February 3, 2023

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Cubs icons to friendly rivals: Fergie and Billy on facing each other

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This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

“I’ll tell you, I like this,” Williams said with a smile. “I played with this guy and I saw him do so many things with a baseball. Great control.”

Williams had been with the Cubs for parts of seven seasons by the time Jenkins arrived on the scene in 1966 via a franchise-changing trade with the Phillies. For the next seven years, they became icons of the beloved Chicago teams that also featured Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Ron Santo.

Then, Jenkins was traded to Texas prior to the 1974 season and Williams was dealt to the A’s one year later. That did, however, set the stage for Fergie and Billy to square off in the American League after so many years spent together with the Cubs.

“I threw him batting practice every Spring Training,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “So, he knew what I was trying to get him out with.”

They had one battle in 1966, when Jenkins was a young, up-and-coming reliever for the Phillies, and the righty walked Williams. But on April 12, 1975, Jenkins took the mound for Texas as a Cy Young Award-winning ace and Williams stepped in for the A’s as an experienced batting champion.

Williams launched a second-inning home run in their first meeting as ex-teammates, and the A’s won, 5-4.

“I called my father and he said, ‘Y’all had that planned,’” said Williams. “I said, ‘No, we didn’t!'”

Ten days later on April 22, 1975, Jenkins took on Williams and the A’s once again. The big right-hander spun a complete game and led the Rangers to a 2-1 victory. He allowed two hits — both by Williams. One was a solo home run.

“Fergie pitched a two-hitter against the Oakland A’s and I got the only two hits,” Williams said with a chuckle. “And I said, ‘If I had known you were going to do that, hell, I would’ve gave you the two hits so you could pitch a no-hitter!'”

Overall, Jenkins and Williams faced each other 29 times. It took until their 18th battle for the pitcher to strike out his old friend. That was the only punchout of Williams for a man with 3,192 in his career. All told, Sweet Swingin’ Billy hit .435/.552/.739 with three extra-base hits and six walks (one intentional) against Jenkins.

“He was a tough hitter,” Jenkins said. “When he got traded to Oakland, I was in the American League. … I knew I had my work cut out for me.”

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