Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins can always expect some good-natured ribbing when his travels take him to Kansas City.
George Brett might remind Jenkins that his first career home run came off the Canadian-born legend. John Mayberry might bring up his three-homer day against Jenkins. It's all in good fun now, many years after the fact, and a ultimate show of respect by hitters who relish anything good that happened at the plate when the ball was delivered by a man as accomplished and celebrated as Jenkins.
"Yeah, I gave up my share of home runs," Jenkins said with a laugh.
That didn't stop Jenkins from winning 284 games in a 19-year career. The win total seems even more impressive when one takes into consideration that Jenkins didn't play on great teams.
Jenkins, 69, has a keen memory and loves talking about his playing days, even when the hitters occasionally got the best of him. When he recently returned to Kansas City for All-Star Fanfest, Jenkins smiled broadly as he recalled the career milestones that Brett and Mayberry reached at his expense.
Brett's first career homer came at old Arlington Stadium on May 8, 1974. It was an opposite-field shot that Jenkins was hoping would tail off as a long strike.
"He hit the foul pole in left field," Jenkins recalled.
Brett would go on to hit another 316 home runs before hanging up his cleats. Jenkins was still pitching in the American League through 1981 before returning to the Cubs to finish off his career, so he saw Brett's development up close and personal.
"George was very quiet at the plate and he kept his bat on his shoulder," Jenkins said. "I think all the movement that young guys do now is foolish. It works for some, but it doesn't work for a lot. George was a patient hitter who swung at good pitches and didn't chase balls out of the zone. A guy who gets 3,000 hits has learned his craft very well and that's George Brett."
Mayberry's big day against Jenkins came on July 1, 1975.
"We come into Kansas City, and I'm on a winning streak," Jenkins said. "I'm hot, but Mayberry comes up in the first inning and hits a changeup into the water. He comes up again and hits a fastball down and in and gets it down the right-field line for another homer. Then he comes up a third time, and I throw him a curveball, which hangs a little bit. He hits it out to straight-away center."
Three at-bats, three different pitches, three homers for Mayberry.
But ultimately, Jenkins got the last laugh. He surrendered another late homer to Harmon Killebrew, but won the game, 5-4. Solo homers don't hurt so much. It was the two-run and three-run homers that Jenkins avoided by not allowing a lot of walks.
"I threw strikes," Jenkins said. "They wouldn't have hit the home runs if I wasn't throwing strikes."
That penchant for challenging hitters, coupled with a rubber-like arm, made Jenkins one of the game's most durable pitchers. These days, starting pitchers are lauded as workhorses if they deliver 200 innings in a season. Jenkins threw more than 300 innings five times.
"I went out there with the idea of trying to win a ballgame ... whether it took eight innings, nine innings, 10 innings or 12 innings," Jenkins said. "I never had a sore arm."
Growing up in Canada, Jenkins was an all-around athlete and started his career in Philadelphia. When the Phillies moved him to Chicago, it was the start of a meteoric climb, as Jenkins established himself as one of the National League's great pitchers.
Jenkins won the Cy Young Award in 1971 when he completed 30 of his 39 starts. He went on to Texas and established a personal record with 25 wins in 1974. After coming full circle to finish his career with the Cubs in 1983, Jenkins waited for the call from the Hall of Fame. It came in 1991 when Jenkins was selected for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
These days, Jenkins is one of Major League Baseball's greatest ambassadors and loves talking to youngsters about the sport. He came to love baseball after his father drove him across the border from Canada to attend games at old Tiger Stadium.
"I tell young kids that I didn't start pitching until I was 15," Jenkins said. "Just have fun with the game. Play different positions and don't try throwing sliders until your arm and body are developed for it. Just have a good time playing and don't force anything. Your talent and passion will eventually take you as far as you can go."