Book Review: Fergie Jenkins: My Life From The Cubs to Cooperstown
Fergie Jenkins' biography, a collection of memories and stories from his life, which a big part was obviously his Hall of Fame baseball career. It covers his childhood, growing up in Chatham, Canada. His signing with the Phillies, then playing in their minor league system is covered, then several chapters on his time with the Cubs, as he became a stud pitcher. He then gets traded to Texas, and circles around to Boston and back, before ending his career with the Cubs.
It's a really interesting book. It's more of a book of memoirs rather than a straight biography. It's quick paced and easy read. Jenkins has a simple way of explaining things, and putting us in his shoes. It reminds me a lot of Forrest Gump, in the sense of it being a story about a guy recounting his life from bus bench. Fergie jumps from story to story effortlessly. Some stories set up others later on, while other portions are one off funny or anecdotal moments. I can mentally picture Jenkins reading this book the same way Forrest Gump tells his stories, just with less of the southern accent.
There are plenty of good stories and bad. I loved his ways of explaining his pitching philosophy. I loved how dedicated he was to winning 20 games each year. Such a simple goal, yet he wanted it every single year with a passion. He details stories with teammates, the context of the club, and so forth. His insider link to the 1969 Cubs provides a ton of context to a famous season which in some ways, led to the modern era of Cubs baseball.
There was some tough stuff in this book as well. Unfortunately expected, Jenkins shares some terrible stories about being a minor leaguer as a black man in the south in the 1960s. Coming from Canada, he had next to no experience with racism. To put it lightly, he was rudely awakened by some nasty treatment. Typically this entailed segregated amenities: hotels that were "whites only" and restaurants that wouldn't serve him. While it was terrible, Jenkins writes about it moreso being a bump than something that wrecked his life. He used it as an opportunity for growth, and exhibits that he took the high road when faced with adversity.
He also shared some truly heartbreaking stories about his personal life later on. Without spoiling it, because you really should just read the book, he lost his second and third wives in terrible tragedies that hurt to read. I thought the racism stuff from the 60s would be the toughest part. But how sadly Fergie sounds when recounting these tragedies is truly heartbreaking. I did appreciate him sharing it. In an odd way, it's somewhat comforting to know that the best Cubs pitcher of all time has also gone through tough personal stuff. If he can get through that and win nearly 300 games in the big leagues, then perhaps I can make it through my toughest days as well.
I don't want you to get the impression that his book was all sadness. The majority of the book is cool baseball stories. Friends and teammates. stories about managers. How he stayed fresh and loose white starting 40 games a year. My personal favorite: how he pretended to burn his teammates bats after they struggle to hit for a while. He had a bonfire in the Wrigley Field outfield. No joke. I died laughing.
Again, this collection of specific memories from his life gives you a look into Fergie's life. Some good memories, some bad. It's an engaging and quick read. Reading it gives you the perspective of walking a bit in Ferguson Jenkins's shoes, and really helps you understand the complexities of Major League Baseball in the 1960s and 1970s.
Verdict: 8.5/10 A really solid read for all baseball fans. It's particularly relevant in today's racial climate in the USA, and 100% a must read for Cubs fans.