting never accomplishes anything,” Fergie says. “Criticism after it’s done doesn’t help. The home run is punishment enough. If I yell at him, I’m an asshole.”
At batting practice the team seems surprisingly upbeat. Bullinger is enjoying the batting-cage banter as much as anyone else. Yesterday’s game is ancient history. Bullinger doesn’t flinch when I ask him about the grand slam. “It’s gonna happen,” he says. “They’re trying to get hits; we’re trying to get them out. You’re not going to go out there and throw zeroes every night.”
Seems like a healthy attitude. At least he won’t be tight heading into his next outing. It’s a good thing his pitching coach is not an asshole.
In 1967 Fergie married Kathy Williams, whom he’d met while still in high school. They adopted one daughter and then had two of their own. He was back with the Cubs in 1982 and ’83, but after a mediocre spring Fergie was released by the Cubs and he decided to retire. After 17 years of marriage, Fergie and Kathy finally had a chance to spend more time with each other, but they soon discovered their marriage was over. He says it was the lowest point in his life.
But by 1986 things were looking up. Fergie had come down to Chicago to see the Bears’ playoff game against the New York Giants in January. “A pretty good friend of mine had a dart tournament at a place called Gaffers,” Fergie says. “They were playing darts that night. I went in after the game.” It didn’t take long for the people in Gaffers to realize there was a celebrity in their midst. Soon Fergie was signing autographs and sharing a beer or two with fans who offered to buy. “And then she came over,” Fergie says.
Maryanne Miller asked Fergie for an autograph for her four-year-old son Raymond. Her brother, a member of a dart team, already knew Jenkins and formally introduced the two. By the end of the evening Maryanne had given her phone number to Fergie.
“I phoned her a week later,” Fergie says. “I came back down to see the next playoff game at Soldier Field. After that we went out to dinner. We struck up a relationship. Then I found out she was going steady with a policeman and they were having a hard time. She decided to make a break with him.”
Then their relationship took off. “She was living at home, and she didn’t like it at home.” At the time he was living in Blenheim, Ontario. “She moved to Canada,” Fergie says. “We started housekeeping. Brought Raymond, put him in school.
“We’d been together, oh, about a year and a half, and I got a job with the Texas Rangers.” Fergie became the pitching coach for the Rangers’ minor league affiliate in Oklahoma City. So the new family sold their Ontario farm and moved to Oklahoma. He married Maryanne in Las Vegas in 1988.
The Oklahoma City team suffered through two losing seasons, and the Rangers front office decided to clean house, firing the manager and all the coaches, including Fergie. But Maryanne had been rising steadily at a Ford dealership in Oklahoma City and was now its finance officer. So they decided to remain in Oklahoma.
The couple were raising Raymond as well as their own six-month-old Samantha. Fergie thought he’d closed the book on fathering children long before he met Maryanne. But she wanted a baby, maybe a few, and so he’d had his vasectomy undone. It didn’t matter that Fergie missed the age of multimillion-dollar contracts. He’d made a few dollars–in the vicinity of $800,000 for his last two years as an active player in his second tour of duty with the Cubs–and he didn’t sink it into empty oil wells as some other stars of his time had done. Fergie and Maryanne were happy and comfortable.
During the Christmas season of 1990, Fergie was off in Arizona, earning some extra money coaching the Sun City Rays of the Senior Professional Baseball Association, a gimmicky league of former major leaguers. Organizers were banking that baseball fans in the Sun Belt missed some of the old stars as much as the old stars missed playing the game.
It was late on a Saturday night, and Maryanne was speeding home along Route 33. It was nearly 40 miles from Oklahoma City to their ranch, a place called Lakeview. Two years earlier, she and Fergie were riding along the same road with a real estate agent from Guthrie, and when the car reached the top of an incline Maryanne saw the beauty of Lakeview’s expanse. “I want it,” she said without even looking at the house. Fergie, the go-along guy, said, “Why not?”
Early Sunday morning Fergie arrived at the ballpark and was told there’d been an accident the night before. Maryanne went off the road on an easy curve not ten minutes from the Lakeview Ranch. The truck flipped over three times. Maryanne was thrown through the windshield. She’d suffered a broken cervical vertebra, a broken clavicle, two broken ribs, and a punctured lung. She was at Oklahoma City’s Memorial Hospital, on a respirator in intensive care with a tube in her trachea so she could breathe and a halo immobilizing her head.
