AUGUST 30, 1971
During his 19-year career Ferguson Jenkins became the only pitcher in major league history to strike out more than 3,000 batters while walking fewer than 1,000. So on May 21, when he threw the ceremonial first pitch of the fledgling Canadian Baseball League's inaugural season, Jenkins made sure that he didn't bounce one to the catcher. "It was a low-and-away strike," says Jenkins, 59, who has a three-year contract to serve as the first CBL commissioner. "That was my [trademark] pitch."
In his new role Jenkins plans to be less of a pitchman and more of an overseer for the eight-team Class AA-level independent league. He'll enforce the rules of the league; be the final arbiter of disputes; hand down fines and suspensions; and, in September, award the Jenkins Cup to the league champion.
A native of Chatham, Ont., and the only Canadian in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Jenkins was approached about the commissioner's job in May 2001 by CBL founder Tony Riviera. At the time Riviera was cutting deals with stadiums in Canada that had formerly been home to Triple A teams, and he believed Jenkins would bring credibility to his venture. The CBL was also able to lure such recognizable players as outfielder Felipe Rojas, a son of the San Francisco Giants manager, and first baseman Francisco Cabrera, the hero of the Atlanta Braves' memorable Game 7 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1992 National League Championship Series.
"These guys are getting the opportunity to play a 72-game schedule, and if they can enhance their abilities, [big league] teams might pick them up again," says Jenkins. This isn't Jenkins's first return to baseball since retiring, in 1983. He was the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers' Triple A affiliate in Oklahoma City in 1988 and '89 and for Team Canada at the 1987 Pan Am Games. He was also a roving minor league pitching instructor with the Cincinnati Reds in 1993 and '94 and pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs in 1995 and '96.
The winner of a total of 284 games, with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cubs, the Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Jenkins, a 6'5", 210-pound righthander, had six consecutive 20-win seasons with the Cubs, from 1967 through '72. He was the NL Cy Young Award winner in 1971, when he went 24-13 and had a 2.77 ERA.
In addition to his affinity for pitching, Jenkins has a love for wide-open spaces. The year after he won the Cy Young, he bought a 100-acre cattle and horse ranch in Blenheim, Ont.; he sold it in '89 and bought a 160-acre ranch near Guthrie, Okla., where he lives with his third wife, Lydia, a former Las Vegas showgirl. "After playing in big cities, I found that going to the country and relaxing was good therapy," says Jenkins. "As a pitcher your job is to be intimidating. When the off-season comes, you try to be laid-back."