Fergie Jenkins — Mr. Dub? — gets his statue on a day for the ages in Cubdom
Nostalgia was thick in the air outside Wrigley Field as the Cubs immortalized their greatest pitcher.
Fergie Jenkins looked the part of a legend in a black dress shirt, black slacks, black belt, black shoes and black cowboy hat, with a black handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket of a Cubbie-blue blazer.
Cool as hell on a hot day.
Nostalgia was thick in the air outside Wrigley Field on Friday as the Cubs immortalized Jenkins with a statue alongside those of his former teammates Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. Questions kept springing to mind, too.
How does Jenkins make 79 look so good?
Where in the world does the time go?
And what took the Cubs so long?
“I thought Fergie deserved this a long time ago,” Williams said.
No Cubs pitcher ever did it better. Over 10 seasons with the North Siders, Jenkins piled up 2,038 of his 3,192 big-league strikeouts, 154 of his 267 complete games and 167 of his 284 wins. If Banks was Mr. Cub, Jenkins was Mr. Dub.
“It’s nice to know my grandkids will be able to see Grandpa Fergie for days and years here at Wrigley Field,” he said.
A statue ceremony is made for memories and sentimentality. It was 1967 again, the year Jenkins won 20 games for the first of six straight Cubs seasons. It was 1971, the year he led baseball with 24 wins and 30 complete games and was rewarded with the Cy Young. It was 1982 — 40 years to the day before Friday’s ceremony, in fact — when he went the distance at Dodger Stadium for both his 150th victory and 150th complete game as a Cub. It was 1991, when he went into the Hall of Fame.
It was also 2010, when Cubdom lost Santo — who didn’t live to see his statue unveiled the following year — and 2015, when it said goodbye to Banks. An occasion like this one is marked by who’s there and, alas, who isn’t. That’s why it was special that the 83-year-old Williams, Jenkins’ old hunting and fishing buddy, was there. And 79-year-old Randy Hundley, Jenkins’ catcher throughout his prime. And 79-year-old Byron Browne, Jenkins’ first roommate with the Cubs. It’s a fraternity that only gets smaller.
“You climb the mountain,” Jenkins said, “and then you’re sliding down the other side.”
As a boy in the Canadian town of Chatham, in southwestern Ontario, Jenkins would throw rocks at trains passing through. Who could’ve known there would be so many fastballs and wipeout sliders in that long, lean right arm? When Jenkins was 14, his father took him to Detroit for a game and to see White Sox center fielder Larry Doby, the American League’s first black player. Doby homered twice, and Jenkins told his dad, “A big-league ballplayer is what I want to be.” Fine work if you can get it.
“Little did I know it was going to work out so good,” he said.
The turnout to celebrate him was wonderful. Ryne Sandberg was there, Andre Dawson, Lee Smith, Kerry Wood and other former stars. CC Sabathia came to represent the so-called Black Aces, a group of Black pitchers who have won 20 games in a season. The mayor of Jenkins’ hometown made the trip, too.
And, of course, Jenkins was surrounded by family, the most important thing. Sadly, it was also a reminder of the unimaginable tragedy the greatest Cubs pitcher of ’em all has known. He lost his second wife, Maryanne, after a 1990 car crash when she was only 31. The couple’s 3-year-old daughter Samantha’s life was ended in 1992 in what was ruled a murder-suicide.
Jenkins — who lost his wife of 24 years, Lydia, in 2018 — has described much of his post-baseball life as “agonizing.”
“I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me and a lot of unfortunate things,” he said.
This statue was a good thing. A happy thing. A moment perhaps past due but well worth the wait.
“I stand here a proud man,” he said, “and also humble.”
Jenkins struggled to hold the pages of a speech not because he’s up there in age or because his hands no longer are as strong as vises, but because the pages were billowing in the stubborn wind.
“I wish the wind would stop,” he said. “The wind’s blowing out to right field. Watch out, boys.”
Inside the ballpark, 11 home runs — seven of them by the victorious Diamondbacks — were about to fly, fly away. A bad day for Cubdom?
Goodness, no. It was one for the ages.