A CHANCE TO ASK FERGUSON JENKINS ABOUT DUROCHER — IN REDLANDS!

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: Former Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.

Here’s where being a media member has its advantages:

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins had appeared in Redlands to conduct a youth clinic at Community Field and, perhaps, sign a few autographs.

Chicago Cubs’ fans were plentiful throughout the country.

One venerable veterinarian, who lived in Redlands, could recite all the Cubs’ doctrine from those Jenkins years.

Here are the guys that fans instantly thought about when recalling those Cubs’ teams from the 1960s: Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks were the headliners. Jenkins, of course, was the ace pitcher.

Leo Durocher was Cubs’ manager, a fact that wasn’t enthusiastically accepted by the local vet.

“Durocher ruined Jenkins’ career,” said the vet. “He used him too much. Ruined his arm.”

He was adamant. Mind couldn’t be changed on that.

ferguson Jenkins
Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins spent a few hours in Redlands, teaching baseball to youths and answering questions about former manager Leo Durocher (photo by Wikipedia).

This, of course, was years later — after baseball had starting dedicating a full core of relief pitchers to win games. In Jenkins’ days, legendary pitchers like Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Mickey Lolich, Don Drysdale, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, you name it, would pitch 300-plus innings each year.

Bullpens weren’t quite as deep.

So here was Jenkins in my sight line: “Tell me about Leo Durocher.”

Jenkins took it from there.

“Leo helped make my career. If it weren’t for him … I’ll tell you, he taught me a lot. I owe him a lot. I owe a lot of my career to him.”

Under Durocher, Jenkins became one of baseball’s top hurlers.

“When I got traded to the Cubs,” he said, referring to the 1966 deal in which Philadelphia traded away a future Hall of Famer to the Cubs, “we were the worst team in baseball.”

Durocher had just been named Cubs’ manager. Jenkins, under Durocher, won 20 games in six straight seasons — all seasons that Durocher had managed him, incidentally.

“He worked you, no question about that,” said Jenkins.

The Cubs never won a pennant, a division championship, or made it to the World Series.

“Some of those years we came to spring training,” said Jenkins, “and we knew we’d have a chance to win … because of Leo. He turned that team around in Chicago.”

Where was that vet, that so-called Cubs’ fan? He needed to be listening to all this.

The guy who’d been teammates with Ruth & Gehrig, turned the Brooklyn Dodgers into pennant winners, managed Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, among others, he was, perhaps, baseball’s greatest connection to multiple generations.

“I never had any trouble with Leo,” said Jenkins. “I know what people say about him, what they try to insinuate.”

If there was a criticism of Durocher from that 1969 season, said Jenkins, “it’s probably that he never gave our regular guys a break.”

It was Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Jim Hickman, Randy Hundley and Don Young. The Cubs took second to the Miracle Mets.

Jenkins finished 21-15 with a 3.21 ERA over 311 1/3 innings that season.

I still have no idea how someone from Redlands had lured the fabulous Jenkins (284-226 over 19 seasons) to Community Field in the early 1990s.

It was almost an afterthought that Julio Cruz, a onetime Redlands High player, and Rudy Law, a former Dodger and White Sox player, had also showed up. Infield play, outfield play, a little hitting.

Later, I was told that ex-Pirates’ pitcher Dock Ellis had shown up — too late to be noticed. Ellis, it’s likely remembered, is the pitcher who surrendered the tape measure home run hit by Reggie Jackson out of Tiger Stadium at the 1971 All-Star game.

Jenkins, incidentally, was one of just four N.L. pitchers in that 6-4 loss to the A.L. Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal pitched in his final mid-summer classic and so did Houston’s Don Wilson.

Imagine, two of the N.L.’s four all-star pitchers had shown up in Redlands a couple decades later.

Jenkins had arrived at Community Field in a white limousine. Dressed in his Cubs’ uniform. Showed kids his style of pitching.

“Show ’em your wallet,” he said, demonstrating his high-leg kick, twisting his torso with his left buttock toward the hitter, “and let it fly.”

That’s how a Hall of Famer did it.

Fans might not remember this, Jenkins said, “but Leo converted me into a starting pitcher. I’d been a reliever. He turned my career around. I became a Hall of Famer.”

Jenkins left Redlands like he’d arrived — in that white limo.

 

DAUER HELPED BAPTIZE SPIRIT IN REDLANDS, 1987

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Rich Dauer sat beside me on the first base bench just after the San Bernardino Spirit finished playing under the dimly-lit field at Redlands Community Field.

It was April 1987. Thirty-one years later, he would be taking part in a pre-game ceremony at the newly-crowned world champion Houston Astros. Back then, they were playing in the Astrodome.

