Editor’s note: Each day this week, Tony Lee will examine one part of Bobby Jenks‘ journey to major league stardom. On Tuesday, Jenks’ battle through an alleged drinking problem and attitude was examined.
As a professional pitcher, Bobby Jenks has had two careers.
There were the often-difficult times as a starter in the Anaheim Angels’ system, which saw him produce wildly disparate results while establishing a reputation as a wild card, at best. That career ended when the Angels cut their losses, placing the big right-hander on waivers after an injury-shortened 2004 season, hoping someone else was willing to take the time to turn Jenks around.
That second career began when the Chicago White Sox became that “someone else” and made the extremely shrewd decision to instantly turn Jenks into a reliever to start the 2005 season. While Jenks is now a member of the Red Sox, it was the white variety of hosiery that gave him his real start, after the false one with the Angels.
“This is the team that gave me my real shot doing what I’m doing now,” he said last year when discussing his time in Chicago. “Regardless of what happens, I’ll never forget that.”
Once sent to the pen, initially for the White Sox’ Double-A affiliate in Birmingham, Jenks blossomed. In just half a season, he had 19 saves and a 2.85 ERA. His 100-mph fastball and fall-off-the-table breaking ball was good for 48 strikeouts in 41 innings. It was hard to keep him in the minors when the big club had a chance to go far and neeeded another power arm. So, just a year after he was languishing at multiple levels of the Angels’ organization (10.24 ERA in just 19 1/3 innings in 2004), Jenks was called upon to give a good, but not yet great, Chicago team the boost it needed.
Like a lot of twists and turns in Jenks’ young career, it almost defied logic.
Jenks picked up the first of his 173 career saves in his 14th game, when his ERA was a tidy 2.79. He picked up his second almost three weeks later, in mid-September, when his ERA was down to 1.80.
So where was this wild card that cared more about the postgame party than the pregame preparation? To the White Sox, he was nowhere to be found.
“There’s never been a smudge on his slate, as far as I’m concerned,” Chicago pitching coach Don Cooper said at the time. “I don’t judge anybody until we get him. He’s been great. There hasn’t even been a question. Anything in the past is simply that — the past.”
Much of what made the past the past was Jenks’ future, his children. He married young and had two kids before he reached the majors. Eventually, daughter Cuma and son Nolan — who would be joined by two siblings later in the decade — helped teach the righty that anything that occurred on the mound, or anything that was written about him off it, mattered little in the grand scheme of things.
“When everything is in front of you, you see what you have, what this game can provide for us, and you want to do everything you can to make your kids’ lives much better, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do,” Jenks said during his 2005 revival.
Cuma and Nolan had to like what they saw when daddy took over the closer’s role for Chicago after Dustin Hermanson was hurt and proceeded to save four games in the postseason, including the World Series clincher in Houston. The image of Jenks celebrating the final out is now pasted on bedroom walls throughout the Chicago area, an iconic shot now etched in White Sox lore. A prime candidate to become a minor league flameout just one year before, Jenks was the man in the middle of the team’s first World Series title in 88 years.
Given a second chance to start his career, Jenks had scripted quite a story.
Check back Thursday for part four of our five-part feature on Jenks, which will explore his rise to stardom in Chicago.