CHICAGO — Fergie Jenkins walked onto the stage, hugged his old friend Billy Williams and then stepped up to the podium. As he surveyed the sea of fans before him, he heard a sound that used to echo through Wrigley Field on the days he pitched.
“Fergie! Fergie! Fergie!”
Behind Jenkins stood a towering statue of his likeness — right arm cocked, glove tucked and that fierce look of a pitcher who dared batters to try to hit his fastball. The effigy was unveiled ahead of the Cubs’ Friday afternoon game with the D-backs.
Jenkins’ statue stands in the newly created row in Gallagher Way. His old teammates are next in line: Ernie Banks, followed by Williams and Ron Santo. They were icons of the beloved Cubs teams in the ’60s and ’70s, and Jenkins was honored to see them reunited in permanence.
“Ernie, Billy and Ronny,” Jenkins said, peering at the statues to his left. “Believe me, I am humbled. I stand here a proud man, also humbled.”
Friday’s ceremony was a long time coming for Jenkins, who was introduced by radio voice Pat Hughes as “the greatest pitcher in the long and legendary history of the Chicago Cubs.” At 79 years old, Jenkins is still an imposing figure, one who has more mileage in his right arm than multiple modern-day pitchers combined.
Over 19 seasons, Jenkins amassed 284 wins, 267 complete games and 3,192 strikeouts in 4,500 2/3 innings. He is the Cubs’ all-time strikeout king (2,038) and starts leader (347). Jenkins won 20 games seven times, including in six straight years with the Cubs from 1966-72. He was a three-time All-Star, the 1971 NL Cy Young Award winner and an inductee to the Hall of Fame in 1991.
“I thought Fergie deserved this a long time ago,” Williams said. “But better late than never. And when you see the players that played in ’69, as we move through the city, a lot of people recognize who were are.”
There are two black bases placed on either side of the four statues, making it natural to begin pondering which Cubs legends might be honored next. For now, seeing their images frozen in time — Banks in his stance, Williams finishing a swing and Santo readying a throw from third base — puts a lot of history in one place.
“I can look down from my office,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said, “and it’s just really cool to see all those, the Mount Rushmore of Wrigley, right below me. It’s great that they did that. I couldn’t be happier to see Fergie have his.”
Williams was not the only Cubs great on hand for Friday’s festivities. Fellow Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Lee Smith were also in attendance, as well as Randy Hundley, Kerry Wood, Mark Grace and Jenkins’ first roommate, Byron Browne. Former players Adam Jones and CC Sabathia were also in the crowd. Besides family and friends, the mayor of Jenkins’ hometown (Chatham, Ontario, Canada), Darrin Canniff, joined the ceremony, along with the town crier, who rang a bell and loudly rattled off the pitcher’s life and career achievements.
With a 21-win season in 2010, Sabathia became a member of the “Black Aces.” Former pitcher Mudcat Grant coined that term for Black pitchers who won at least 20 games in a Major League campaign. The list also includes Bob Gibson, Vida Blue, Don Newcombe, Al Downing and Dave Stewart, among others.
Sabathia noted that he and Jenkins formed a friendship years ago, adding that it was a “complete honor” to be mentioned with him in any capacity.
“That’s one of the main reasons why I’m here,” Sabathia said, “is because of the Black Aces. When I see Fergie’s stats, I’m like, ‘Should I even be in this group?’ The man’s got more complete games than I’ve got wins in my career.”
Sabathia’s right, too. He won 251 games, 16 shy of Jenkins’ complete-games total. In fact, Sabathia was known as an innings-eating workhorse during his 19-year career, and he had only 38 complete games. Jenkins had 30 complete games in his Cy Young season in ’71.
“What I think about is what he might do to me if I tried to take him out in the fourth,” Cubs manager David Ross quipped. “Can you imagine that?”
When Jenkins arrived to Gallagher Way on Friday — wearing a black cowboy hat and Cubbies blue blazer — trumpets blared to announce his arrival. Later, he helped pull the blue covering off his statue, which was created by sculptor Lou Cella and modeled after a photo on a 1971 Sports Illustrated cover.
After the ceremony, Jenkins looked up at the statue and smiled.
“That’s me,” he said. “I was here for Ernie’s. I was here for Billy and Ronny’s. Believe me, it’s an honor.”