Fergie Jenkins talks baseball in Battleford

The star attraction at this year’s Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum induction dinner was celebrated major league pitcher Ferguson “Fergie” Jenkins.

Jenkins, who spent 19 seasons in the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, is perhaps best known as the lone Canadian player inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

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For Jenkins, who hails from Chatham, Ontario, but now lives in Arizona, it was quite a change in climate coming to Saskatchewan for the induction dinner.

“It was 108 F when I left and last night it was 40 degrees,” Jenkins said.

It may have been chilly outside, but it was a warm welcome that greeted Jenkins from baseball enthusiasts in the Battlefords over the weekend.

While Jenkins has been to Saskatchewan a few times before, this was his first time in the Battlefords community. He noted the Hall of Fame’s CEO Jane Shury had been trying to get him to come to Battleford to the Hall of Fame for years.

Shury took Jenkins on a tour of the Battlefords on Saturday afternoon, before they arrived at the Legion Hall for lunch.

Jenkins ended up signing his name on quite a few baseballs during the lunch hour, and on programs for those attending the induction dinner later on. It was something Jenkins said he was happy to do.

“A lot of times it’s about you as an individual,” said Jenkins. “You’ve got to take the time to do it. I do it for kids all the time. They’re only going to remember you if you’re nice.” 

As someone who has himself experienced the feelings associated with getting that call to the Hall of Fame, Jenkins had some idea of the range of emotions that inductees to Saskatchewan’s Hall would be going through that evening. 

“You’re going to probably have players talk about their careers, their families, and the teams they played for,” Jenkins said.

“It’s, I think, an important part of what their career was all about. And now their career is over, so now you could recap what you’re capable of what you did in your career, who you played with, who you played against. The nice thing about it is it’s an honour to get inducted into a Hall of Fame.”

The other thing about it, Jenkins said, is that “you can’t control when you go in. You get voted in, by reporters or people that cast ballots. And that’s the nice thing about it, is people remember what your capabilities were, what you did in your career, how your career followed you as an athlete, and again if you were successful doing it.”

Jenkins also agreed that it’s at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies that all the stories come out about the old days in baseball. It was some of those stories that Jenkins regaled the audience with as guest speaker at Saturday’s induction dinner.

Among the characters Jenkins met over the years was his former Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who Jenkins referred to as the “devil” because he was such a taskmaster.

Jenkins also spoke about the antics of his former manager with the Texas Rangers, Billy Martin, who was infamous for getting into all kinds of fights.

Jenkins also recalled some of the crazy moments on the field. It was Jenkins who was the Rangers’ pitcher in Cleveland during the infamous “Ten Cent Beer Night” game of 1974.

In the middle of that contest, a horde of inebriated Cleveland fans invaded the Cleveland Stadium field. The game was called off and the result was a forfeit win for the Rangers.

“When you look and reflect back, it was fun,” Jenkins said. “I enjoyed playing. I stayed healthy – knock on wood, I didn’t get hurt. And that was the nice thing about playing, to have some success you have to stay healthy. And I was one of the fortunate ones to have a long career.”

He won the Cy Young award in 1971 with the Chicago Cubs and had six consecutive 20-win seasons. He was an all-star selection three times, and was the first major league pitcher to finish his career with over 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks.

He was immortalized with a Canada Postage Stamp in conjunction with Black History Month, issued in February 2011, a stamp used by the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum when they send out their newsletters.

Jenkins is one of the Elite 12 members inducted to both the National Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

At the end of the induction ceremony Saturday, Shury presented Jenkins with one more honour: a plaque to commemorate his induction to the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame that same evening. It was a surprise induction that had not been previously announced in advance.

One honour that has eluded Jenkins was post-season play. Jenkins noted during his speech that he had only come close to a title twice – once with the Chicago Cubs in 1969, when they lost out to the “Amazin’ Mets,” and once more late in his career with the Boston Red Sox.

After the Cubs finally won in 2016, the club honoured their Hall of Famers at Wrigley Field by presenting them with championship rings. “To have that ring put on your finger and to have that celebration with them is quite an honour,” Jenkins told the audience Saturday. 

Jenkins’ number 31 was retired by the Cubs on May 3, 2009.

“Some of those dates you remember,” Jenkins said in speaking to the News-Optimist.

“As a pitcher, the name of the game is numbers – uniform numbers, and numbers competitive.”

Jenkins remains involved in baseball as Special Advisor to the Cubs, doing special event days as well as speaking to minor league players and major league pitchers. In that role he passes along his knowledge of the game to a new generation of players.

“We’re trying to work on possibly their pitches, their breaking balls, control, that type of situation,” said Jenkins.

“Baseball in general is a game of inches – trying to control what you’re trying to do as a pitcher, trying to control the ball, where you want to throw it. Control and learning to pitch off-speed is something I had to learn when I got to the big leagues. And I think these youngsters have an opportunity to do that, and to be successful you have to do it.”

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