But on this date in 1987, something new was taking place. The California League had just expanded to, of all places, San Bernardino.

Less than two decades earlier, his high school team came to play at Redlands.

“I remember playing here,” he said, referring to Community Field, “in high school.”

Here was Dauer who, only a few years earlier, had played second base on the 1983 Baltimore Orioles’ World Series championship.

He was homegrown.

Colton High School, a 1970 graduate.

San Bernardino Valley College, then known as the Indians.

Then it was onto USC, where he was a two-time All-American third baseman, helping lead the Trojans to win the College World Series in both 1973 and 1974. He’s now a Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Famer, having been the team’s No. 1 draft pick (1974), playing in two World Series.

Chris Tillman, Rich Dauer
Colton’s Rich Dauer, inducted into the Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Fame in 2012, brought the San Bernardino Spirit to Redlands’ Community Field in 1987 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

The Spirit knew where many of their fans might show up at Fiscalini Field – located on Highland Ave. in San Bernardino – and that was Redlands.

Showing up at Community Field was the perfect public relations move. The Spirit could sell a lot of tickets to these folks.

With his hitting coach, Jay Johnstone, sitting nearby, Dauer reflected on minor league ball players.

“These guys,” he said, motioning out to those Class A players, “aren’t that far away from the major leagues.”

It was quite a proclamation. These were minor leaguers, Rich, I’d told him.

He shook his head in disagreement.

“All these guys are,” he said, “just young. They need experience. They can throw just as hard, hit it just as far … as any major leaguers. They just need to get consistent.

“That’s what will keep them out of the majors,” he said. “If they’re not consistent.”

There were some future major leaguers on that Spirit roster.

Todd Cruz and Rudy Law, plus Terry Whitfield, pitchers Andy Rincon and Craig Chamberlain – all of whom showed up

Cruz, in fact, was an infield teammate of Dauer’s on that 1983 Orioles team.

Law played against the O’s in the 1983 American League playoffs when Baltimore knocked off the Chicago White Sox.

All those ex-MLB players were playing out the string.

Another Spirit, infielder Mike Brocki, had torn apart Redlands High in a CIF soccer playoff a few years earlier – scoring three times in a 6-0 win. For the Spirit in 1987, he hit two HRs and batted .233.

Let’s not forget another Spirit infielder, Leon Baham, who would eventually become one of Redlands’ top youth baseball coaches in years ahead. Baham hit .279 with 8 HRs that season.

And Ronnie Carter, a Fontana product who was an NCAA Division 3 All-American at the University of Redlands a couple years earlier, got 164 at-bats (4 HRs, .213) for a squad that was filled by plenty of guys that had no shot at a major league career.

Dauer sat over all of them, perhaps lining himself up for a lengthy future in MLB. Curiously, he never drew a manager’s assignment at the MLB level, coaching at Kansas City, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Colorado and, finally, Houston.

Dauer spent as much time as I needed on that Community Field bench that night. Plenty of local youths showed up to watch this split-squad game.

Pitchers fired seeds.

Hitters took big cuts.

Baserunners seemed quick, fast.

Fielders made it look easy.

Dauer, working for the Seattle Mariners, had the task of sitting over these guys.

Three decades later, Dauer was pulling himself to the mound at Minute Maid Park. It was April 2, 2018 – today’s date, in fact.  He threw out the first pitch.

For the previous three seasons, he had coached first base as the Astros made a dramatic move toward becoming contenders. When Houston beat the Dodgers in a thrilling 7-game series the previous fall, Dauer was back in familiar territory.

Tragedy struck at the World Series parade. Dauer suffered a head injury, resulting in emergency brain surgery. It brought his coaching career – 19 years strong – to a pre-mature conclusion.

He was the perfect selection to throw out the first pitch.

That 1987 season in San Bernardino was his first as a coach. His playing career concluded in 1985. He had been teammates with the likes of Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer.

None of that trio ever played California League ball. Dauer cut his teeth as a coach in that historical assemblage of minor league cities.

It no way resembled the California League that would eventually surface in various Southern California cities.

San Bernardino had joined the Bakersfield Dodgers, Fresno Giants, Modesto A’s, Palm Springs Angels, Reno Padres, Salinas Spurs, San Jose Bees, Stockton Ports and the Visalia Oaks. Truth is, the Salinas Spurs had moved to San Bernardino, adopting the Spirit name.

Here he was, back in Redlands after a well-traveled baseball career. Only a few hundred had bothered to show.

Dauer seemed to be the perfect pick to lead the Spirit.

After all, he had been a local product.

“It never occurred to me,” said Dauer on that April 1987 night, “that there’d ever be a minor league team in San Bernardino.”