Eulogizing Bobby Jenks

His accomplishments on the field only tell half the story over a highly productive career.

Bobby Jenks’ last year in a White Sox uniform was frustrating for all parties. Jenks stressed out fans with an inability to string together easy outings. Ozzie Guillen had to threaten him with taking away the closer job a couple of times. Don Cooper scolded fans for not supporting him enough.
Kenny Williams had to veil his displeasure, too, as Jenks failed to finish the season healthy for the second straight year. And for every criticism leveled against Jenks, he issued his stock response that people blew his problems out of proportion.
It became clear that it was best for both parties if they went their separate ways – especially since Jenks was set to make $10 million through arbitration, a figure he would likely never meet with his performance. If he fell short once again, the same complaints would rise to the surface, only more forceful.
Yet when you step back and evaluate Jenks’ entire White Sox career, it seems to me that these are all great problems. It means that Jenks accomplished enough to set high expectations.
Back when he joined the White Sox, nobody knew what to expect. More than anything, they braced for embarrassment.
Jenks had problems when the White Sox claimed him off waivers from the Anaheim Angels on Dec. 17, 2004, both real and rumored. He had a pin in his elbow from a stress fracture, and that was the least of it. He battled problem drinking, which led to problems with teammates in the Angels farm system. He came from nothing in Idaho, and didn’t even attend school for most of his childhood, and needed special ed when he did. His parents obviously weren’t involved, to put it nicely.
From those real issues sprang other more serious accusations that Jenks had to repeatedly deny. That, since he lived near Aryan Nation headquarters, he was a skinhead with Swastika tattoos. That he was a self-mutilator who burned his flame-throwing arm.
The lore of Jenks was so frightening and alluring that he warranted an ESPN Magazine feature in 2003, when he was nothing but a Nuke LaLoosh-style underachiever. Jenks resented the article that elaborated on all of the above, but enough of it was true that Jenks became too much for the Angels to bear.
Under the advice of player development director David Wilder (of all people), the White Sox took a chance on him. Kenny Williams told him that the White Sox would be the perfect rebound opportunity for Jenks if he would let it, and he took those words to heart.
Not only did Jenks pitch well in Birmingham, but he posed no problems to the team, too. He became known only for his 100-m.p.h. heat and knee-buckling curve, and started racking up saves as the Barons’ closer. He adjusted to the role so well that when Williams pondered adding bullpen help, Wilder told him that he had all the bullpen help he’d need inside a widebodied, 6-foot-3-inch, 275-pound frame.
Wilder was right. Jenks made his much-awaited debut on July 6 against Tampa Bay, striking out two in a scoreless inning. He wasn’t perfect for long — the Red Sox roughed him up for three runs in one-third of an inning the next time out — but Ozzie Guillen kept giving him the ball.
And we loved watching Guillen give Jenks the ball. When he signaled to the bullpen, there was no doubt who he wanted. Arms wide horizontally, then arms wide vertically. Bring me the big boy.
Jenks wasn’t a boy for long. By late August, he was the man, closing out games for a first-place White Sox team after Dustin Hermanson’s balky back befell him. That injury could have sabotaged the Sox season, considering Hermanson was Guillen’s second closer of the year. But Jenks — who couldn’t control much of anything he did before 2005 — stepped up and stabilized an entire bullpen, and not just through the regular season.
No, Jenks appeared in all four World Series games. He made his Fall Classic debut in Game 1 with the tying run on third and two outs, and blew away a hurting Jeff Bagwell with relentless triple-digit heat en route to a 1-2-3 ninth and the save. Game 2 showed how charmed his year really was — he gave up the lead in the top of the inning on a two-out, two-run Jose Vizcaino single, only to set up Scott Podsednik’s walk-off homer off Brad Lidge. Watching Podsednik round the bases while disbelief-fueled delirium raged around him made me glad that Jenks faltered.
He wouldn’t slip up the rest of the Series, throwing two scoreless innings in Game 3 and closing out Game 4 by inducing a chopper he couldn’t reach. Juan Uribe charged, made a lightning-quick exchange from glove to hand, then unleashed a rocket that hit Paul Konerko’s mitt a split second before Orlando Palmeiro’s foot touched the bag.
The White Sox won their first World Series in 88 years, and Jenks was immortalized, both in the books and in every celebration picture. You don’t even have to close your eyes to see his arms held high, his feet just a little bit off the ground.
Jenks never could replicate that success, although he had more good times than bad over the next five seasons. He wrestled Chicago’s weight fluctuation title away from Oprah and battled velocity concerns and nagging random injuries. He also lost the feel of his best pitch, the hammer curve, and became more of a tinkerer. That’s not exactly what you want to see out of a power pitcher.
Still, he earned All-Star berths in 2006 and 2007. In the latter season, he tied Jim Barr’s record for the most consecutive batters retired with 41 before Joey Gathright ruined it with a single (the record has since been eclipsed by Mark Buehrle). He’s the only White Sox pitcher with multiple 40-save seasons, and his 173 saves are second on the list to Bobby Thigpen.
And maybe Jenks’ body wasn’t always sound, but his head was on straight. He was one of the few Sox to live in the Chicago area year-round, where he settled with his growing family. He said he gave up alcohol and found Jesus. When it came to his personality, the worst you could say is that his indignation wasn’t always righteous.
That said, with Jenks’ salary set to skyrocket into eight figures, it’s best for both sides to move on. Another pay raise would have only increased the snippiness.
At least Jenks’ U.S. Cellular Field career ended brilliantly. In his last save situation at home, Jenks wasn’t even supposed to pitch, since he threw three scoreless innings during the Kansas City chaos. Emergency forced him into action. He inherited two baserunners and a 3-0 count from J.J. Putz, who left with a knee injury. Facing Ty Wigginton while the crowd chanted “Bob-by! Bob-by!” Jenks worked the count full, then handled a comebacker and started a 1-4-3 double play. A flyout to center, and Jenks closed it out.
It’s a shame he couldn’t finish the entire season on a high note, but any resentment will soon pass, and Jenks will be remembered in the center of the road-gray mob at Minute Maid Field, born again in baseball.
Jenks’ White Sox career began with alcoholism being one of the lighter charges against him. Now, he owns a well-earned ring and our biggest gripe is that he didn’t throw enough curves. Let’s call it a great six years.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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cushinglee

