Making 20 Wins a Habit

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ferguson Jenkins

During the late 1960s, Ferguson Jenkins did something no Chicago Cubs pitcher had done in more than half a century: string together one 20-win season after another.

From 1967-1972, Ferguson Jenkins averaged 21 victories, 23 complete games and 306 innings per season for the Chicago Cubs.

From 1967-1972, Ferguson Jenkins averaged 21 victories, 23 complete games and 306 innings per season for the Chicago Cubs.

From 1967 through 1972, Fergie Jenkins had no less than 20 victories per season, pitched no less than 289.1 innings per season, pitched no less than 20 complete games each season, with a combined ERA of 3.00 for those six seasons, all the while pitching about half his games in that hitter’s paradise known as Wrigley Field.

It was one of the most amazing – and largely overlooked – pitching performances of his era. He was the Three-Finger Brown of the 1960s, only with a livelier ball and much less run support.

Jenkins was originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962. After four seasons in the Phillies’ farm system, Jenkins was traded with John Hernnstein and Adolfo Phillips for two proven starting pitchers – Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl. What the Cubs got was a future Hall of Famer.

After an undistinguished season spent mostly in the bullpen, Jenkins was converted to a full-time starter for the 1967 season and never looked back. He went 20-13 for the Cubs with a 2.80 ERA and led the majors with 20 complete games. In 1968 he went 20-15 with a 2.63 ERA. He lost five 1-0 games that season. With a little more run support, he could have easily been 25-10.

Ferguson Jenkins was 20-15 in 1968 with a 2.63 ERA. Five of those losses came on 1-0 defeats.

Ferguson Jenkins was 20-15 in 1968 with a 2.63 ERA. Five of those losses came on 1-0 defeats.

Jenkins’ best season with the Cubs came in 1971, when his 24-13 record (with a 2.77 ERA) led the National League in victories. He also led the league in games started (39), complete games (30), innings pitched (325) and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (7.11). He was selected as the National League Cy Young Award winner for that season.

After six consecutive 20-victory seasons, Jenkins slipped to 14-16 in 1973. The Cubs shipped the 30-year-old pitcher to the Texas Rangers for Vic Harris and Bill Madlock. Jenkins responded with a 25-12 season for the Rangers, pitching six shutouts and 29 complete games with a 2.82 ERA.

In a sense, the Cubs had been right, as Jenkins “declined” from phenomenal in the late 1960s-early 1970s to simply very good in the late ‘70s and early 1980s. The Cubs simply missed out on the 135 wins that Jenkins accumulated after being traded.

Jenkins finished his 19-season Hall of Fame career with 284 victories and a 3.34 ERA. He pitched over 4500 innings with 3,192 strikeouts, and was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1991.

 

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Pinstripe Heat

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Downing

When he first came to the big leagues, Al Downing lived and died on the heat of his often-unhittable fastball. And like so many pitchers who experience the inevitable decline in velocity that comes with age, Downing learned to evolve from thrower to pitcher.

But while he was a New York Yankee, what a thrower he was.

As a rookie in 1963, Al Downing averaged 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest strikeout ratio in the league.

As a rookie in 1963, Al Downing averaged 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest strikeout ratio in the league.

A New Jersey native, Downing was signed by the Yankees in 1961 off the campus of Rider University. By 1963, he had worked his way into the Yankees’ starting rotation, an important addition to an already formidable pitching staff. In his rookie season, Downing went 13-5 with a 2.56 ERA. On a Yankees staff that featured Whitey Ford (24-7), Jim Bouton (21-7) and Ralph Terry (17-15), Downing finished second on the staff in shutouts (four) and strikeouts (171), while leading the team (and the league)  in strikeouts per nine innings (8.8). He was the starter (and loser) in Game Two of the 1963 World Series, as the Yankees were shut out by Johnny Podres and the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0. (The Dodgers took the 1963 World Series in four games.)

Downing won 13 games in 1964, while leading the American League in strikeouts (217) and walks (120).  As the Yankees’ fortunes tumbled, so did Downing’s won-lost record: to 12-14 in 1965 and 10-11 in 1966. He rebounded to a 14-10 record in 1966 with a 2.63 ERA, 10 complete games and four shutouts. But pitching 200-plus innings per season took its toll on Downing the flame-thrower, and he was limited to a combined record of 10-8 over the next two seasons.

