Editor’s note: Each day this week, Tony Lee will examine one part of Bobby Jenks‘ journey to major league stardom. On Wednesday, Jenks’ second chance and rise to stardom was spotlighted.
When Bobby Jenks was struggling to get out of his own way as a headstrong minor leaguer, one of his former agents, with whom Jenks had a rather ugly split, uttered these words:
“Imagine being in the top five in the world at what you do, and your demons are so terrible that your ability is dwarfed. That?s Bobby Jenks. The worst thing that could happen is if he gets to the big leagues. If he gets to the big leagues, he?ll free fall. He can?t handle success.”
Those were the words of Matt Shoshnick years ago, after he and Jenks had parted ways. By his logic, Jenks would?ve crumbled at some point in the fall of 2005. He had just rocketed from the depths of the minor leagues to the back end of the bullpen for the Chicago White Sox in one year, and he was the man on the mound when the last out of the 2005 World Series was recorded.
Shoshnick?s theory would be put to the test in the coming days, weeks and months. For all intents and purposes, Jenks passed with flying colors.
In fact, he gave an encore performance that cemented his status as one of the more popular players in Chicago. In 2006, Jenks saved 41 games in 45 chances, establishing a 91 percent success rate which he has yet to surpass. Similarly, he struck out a career-high 80 men in just 69 2/3 innings. It was an All-Star campaign marked by stretches of absolute dominance.
Surely, Shoshnick had more time to be proven right. Maybe 2007 would be his time to say, “I told you so.”
Well, that never came, either. Jenks took his game to a new level that year, lowering his ERA from 4.00 to 2.77, saving 40 more games and posting a minuscule 0.892 WHIP. The right-hander was a star, contrary to what many who saw him burn his bridges as a youth would?ve ever thought.
For Jenks, it was simply a matter of lining things up. Family came first. Dominating major league hitters came next. If there was any time for carousing like there was in his early days as a pro, Jenks never found it. What he did find helped make him into a force.
“I finally realized what my priorities were and that I needed to put them in order,” he once told ESPN. “I was a punk and it made me kick myself in the butt, but maybe if I didn?t go through that, I wouldn?t be here now.
“I wanted to live a better life. I think every parent wants to do better [for their kids], regardless of what?s going on in your life. You want your children to succeed and you want to be a good influence on their lives, really show them good examples and the right paths to follow to encourage them the right ways.”
If any of his four kids ever wanted to pitch, Jenks provided the necessary encouragement during his days in Chicago. The Idaho native had 173 saves, second in franchise history, in five-plus seasons with the White Sox. Only four pitchers in baseball had more saves from ’06 through the end of last season, including Jonathan Papelbon, the man for whom Jenks will set up in 2011 and potentially take over for in a year?s time.
Jenks is in such a position because he defied the odds and shoved his foot into the mouth of doubters. Contrary to those who figured he would never know how to handle it, Jenks is a success.
Check back Friday for the fifth and final installment of Bobby Jenks, which will explore what the hurler is expected to bring to Boston.