“Every day I drove into town to see Maryanne in the hospital about 9:30, 10 o’clock, after chores,” Fergie says. “Her brother Dennis was staying at the ranch and helping me out. I was raising two kids. Raymond was almost nine, and Samantha was less than a year old. I couldn’t take Samantha to the hospital, and Raymond was afraid to go. His mother was full of tubes in her mouth and her nose. She had a tracheotomy. It was really bad. It was a bad scene.”
Fergie tells this tale in the Cubs weight room. Loud rock music emanates from the adjacent locker room. Nearby a player runs on a treadmill. This isn’t the place for a man to bare his soul. But Fergie speaks calmly, not a hint of despair in his voice. He’s learned to control his emotions. Like many athletes, Fergie says he never lets himself get too high or too low. But how much can a man take? I look at him as he speaks, and sure enough there’s a hint of water in his eyes.
“The neck injury healed,” he says. “She had an operation; they took a bone out of her hip, put it in her neck. But over the course of 30-some days in the hospital she contracted pneumonia.”
On January 8, 1991, Fergie went home after visiting Maryanne and received a telephone call from Jack Lang, secretary of the Baseball Writers of America. Congratulations, Lang told him. Fergie, in his third year of eligibility, had been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
The next few days were a blur. He first called Big Ferguson. Then he had to pose for the obligatory photo showing him holding the phone to his ear and giving the thumbs-up sign. He had to jet to New York for interviews and a press conference and then to Chicago for more of the same. The newspapers were loaded with stories about his tribulations at this triumphant time. In one of the stories, his former Cubs teammate Bill Hands made the definitive comment about him. “His strength was his control. Nothing fazed him. A great guy.”
“I told Maryanne I’d be back Friday afternoon,” Fergie says. She had been healing well from her injuries and was able to sit on the edge of her bed and dangle her feet. Eventually she moved to a regular room, but the pneumonia landed her back in intensive care.
Fergie finished up his Hall of Fame duties and returned, as he’d promised, on Friday. “She was asleep,” he says. “She’d been sedated. So I left the clippings, newspaper articles, and magazines, which I’d put together already. I came the next day and I talked to her. That was the last time she smiled.”
Fergie was supposed to appear at a baseball card convention in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He’d signed the contract long before Maryanne started to look bad again. If a celebrity ballplayer fails to show up for a show, the promoter can take a huge bath. Fergie didn’t want to let the promoter down; he’d given his word. On Saturday, January 12, he was at the Oklahoma City airport waiting for a flight to Fort Wayne.
Fergie called Maryanne’s brother Dennis at the ranch to check on things. Dennis told him to go to Maryanne immediately. A priest greeted him when he arrived at the hospital. He was too late.
“Maryanne was more than a wife,” Fergie told reporters at the time. “She was my best friend.”
There’s a tattoo on Fergie’s left arm. It’s a cross with pansies around it. Below the cross is the inscription “Trust in God.” Fergie got the tattoo a couple of years before his mother died of cancer in 1970. He already was a star in Chicago, married to his high school sweetheart. He should have been on top of the world. But he says he couldn’t understand why God would allow his mother to be in such pain. He got the tattoo as a reminder of what to do when doubts threaten to overwhelm him.
“I was angry because my mother was already blind,” Fergie says. “Why did she have to get cancer? I guess the Lord decided to take her. My mother was a very large woman; she weighed about 165, 170 pounds. She was five foot ten. She was strong. Not once did she complain about the pain. They took out part of her stomach. She had cancer in her stomach and her larynx. After awhile she didn’t talk well. She went from 165 pounds to 80. My dad had to pick her up and move her to the bedroom. She withered right away.”
When it looked as though Delores Jenkins was near the end, Fergie left the Cubs in midseason to visit her. Delores gave her son one final piece of advice. “She said, “You go back and live your life and play sports because that’s what you’re supposed to do,”‘ Fergie says. So he rejoined the team. He wasn’t back more than a few hours when he received a phone call. The voice on the other end said, “Your dad would like you to come home.”
