“You guys want to know why I’m here,” Jenkins joked early. “Because the major league club doesn’t want me there.”
Jokes aside, the 63-year-old Jenkins has some serious opinions on a lot of things relavent to the Cubs these days. When asked about the 2006 Cubs team, he offered mixed emotions.
“They’ve got a lot of work in front of them,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work. They’ve got to stay healthy. They’ve got to do a lot of things right. It’s not that they can’t do it, because they’ve got good coaches and a good manager. They’re also playing in the best field in baseball in Wrigley Field, and I think they’ve got a good hitting ball club and are sound defensively.”
Fergie added that he thinks Cubs rookie Sean Marshall has “got a good arm,” but that Marshall, a 6’6” lefty who is 1-0 on the season with eight runs allowed in 9.1 innings, has “got to learn how to pitch.”
Jenkins also stressed preparation as the key to his success in baseball. He speculated that pitching in the World Baseball Classic and the resulting lack of a full spring training is to blame for Carlos Zambrano’s slow start.
In three starts, Zambrano’s ERA is 4.86. He has walked 12 and surrendered four home runs in only 16.2 innings.
“I like Zambrano,” Jenkins said, “but the thing that’s hurt him right now is that he hasn’t had spring training. That’s the reason why I think he’s not doing well. It’s going to take him another couple weeks to catch up.”
Jenkins also suggested that a short stint in the minor leagues may be the cause of the continuous injury problems plaguing Cubs phenom Mark Prior.
“I’ve always said that you ought to have at least a year to two years in the minor leagues,” Jenkins said. “But Prior had almost no time there at all, so you couldn’t really get a history of how his capabilities were and how his strength was.”
In his prime, Jenkins was good for at or near 300 innings a season and at least 20 complete games a year. In 1971, the year he won the National League Cy Young Award, Fergie completed 30 of 39 starts and compiled 325 innings. Prior’s career high is currently 211.1 innings pitched (2003), with less than a full year of minor league experience under his belt.
So what was Fergie’s secret, and how did he avoid injury?
“I took care of myself,” Jenkins answered. “Intestinal fortitude, knowing my body. I always got myself in good shape. I was probably in shape before I went to spring training. I used to ice skate, used to play hockey and played a little basketball. I used to run a lot. Running I think is probably the most important part of keeping the core of your body strong. Your legs are the core of your body. Pitching is done with your arm and with your head. Young kids, they think that throwing 95-plus is going to get everybody out.
“But they’re totally wrong,” he continued with a laugh. “You can change speeds, you can throw 75 to 80 and then 92 or 93, but learning how to pitch didn’t come overnight. I learned it playing winter ball and I learned it playing in the minor leagues. I won some 40 games in the minor leagues before they brought me up.”
In addition to preparation and experience, Jenkins believes it is essential to keep pitch counts low, something Prior and fellow injured right-hander Kerry Wood notoriously struggle with.
“The more people you strike out, the more pitches you’ve got to throw,” he said. “The game isn’t all about strikeouts, it’s about making the hitter hit the ball. You’ve got seven capable fellows behind you, so why not utilize them? You’ve got to be smart, and smarter than the hitter.”
These days, Fergie’s own life is about relaxation, family and his Ontario-based charitable foundation. Jenkins was the first Canadian-born player to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
“Oh, I’m relaxed,” he said. “The wife and I live in the Phoenix area. I play golf and work on my foundation. I’ve got grandkids, so I see them all the time.”
Jenkins started the Fergie Jenkins Foundation several years ago. The foundation supports several charities including: the Red Cross, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Special Olympics, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the YMCA.
“We do not turn down any charity that writes to our foundation wanting an item – like a dozen balls signed, a Cubs shirt, an autographed bat – if they want to raise money,” he said.
The Fergie Jenkins Foundation is on web at: http://www.fergiejenkinsfoundation.org.