Following the 1968 season, Downing was traded by the Yankees with Frank Fernandez to the Oakland Athletics for Danny Cater and Ossie Chavarria. His stay in Oakland lasted only two months, and he was traded again, this time with Tito Francona, to the Milwaukee Brewers for Steve Hovley. His combined record for both teams was 5-13 with a 3.52 ERA. The Brewers traded Downing to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andy Kosco.

With the Dodgers, Downing had the best season of his career in 1971. He went 20-9 with a 2.68 ERA. He pitched 12 complete games with five shutouts, the most in the National League. He tied with Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver for second in wins (Fergie Jenkins won 24 for the Cubs). And he finished third in the Cy Young voting (behind Jenkins and Seaver). He was named Comeback Player of the Year for the National League.

Downing pitched six more seasons for the Dodgers, compiling a 26-28 record over that period. He retired during the 1977 season with a career record of 123-107.

 

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Piling Up Innings and Wins

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Buhl

Bob Buhl was the kind of workhorse every pitching staff can use. From 1955 to 1965, he could be counted on for an average of 13 wins and 200 innings per season, year in and year out. Though never a 20-game winner, Buhl’s most outstanding feature was his durable consistency, providing quality starts whether pitching for a contender … or for the Cubs.

Bob Buhl won 18 games for the Milwaukee Braves in both 1956 and 1957. He won 109 games in 10 seasons with the Braves.

Bob Buhl won 18 games for the Milwaukee Braves in both 1956 and 1957. He won 109 games in 10 seasons with the Braves.

Buhl was signed originally by the Chicago White Sox in 1947. A year later he was granted his free agency and was signed by the Boston Braves. By the time his minor league development had earned him a stay in the National League, Buhl was pitching for a Braves team playing out of Milwaukee, going 13-8 in 1953 with a 2.97 ERA, third best in the league behind Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts. In his rookie season, Buhl had eight complete games in 18 starts, with three shutouts.

After a 2-7 season in 1954, Buhl rebounded with a 13-11 record and a 3.21 ERA in 1955. It was also the first season when he topped 200 innings pitched (201.2), a feat he would achieve eight times in the next decade. Buhl won 18 games in both 1956 and 1957, leading the league in winning percentage in 1957 (.720 on an 18-7 record) while registering the league’s fourth-best ERA (2.74). In 1959, he had the league’s third-best ERA (2.86) while going 15-9 with 12 complete games and a league-best four shutouts. He won 16 games for Milwaukee in 1960, and then slipped to 9-10 with a 4.11 ERA in 1961.

Two weeks into the 1962 season, Buhl was traded by the Braves to the Chicago Cubs for Jack Curtis. In five seasons with the Cubs, Buhl was 51-52 with a combined ERA of 3.83. His best season in Chicago came in 1964, when he was 15-14 with 11 complete games and three shutouts for a Cubs team that finished eighth in the National League.

Bob Buhl was 15-14 with a 3.83 ERA with the Chicago Cubs in 1964.

Bob Buhl was 15-14 with a 3.83 ERA with the Chicago Cubs in 1964.

The most important contribution Buhl made to the Cubs was to be traded in 1966 with pitcher Larry Jackson to the Philadelphia Phillies for John Herrnstein, Fergie Jenkins and Adolfo Phillips. Jenkins went on to a Hall of Fame career, including six 20-victory seasons for the Cubs. Buhl won six games for the Phillies in 1966 and then was released by Philadelphia in 1967, retiring with a career record of 166-132. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1960.

 

 

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So Many Innings with Ne’er an Error

 

The Glove Club: Larry Jackson

Throughout his career, Larry Jackson was one of the best defensive pitchers in the National League. On four different occasions, he finished a season with no errors. In 1964 he set a major league record for pitchers with 109 total chances without an error, a mark that stood until 1976.

Larry Jackson had 4 separate seasons when he played the entire year without committing an error.

Larry Jackson had four separate seasons when he played the entire year without committing an error.

In addition to his mound quickness that made him so effective defensively, Jackson was the poster boy for innings workhorse. Jackson averaged 250 innings per season from 1957 through 1968, his last year in the majors. Even in his final big league season, at age 37, Jackson still piled up 243.2 innings, a total which would have led the National League in half the seasons from 2001 to 2010.

Jackson was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1951 and had a spectacular minor league season in 1952, going 28-4 for Fresno with a 2.85 ERA in 300 innings pitched. He made his debut with the Cardinals in 1955, going 9-14 with a 4.31 ERA … and pitching a career-low (as a starter) 177.1 innings. The next year he became the Cardinals’ closer, finishing 26 of his 51 appearances and saving nine games while starting only one game.