“That night she died,” Fergie says. A few days later, they buried Delores. Then Fergie followed his mother’s advice. “That night I flew to Montreal and pitched the next day,” he says. He lost the game, though. His thoughts were elsewhere.
Fergie had plenty of reasons to heed his tattoo’s message in the months after Maryanne died. “I had to raise a family,” he says. “I tried to make things work. I told myself I wasn’t just concerned about myself; I had two youngsters to be concerned about, Maryanne’s mother, the funeral arrangements. Everything was hectic. It just jumped on me.
“I did have some help. When you have a funeral in a rural area, everybody seems to gather together. I had people cook and bring food to the house. Babysitters. It really helped me out.” So too did the local Baptist minister, even though before the accident Fergie considered converting to Catholicism for Maryanne’s sake.
“It got me through this time a lot easier than what I thought,” Fergie says. “I got thousands of letters from people saying they were concerned about me. They were baseball fans hoping I would get through this. I got letters from some ladies I’d once known. I said, “Aw, I can handle it myself.”‘
One of those letters was from a Los Angeles attorney named Cindy Pakieddine. She’d met Fergie 20 years before in Scottsdale, Arizona. She and a girlfriend took vacations from their jobs and visited Fergie and his family in Oklahoma. “For two weeks it was like having a woman in the house again,” Fergie says. “She helped Samantha.”
Cindy and Maryanne were both nearly six feet tall. Little Samantha couldn’t help but notice the similarity. “Right away, Samantha started calling her mom,” Fergie says.
“Cindy left after two weeks, and Samantha said, “Where’s mom?’ I said, “Mama’s not here now. She’ll be back.’ I found it hard to explain to her that mama had passed. I didn’t know how to tell her.”
Soon after, Cindy wrote Fergie a letter offering to come out again to help. She stayed for a month, and he began to think of her as more than just a helper. “Our relationship kind of bloomed,” he says. “We started to think of one another. We talked mostly about the kids, raising them, and then about our relationship.” Fergie started referring to Cindy as his fiancee.
Cindy came to live at the Lakeview Ranch. She stayed for 18 months. But Fergie didn’t know that Cindy was troubled, grappling with internal demons. Had he known, he might not have put his family in such a vulnerable position. Cindy was estranged from her family. Her father and brother were disgusted that she would live with a black man. Her mother died, and she didn’t attend the funeral.
Then one day, about two years after Maryanne’s accident, Cindy dressed Samantha in a party dress. She told Fergie they were driving to a Christmas celebration. But Cindy pulled the car over in a lonely area near the small town of Perry. She connected a hose to the exhaust pipe, turned the engine back on, and sat in her car waiting with Samantha for the odorless fumes to lull them to sleep.
“All of a sudden,” Fergie says, “she decided to take her life and take my daughter.”
Fergie struggled through. “I was seeing some counselors,” he says. “I had a support group I was in. Plus Raymond had seen a therapist for about 11 months because he was having a tough time in school getting along with people. He was getting angry at a lot of things. We tried to straighten that out.”
His friends from the Cubs lent a hand. “Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Randy Hundley, Hickman, Joe Pepitone, they all phoned me,” he says. “They told me to start thinking about putting my life back together.” Fergie signed up to appear in a couple of baseball fantasy camps in Arizona. Another old teammate, Jose Cardenal, was a coach with the Reds, and helped Fergie get a job with the Cincinnati organization as a roving pitching instructor. Through the 1993 and ’94 seasons he rotated among the Reds’ minor-league clubs to teach their kid pitchers. Once the Cubs’ new regime took over, Fergie put in a call to Andy MacPhail.
“So far, everything’s worked out really well,” Fergie says. “I try to stay on an even keel. I try not to expect too much. Don’t plan too far ahead. Anything can happen.”
Now Fergie’s married again. He and his wife Lydia live with Raymond at the Lakeview Ranch in the off-season.
As the young pitchers watch Fergie’s delivery in batting practice, they might learn the mechanics of success. He’s there to teach. And if listen to him hard enough, they may also learn about life. “I take a low-key approach: showing, explaining,” Fergie says. “That’s the way I approach life and I approach friends.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Jon Randolph.