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Chicago Cubs honour Fergie Jenkins—Canada’s greatest baseball player

Chicago Cubs honour Fergie Jenkins—Canada’s greatest baseball player

It took a long time, but at a ceremony in Chicago yesterday, the Cubs honoured Fergie Jenkins–arguably the greatest pitcher to wear the Cub pinstripes with a statue. The statue is part of the Chicago Cubs’ new “Statue Row” outside of Wrigley Field where the Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams statues are also located.

For 29 years, Chatham-born Fergie Jenkins was the only Canadian to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was born and raised in Chatham, the home town of this writer and the only child of Delores Jackson and Ferguson Jenkins Sr. His father, a chef and chauffeur, was the son of immigrants from Barbados, while his mother was a descendant of American slaves who escaped through the Underground Railroad before settling in Southwestern Ontario. Fergie’s mother, who was blind was also a motivational speaker. This writer remembers hearing her at a high school assembly Both of his parents were good athletes; his father was an amateur boxer and semi-professional baseball player for the Chatham Coloured All-Stars.

I remember Fergie Jenkins from his days at Queen Mary School, where he was three years ahead of me. When baseball was played at recess and at noon, a fielder would be dispatched to the outside of the school fence in a neighbouring back yard when Jenkins came to bat, so powerful and frequent were his home run shots.

A talented athlete, Jenkins competed in track and field, ice hockey, and basketball in his school years, lettering five times. When he began playing bantam baseball in his teens, he started out as a first baseman. He honed his pitching skills by throwing pieces of coal from a local coal yard, aiming at either an open ice chute or the gaps of passing boxcars.] He was also encouraged to continue working on his pitching by Gene Dziadura, a former shortstop in the Chicago Cubs minor league system, and a Philadelphia Phillies scout, who was at that time a History Teacher at Chatham Collegiate. Many training sessions involving the two followed, until Jenkins graduated from high school.

In 1962, Jenkins was signed by Philadelphia Phillies and made his major-league debut as a 22-year-old in 1965, as a relief pitcher. He was traded the following year to the Chicago Cubs, where manager Leo Durocher promoted him to a starting pitcher. In his first full year as a starter for the Cubs (1967), Jenkins recorded 20 wins while posting a 2.80 ERA and 236 strikeouts. He was also selected for the All-Star Game for the first time that season.  It was also the first of a string of six consecutive 20-win seasons during which he pitched an incredible 140 complete games—a number unfathomable in a game where managers now hope a starter will go six innings. In his 19 years Jenkins posted a 284-226 won-lost record, appeared in 664 games and completed 267 of them. He was a three-time all-star and won the Cy Young award in 1971 as the National League’s best pitcher He was also a pretty good slugger for a pitcher, posting 46 extra-base hits including 13 home runs.

Fergie Jenkins of the Cubs pitching.

His streak of six straight seasons with 20 or more wins (1967–1972) is the longest streak in the major leagues since Warren Spahn performed the feat between 1956 and 1961. Ferguson Jenkins’s number 31 was retired by the Chicago Cubs in 2009.

In 1974, Jenkins, then with the Texas Rangers, became the first baseball player to win the Lou Marsh Trophy, an award given annually to Canada’s top athlete. He was also named the Canadian Press male athlete of the year four times (1967, 1968, 1971, and 1974). Jenkins was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987, and in Jenkins was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, and was inducted onto Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2001.

On December 17, 1979, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada for being “Canada’s best-known major-league baseball player. On December 13, 2010, Canada Post announced Jenkins would be honoured in Canada with his own postage stamp. The stamp was issued on February 1, 2011, to commemorate Black History Month.

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