Stoicism was Jenkins' strength
Cubs Hall of Famer never let jeers get to him
CHICAGO -- Little Rock, Ark., was not a comfortable place for a young black ballplayer to be, especially in the early 1960s. The 1963 season was the first for Triple-A baseball there, and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus threw out the first pitch of the first game. In 1957, Faubus had attempted to block black teens from attending Little Rock Central High School.
Dick Allen was the first black ballplayer to take the field for the Little Rock team in '63. According to the book "Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen," he was greeted by signs with racial epithets.
Two years later, Ferguson Jenkins arrived in Little Rock to play for the Arkansas Travelers. Not much had changed.
"I played my whole career in the south," said Jenkins, a Hall of Famer and former Chicago Cubs pitcher. "I played in Miami where we weren't allowed to eat with the white players and we couldn't sleep in the same hotels. Spring Training was tough from time to time. After the [Civil Rights Act] was passed in '64, we had more of an opportunity to stay together as a whole team. Miami was a little tough, and Chattanooga, the Southern League, was a little tough and also Little Rock."
Jenkins, who began his career in the Philadelphia Phillies' minor league system, met Allen in Spring Training and heard the stories. The two were roommates.
"Because he was a regular player, he suffered more abuse because he was on the field every day," Jenkins said. "But it was a learning experience.
"I'm not saying it was bad. I enjoyed myself in the minor leagues, but nobody wants to stay in the minor leagues," Jenkins said. "When I got to the big leagues, I was making over $6,000 a year and when I got traded [to the Cubs] I made $8,000."
That was a lot of money back then. When Jenkins was with the Phillies, he stayed with the other black players.
"There were four fellows -- there was Dick Allen, Grant Jackson, Alex Johnson and myself," Jenkins said. "You had to go through certain times in the spring and the season where if things happened, you just let it rub off. You'd just walk into the infield. People would shout at you in the outfield -- just don't acknowledge it. I think if you want to harrass them back, it's just going to compound it even worse."
That was the approach Jenkins took. Be strong, be quiet.
"Why there are these fights are in the stands against the fans because you get harrassed -- you don't have to be a part of it," Jenkins said. "You had to restrain yourself. There were times when people got on me. I'd say, 'I had a bad game.' Isn't someone deserving of a bad game once in a while? You move on."
It's a lesson Jenkins said he learned from other black players like Allen, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson.
"I just think that intelligence will tell you that you can't fight," said Jenkins, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. "It's too big, it's way too big, so just do your thing and every day is different.
"There are a lot of Jewish players, Polish players. [Ron Santo] is Italian and they used to get on Ronnie and he'd just turn his back on it," Jenkins said. "If you have an ethnic background, [the fans] will find it out and they'll push your your button. You can't let them push your button. If you let that happen, I think you're no better than them. It makes you look even worse because you're the professional."
That same stoic attitude helped him as a pitcher. Former Cubs teammate Randy Hundley once said of Jenkins, "If somebody hit one nine miles, it didn't upset him. Sometimes he would just laugh. He didn't walk hitters, so he was giving up solo home runs."
Jenkins didn't get much of a chance with the Phillies and was dealt to the Cubs on April 21, 1966, as a throw-in. The Cubs wanted first baseman John Herrnstein and outfielder Adolfo Phillips. It may have been one of the best deals the team made.
Chicago manager Leo Durocher converted the big right-hander to a starter in August 1966, and Jenkins went on to post six consecutive 20-win seasons with the Cubs.
"I got an opportunity to show my ability more because of the trade," Jenkins said. "I think they knew me a bit, but they didn't know what my capabilities were and Durocher gave me an opportunity to pitch. Later that year, he gave me an opportunity to start and that's when my career started."
He now runs a yearly fantasy camp in Arizona and is a popular figure at the Cubs Convention, wearing his trademark cowboy hat and boots. Jenkins was the Cubs' first Cy Young winner, taking the honor in 1971. He also was the first Cubs pitcher to make $100,000. He also got in trouble sometimes for being a smart aleck.
"I got to the ballpark a little late one day. I didn't want to take batting practice, so I stayed home and I got caught in the traffic on Lake Shore Drive," Jenkins said. "I said [to a reporter], 'Hey, I was on LSD.' Just like that. That's Lake Shore Drive. It was a joke."
It didn't go over well with management when they saw the quote in the newspaper. Jenkins had a tough time negotiating with Cubs management, and after the 1973 season, he was traded to Texas for third baseman Bill Madlock.
He did return to the Cubs from 1982-83 as a player, and was the team's pitching coach in 1995. And Jenkins thinks players today should learn from the past. Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson walked past Jenkins while he was being interviewed. Patterson must have an easier time today than Jenkins did in Little Rock, right?
"Maybe not," Jenkins said. "Not every fan likes every player who's playing in the 20th Century."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.