Chicago Cubs: Long Overdue Recognition Comes to Fergie Jenkins

joel kirsteinCorrespondent IMay 1, 2009

When the Chicago Cubs announced in March that on May 3, this Sunday, they will retire Ferguson Jenkins' No. 31, it made my day. Adding Greg Maddux to share the honor embodies the legendary words of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, "It's a great day for baseball. Let's play two."

Ferguson Jenkins, the pride of Chatham, Ontario and the only Canadian member of the Baseball Hall of Fame is finally getting a long overdue honor of being immortalized in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, home of some of his greatest accomplishments.

I got to see Fergie pitch in his prime, 1969 to 1973, as the Cubs' ace and stud of pitching staff whenever Chicago came into Montreal to play the Expos. Back in the day, he was an SRO ticket as a the premier Canadian Major Leaguer when he faced the Expos in Montreal and mowed them down every time.

Fergie won only one Cy Young Award (1971), which shows how under appreciated he was as a pitcher at a time when there were so many great pitchers.

Pitching in an era when Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Denny McClain, Jim McNally, Mike Cuellar, Steve Carlton, Catfish Hunter, and Vida Blue were all winning 20 games and Cy Young Awards, few remember that Fergie won 20 six seasons in a row, from 1967 to 1972.

Jenkins won 20 games seven times and missed winning 20 another three times playing with terrible teams in Chicago and Texas in the 1970s. Fergie had a career best 25 game win season in 1974 with Texas. His seventh 20 win season.

Jenkins' career ended in 1983 with 284 wins and without a single trip to the postseason. Had Jenkins played with a winner, his numbers might have rivaled Warren Spahn, because he was just as durable and as dominant.

Because Jenkins was so consistent and efficient and played for a perennially under-achieving Cubs team, he never got the recognition he so richly deserved.

Fergie had a surreal year in 1971 when he finally got the recognition from baseball, winning the Cy Young Award that year, going 24-13 for a barely .500 Chicago Cubs team.

Putting his stellar season in perspective, his ERA was 2.77 pitching at Wrigley Field. Anywhere else? Jenkins' ERA might have been 2.00 or lower. He started 39 games and completed 30 of them. The entire pitching staff of the 2009 Chicago Cubs had only two.

Jenkins further impressed by striking out 263 batters and issuing only a meager 37 walks. Kick in the six home runs he hit and 20 RBI in 1971; he should have been the talk of baseball that season. Instead, the overnight success of Vida Blue captured the imagination of baseball fans.

In his 25 game win season, Jenkins lost out to Jim "Catfish" Hunter for the 1974 Cy Young Award. Fergie finished second and third twice in the Cy Young award balloting.
He was a three-time All Star and received MVP votes six times. In 1991, he was voted
into Cooperstown.

This Sunday, Jenkins and fellow hurler Geg Maddux join Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ryne Sandberg as Chicago Cub immortals. Add in Hack Wilson one day and maybe this will be the good karma that takes the Cubbies to their first World Series title in over 100 years.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.