In the “What If?” Files…Ferguson Jenkins

In 1962, Phillies scout Tony Lucadello (who later signed Mike Schmidt) signed a 19-year old Canadian pitcher named Ferguson Jenkins to a minor league deal. Jenkins spent a couple of seasons in the minors, getting called up to the Phillies bullpen in 1965. He pitched 12 innings that year with a 2.19 ERA. He then made one appearance in 1966 before the Phils made him part of a package to send to the Cubs for veterans Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl, both in their mid-to-late 30s.

Jackson had three solid seasons as a starter, while Buhl (who has the MLB record for worst season ever at the plate, going 0-70 in 1962) had a forgettable season in 1966 and retired in 1967. Jenkins, meanwhile, was converted into a starter, and in 1967 emerged as a superstar, winning 20 games, starting a streak of 6-straight 20-win seasons. His numbers speak for themselves. It is tantalizing to consider what the Phillies of the early 70s would have been with both Carlton and Jenkins, but it is probably a fruitless exercise.

After all, would the Phillies ever have ever converted Jenkins to a starter? And if they had, and Jenkins was winning 20 games a year, do they trade Rick Wise for Carlton? If Jenkins becomes a legend in this town, does he open a bar and restaurant called Fergie’s? Impossible to say. But what isn’t impossible to say is that the Phils gave up on a tremendous prospect way too early, and made one of the worst trades in franchise history (Interestingly, the worst trade in Phillies history was probably another one to the Cubs, Ryne Sandberg for Ivan DeJesus) Jenkins would amass a record of 329-244 and a 3.22 ERA, most of those wins coming for the Cubs and Rangers. He was easily a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1991. And if the Phillies hadn’t made a terrible trade in 1966, the most famous Fergie in this town might not be a guy who owns a few great pubs.

3 Comments on “In the “What If?” Files…Ferguson Jenkins”

  1. Dan Koch says:

    This one hurts. The Fergie Jenkins toss-in, just one in a long line of decisions that led to the painful twilight years of Connie Mack Stadium.

    In looking back on the transaction record, it looks like the Phils went ‘all-in’ on that mid-60s team after the disaster of 1964. They knew they had a great core in Bunning-Short-Allen-Callison, so they figured they mine the minors to trade for reliable talent to fill out the ranks. Guys like Jackson and Buhl were all part of the plan, and at least they got some solid years out of Jackson.

    Needless to say, it didn’t work out. Callison’s power disappeared, the relationship with Allen, the team, and the city was an ongoing nightmare, and they never quite made it, thus permanently setting the scar from that ’64 team. Just another era in the life of a Phillies fan.

  2. Jim G. says:

    I enjoyed the article. I think you may have gotten Fergie’s career stats mixed up with Lefty’s. Ferguson Jenkins didn’t win 300 games; he won 284, lost 226 with a 3.34 ERA. One notable think that (I think) I recall is that he may have been the first pitcher to win 100+ games in both the American and National Leagues, or else he’s one of the few to accomplish this feat.

    • Jim G. says:

      Had to go back and look this up….looks like the first pitcher of the modern era to win 100+ games in each league was actually another former Phillie (and Ferguson Jenkins teammate), Jim Bunning, who won 118 games in the AL and 106 in the NL (including 89 wins during his two stints with the Phillies). Cy Young is the only player to win over 200 games in each league, but that was a different time. Fergie was the second to win 100 in each league; others who have accomplished this feat after him include Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Randy Johnson, Dennis Martinez, Pedro Martinez, and Kevin Brown.

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