In 1957-58 he averaged only 22 starts per season, coming out of the bullpen in half his appearances for a combined record of 28-22 with three shutouts and nine saves. From then on Jackson’s role would be in the starting rotation, going 14-13 with a 3.30 ERA for the 1959 season. In 1960 he led the National League in starts (38) and innings pitched (282) with an 18-13 record, his best season in St. Louis. He would win 14 games for the Cards in 1961 and 16 games in 1962 before being traded with Lindy McDaniel and Jimmie Schaffer to the Chicago Cubs for George Altman, Don Cardwell and Moe Thacker.

Jackson’s three-plus seasons in Chicago were a roller coaster challenge to the consistency he had demonstrated  in St. Louis. Despite a 2.55 ERA and four shutouts, Jackson finished 14-18 for the Cubs in 1963. He pitched 275 innings and had a career-best 153 strikeouts.

He had a career season in 1964. Jackson’s 24-11 record led the major leagues in victories. That season he finished second in the National League in innings pitched (297.2), and third in both games started (38) and complete games (19). He finished second to Dean Chance in the Cy Young voting, and finished twelfth in the voting for NL Most Valuable Player.

Then the Cubs roller coaster carried Jackson the other way. He finished the 1965 season at 14-21 with a 3.85 ERA. In 39 starts, he pitched 257.1 innings and tossed four shutouts.

Jackson opened the 1966 season by losing his first two starts for the Cubs. He was then traded with Bob Buhl to the Philadelphia Phillies for John Herrnstein, Ferguson Jenkins and Adolfo Phillips. Jackson went 15-13 for the Phillies with a 2.99 ERA and pitched a league-best five shutouts. Over the next two seasons, Jackson went a combined 26-32 with the Phillies, and retired after the 1968 season.

Larry Jackson was an All-Star four times, and retired with a record of 194-183, making him the winningest National League 20th century right-hander to never play for a pennant winner.

 

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Fergie Flees Philly for Hall of Fame Career

 

Swap Shop: Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl for Fergie Jenkins

The Philadelphia Phillies entered the 1966 season with the expectation of being a genuine pennant contender. After the nightmare collapse of 1964, the team finished sixth in 1965, 11.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers but nine games over the .500 mark.

Larry Jackson Veteran RHP was traded to the Phillies for Ferguson Jenkins.

Larry Jackson
Veteran RHP was traded to the Phillies for Ferguson Jenkins.

At the end of spring training, the team was looking to solidify an already formidable starting rotation. And the Chicago Cubs were ready to accommodate that need. The Cubs offered two proven veteran pitchers, a pair of work-horses who would provide a strong complement to a staff that already featured Jim Bunning (19-9, 2.60 ERA in 1965) and Chris Short (18-11, 2.82).

The Cubs were willing to part with Larry Jackson (14-21, 3.85) and Bob Buhl (13-11, 4.39). Between them, Jackson and Buhl already had 313 major league wins.

Ferguson Jenkins blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the National League after being traded to the Cubs.

The Phillies jumped at the opportunity to grab Jackson and Buhl, especially since their acquisition would cost the Phillies only three prospects: outfielders John Herrnstein and Adolfo Phillips, and an unproven, hard-throwing relief pitcher named Ferguson Jenkins.

The Phillies fell short of the pennant again in 1966, finishing fourth in the National League at 87-75. Jackson and Buhl were a combined 21-21.

Even at that, it looked as though the Phillies got the better of the deal. The Cubs’ 1966 season turned out to be a disaster. The team finished dead last at 59-103. Phillips became the Cubs’ everyday center fielder, batting .262. Herrnstein appeared in only nine games, and Jenkins was 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA. His 60 appearances were the most on the Cubs’ staff. He finished 22 games with five saves, and started only 12 games.

Bob Buhl

Bob Buhl

All that, of course, would change in 1967. Used almost exclusively as a starter, Jenkins was 20-13 and led the National League with 20 complete games. He would win 20 or more games per season for six straight years, and seven out of the next eight seasons. He would win 284 games during his 19-year major league career that eventually took him to Cooperstown.

After winning 15 games in 1966, Jackson would win 13 for the Phillies in both 1967 and 1968 before retiring. The six games Buhl won in 1966 would be the last of his career.