Ferguson Jenkins turned 80 on Tuesday, and he is still recognized as the greatest Canadian-born baseball player. Certainly, an argument can be made for 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Larry Walker and current stars Joey Votto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (who was born in Montreal), but Jenkins epitomized durability and precision on the mound.
In an era where greatness was defined by innings pitched and complete games, the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder stood tall among MLB pitchers. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, Jenkins was the first pitcher to retire with at least 3,000 strikeouts (3,192) and fewer than 1,000 walks (997). He also had 284 victories and threw 49 shutouts to go with a career 3.34 ERA.
Batters knew what was coming — either a two-seam or four-seam fastball — but they had trouble hitting it. And when they did, it sometimes turned into a double play. Jenkins gave up a lot of home runs, but he also got 274 double plays.
During his 19-year MLB career, Jenkins led his league in wins twice — 24 with the Chicago Cubs in 1971 and 25 with the Texas Rangers in 1974. He was a league leader in complete games four times and had the fewest walks per innings five times. He led his league in starts three times, taking the ball a staggering 42 times in 1969, and had pitched 300 or more innings five times.
Jenkins was also the first Canadian-born pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, taking NL honors in 1971. He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
Amazingly, Jenkins flourished at Wrigley Field, a ballpark that favored hitters. In 157 games at the Friendly Confines while pitching for the Cubs, Jenkins went 95-62 with a 1.146 WHIP.
“One of the best pitchers in baseball, ever,” said Leo Durocher, who managed Jenkins in Chicago.
Here is a look at some of Jenkins’ more notable seasons and achievements.
After being signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962, Jenkins made his debut in the majors on Sept. 10, 1965, at Connie Mack Stadium. The rookie came on in relief of another future Hall of Famer, Jim Bunning, with two outs in the eighth inning of a 4-4 game. Jenkins pitched 4.1 innings and got the win on Cookie Rojas’ RBI infield single in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Jenkins would pick another win and save and lose once.
In 1966, Jenkins pitched one game for the Phillies before being traded to the Cubs on April 21 with outfielder Adolfo Phillips and first baseman John Herrnstein for pitchers Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson.
Jenkins would appear on his first Topps card in 1966 as a member of the Phillies, sharing the rookie card (No. 254) with first baseman-outfielder Bill Sorrell. You can still pick up a pretty solid Fergie Jenkins rookie card for under $50.
It is interesting to note that Jenkins had his greatest success against the team that traded him, going 26-8 against the Phillies.
Durocher put Jenkins into the starting rotation in 1967, and that led to the first of six consecutive 20-win seasons for the right-hander. Jenkins would win 20 games in 1967 for the Cubs, and his season highlight came on July 11 during the All-Star Game in Anaheim, California.
Jenkins allowed one run – a game-tying home run by Brooks Robinson in the sixth inning — but struck out six. His strikeout victims included some of the top hitters in the American League — Harmon Killebrew was caught looking in the fourth inning; Tony Conigliaro fanned in the fifth, along with pinch-hitter Mickey Mantle, who looked at a called third strike; and in the sixth inning, Jim Fregosi, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva struck out.
That tied an All-Star Game record. The NL would go on to win the game 2-1 in the 15th innings. Jenkins would have a league-leading 20 complete games and finished tied for second in the Cy Young Award balloting with Bunning as San Francisco’s Mike McCormick won in the first year the award was given to players from each league.
Nicer ungraded copies of Fergie’s second year card can be had for under $15.
After back-to-back 20-win seasons, Jenkins won 21 in 1969. It was a year that had plenty of promise for Cubs fans but ended with a late-season collapse that allowed the New York Mets to win the NL East in the first season of divisional play.
Jenkins started a league-high 42 games and had 20 complete games, tossing a career-high seven shutouts. Entering September with an 18-11 record, Jenkins slumped to a 3-4 record the rest of the way as the Cubs faded down the stretch. Still, he led the NL in strikeouts with 273 and pitched 311.1 innings.
His 1969 Topps card is from the last series and a little harder to find than some of his others. Expect to pay at least $20 for a nicer one.
This was Jenkins’ finest season with the Cubs as he took the NL Cy Young Award. He led the league with 24 victories and 39 starts, and completed 30 games. He also turned in his lowest ERA as a starter with a 2.77 mark and led the league with 325 innings pitched.
Jenkins received 17 out of 24 first-place votes to top Tom Seaver (six votes) and Al Downing (one vote).
His 1971 Topps card is plentiful but those dark borders make high-end graded copies a little pricey but nice raw examples are readily available for under $15.
Jenkins moved to the American League in 1974 and took the junior circuit by storm, tying Catfish Hunter with 25 victories but finishing second to the Athletics’ right-hander in Cy Young Award balloting. The vote was close, with Hunter taking 12 first-place votes to Jenkins’ 10.
Jenkins also led the AL with 29 complete games and had a 2.82 ERA. He started 41 games and tossed six shutouts as the Rangers finished second in the AL West behind Oakland. Jenkins had 225 strikeouts and pitched 328.1 innings.
He wasn’t nearly finished, playing through the 1983 season and even had a card in the 1984 Topps set. Most of those cards issued from the latter half of his career will only cost you a couple of bucks–or less.