Devoting a blog entry to the greatest Canadian ever to play in the big leagues is the best way that I can think of to celebrate Canada Day. Chatham, Ont., native, Fergie Jenkins, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in the early ’60s, but it wasn’t until the Chicago Cubs acquired him in 1966 that he was converted into a starting pitcher.
In his first season in Chicago, Jenkins recorded 20 wins and was selected to play in the 1967 all-star game. That season represented the first of six consecutive 20-win campaigns (1967 to 1972) for the Canuck star. His 1971 season ranks as his most impressive. That season, Jenkins led the National League with 24 wins, 30 complete games and 325 innings pitched and became the first Cub – and first Canadian – to win the Cy Young Award (which is on display at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario).
Dealt to the Texas Rangers following the 1973 season, Jenkins recorded 25 wins, 29 complete games, 245 strikeouts and a 2.82 ERA in 1974. The Canadian pitching legend retired with 284 career wins and as the only pitcher in history to record more than 3,000 strikeouts (3,192), while allowing fewer than 1,000 walks (997). Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling have since joined that elite group. In 1991, he became the only Canadian ever elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
But how did this Cooperstowner perform on Canada Day? My research indicates that the durable right-hander made five July 1 starts and compiled a 2-2 record with a 3.89 ERA. Here’s a rundown of those starts:
Forty-one years ago today, July 1, 1970, Fergie enjoyed his most successful Canada Day performance, hurling a four-hit shutout for the Cubs in a 5-0 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Jenkins struck Hall of Famer Lou Brock out twice, accounting for two of his 11 strikeouts on the day.
Fergie wasn’t as successful two years later, when former Montreal Royal Roberto Clemente socked a walk-off homer off him in the bottom of the ninth (Clemente’s second home run of the day) at Three Rivers Stadium to give the Pirates a 4-3 win over the Cubs. In eight-plus innings, Jenkins allowed seven hits and four runs and took the loss.
Jenkins was on the mound again the following Canada Day for the Cubs. This time, the eventual National League champion New York Mets knocked him around for six runs in seven innings in a 6-5 loss in the first game of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field. One thing that caught my eye was that Willie Mays was hitting leadoff for the Mets. I couldn’t have imagined that The Say Hey Kid was a leadoff hitter at any point in his last big league season.
The Canadian Cooperstowner registered his second Canada Day win on July 1, 1975, pitching the Texas Rangers to a 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals. Jenkins allowed 4 runs in 8-2/3 innings and recorded the win despite allowing three solo homers to future Blue Jays slugger John Mayberry. The Royals lineup boasted George Brett hitting second and Harmon Killebrew hitting fifth.
Fergie’s last Canada Day appearance came the next year. After hurling 6-2/3 innings and allowing three runs for the Boston Red Sox, Jenkins exited the game, which was eventually won by the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 in 10 innings. Fergie would take a no-decision. The losing pitcher for Boston, however, was Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland, who surrendered the winning run in his two-inning relief stint.