Love Letters From Pronk is an ongoing series where Pronk shares his love for somebody connected to the Cubs. Sometimes funny, sometimes weird, Pronk likes to make 100% sure people know that they are loved, and best expresses that through gushing letters.
In 1999, I was a new Cubs fan. Fresh off of the Cubs' 1998 wild card season, I was a budding fan. I didn't know much at the time.
Every year, my retired grandparents would go to Arizona for a couple of winter months. I didn't know it at the time, but they'd occasionally go to Spring Training. My grandparents got me a personalized autograph from Ferguson Jenkins. They attended spring training and met him, and had him sign a HOF postcard and personalize it to me. I didn't appreciate it at the time because I didn't know who he was. The HOF thing was cool, so who is this old fart and how cool is it that he personalized it to me?
I wasn't sure of his on the field accomplishments, so I began to research: through baseball books, reference guides, and an early internet. This led me to discover other players and baseball history as well. It was a boost to my fandom, as I went from casual to knowing all sorts of stats, trivia, and an overall better understanding of the game. I might not have been aware of Fergie in March of 1999, but I used that season to foster my development as a baseball fan and greatly expanded my knowledge by the end of the year. Good thing too, because the 1999 Cubs weren't good. Neither were the 2000 Cubs.
Fergie Jenkins was a match that lit a fuse of my baseball fandom. It may have been a simple autograph, but the personalized greeting showed extra care for a young fan. It may have been a small detail, but that small detail set me up for years and years of baseball fandom, instead of it being a childhood phase. With this in mind, today I appreciate Fergie Jenkins.
Thank you for being a wonderful Chicago Cub. Your on the field performance speaks for itself, with a clear and quick induction into the hall of fame. You may have only had 1 Cy Young and 3 All Star appearances, but you accumulated 84.1 WAR, had a solid 3.34 ERA, 1.142 WHIP and most impressively 3,192 career strikeouts. Good solid numbers, but they don't quite paint the full picture of how impressive you were.
Out of 594 career starts, you threw complete games in 267 of them. A whopping 44% of the time, you'd finish the game. 4 times you led the league in complete games. You led the league with a low BB/9 rate 4 times in your career, and a SO/W ratio 5 times. You were an elite contact manager allowing these averages per 9 innings: 2 walks, 8.3 hits, 6.4 strikeouts, and 1 HR. Great numbers for a pitcher of the past, but numbers that no pitcher would even imagine in today's game.
Since retirement, you've maintained your level of intelligence. Most of the time, older players have terrible dated takes on today's game. Not you. Around the Cubs Convention this year, you conducted an interview with the Sun Times and your takes were very rational. It's something I appreciate, because it shows how you have evolved. I'm sure it's easy for you to call today's pitchers wimps since they are lucky to throw one complete game a year. But you don't.
You are a great ambassador for the team. You constantly make appearances at conventions and public events. You are always willing to sign autographs, and make it extra easy through your foundation's website. You might be older, but get around a lot, and are a constant presence in everything Cubs.
I really appreciate how you encourage fan interaction. You are very active online. You once liked our Cubs DNA posts on Instagram, which was a total thrill to everybody on the team. Then over Cubs Convention 2020 weekend, you liked one of my wife's posts on Instagram. We were sitting in the middle of one of the sessions. She's taking a picture and then gets this huge smile on her face, and asked me "Is this like the real Fergie?" Yes it absolutely was!
While I haven't gotten the chance to meet you yet Fergie, that Hall of Fame postcard autograph is one of my more prized possessions of Cubs collectibles. As I mentioned before, it was a spark that helped light the fuse to my Cubs fandom. Instead of baseball being just a phase from my childhood, it became a lifelong passion. So thank you for taking the time to write that "to James." Two words change my life.