I certainly wish Bobby the best, but it will be interesting to see how he deals with Red Sox Nation (and the Boston media) if things don’t go to well.

djroomba

Everytime I watch the first episode of Eastbound and Down with Kenny Powers on the mound in the World Series, I think about our own chubby rookie. Though his career was nothing like the vulgar has been on the show, it was a good ride on the South Side.

winningugly

Fantastic job, Jim. I don’t think Bobby gets enough credit for being good as long as he had been for us. Agreed that his first year performance set the expectations WAY high.
You’ll be missed, Robert.

expatnyc

Amen. Wish him all the best, except against us, natch.

pdxsoxgirl

Great Write-up. I wanted to see Bobby stay, but knew he was moving on. Anyone notice in the the article on giving up drinking that it was the influence of Scott Linebrink that mentored Bobby into the faith? I certainly wish Linebrink had pitched better for the Sox, but I’m glad he was here to help Bobby. Much as I love baseball and the Sox, no one can play ball their entire lives, and it is more important to know how to live life outside the game. I’m so proud of Boby for the way he has overcome so much!

daver

Excellent job. Jenks certainly has had a rough ride the last couple/few seasons, though his 2010 numbers (beyond ERA) are pretty fantastic. (And probably what the Red Sox were looking at.) You pay him the respect he deserves.

soxfan1

Bobby was one of the great White Sox closers of all time. But—-it was time to move on. His arm and attitude were wearing thin. He accomplished more than Hoyt Wilhelm, Gerry Staley, Turk Lown, Bob James, Booby Thigpen and others who closed for us. He was an integral part of a World Series championship.
Good luck Bobby.

LS_SoX_FN

Couldn’t agree more Jim. Bobby might have frustrated us on occasion, but only because we saw how unhittable he could be when he got ahead and let his curve work. He had some really high highs. I too was hoping we could bring him back, but 2 years 12 was probably not the best use of our bullpen bucks.
Good luck bobby, i hope if he pitches in the cell this year he’ll get his proper reception.

alwayssox

I think he will be more missed than people expect. His ability to keep the ball in the park and not walk hitters was great to see.

fustercluck

Fine job. Whether he sought to reinvent himself out of want or need, I’ll always remember Jenks fondly as a problem-drinking, two-pitch menace. And how about his mad vertical in that victory photo? Phenomenal athlete. May his heart reside in Chicago, but he belongs to Boston’s training staff now.

knoxfire30

I really really miss 05 and 06 jenks. 100 mph gas, knee buckling curve, the feeling of OMG from opposising hitters ect ect
My favorite rumored Jenks story, I have actually heard from a few people is likely 99 percent true, was that an Anaheim charity golf outing, he drank a case of beer, maybe more, and crashed his golf cart through a concession/prize area. Can you imagine seeing a near 300 lb’er hammered behind the wheel of one of those carts blasting through a party like that, haha must have been priceless.

splitfingeredpujols

From the ESPN article:
“Imagine being in the top five in the world at what you do, and your demons are so terrible that your ability is dwarfed,” Sosnick [his former agent] says. “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.”
Jenks’ response to Sosnick is, “Enjoy the view when I get there.”

pmj3358

Thank you, Jim! I literally got goose bumps reading the section on his big league debut through the World Series. I remember those four appearances so vividly, as do most of us around here, and reading this brought a huge smile to my face. Regardless of where he goes, Bobby shouldn’t pay for dinner again in Chicago (at least on the South Side).

knoxfire30
winningugly

It was on msnbc thid morning. You gotta love Ozzie. You just gotta.

sars

bbjnx had some bad luck the last two years. a great pick-up by the red sox.
jim; now that some posts are getting upwards of 50 comments, is there anyway to have any new comments come with a different background color? since we can only respond three deep with each comment thread, it sometimes gets a bit cluttered.

winningugly

50 posts! Looks like some more capacity is needed on this site. A good problem to have. Hopefully you can solve it.

Shinons

Bobby is certainly one of the most interesting players I can think of. I wish him the best, and hope hope hope that he doesn’t become a Linebrink to the Red Sox. With what douches they are over there, I can see that happening very easily.

alwayssox

Fan of Bobby. Sorry to see him move on. Lots of great memories. He also won the Reliever of the Month award in 2010 – June, I believe – so he did have a few high notes last season.

ricksch

Great summation Jim!
It’s nice to see a guy that comes from nothing succeed to this degree. It’s telling that the spoils of success included losing it on booze, etc. But whatever he does or doesn’t do with the Red Sox, he’s already a part of baseball history and he was scary good for a couple of years.
We did indeed get spoiled by Jenks’ high point and it’s a shame that his conditioning likely cost him an even better career.
I’m still seeing Jenks blow that last game of the four-game we had with the Twins after the AS break — one of a handful of games that seemed to turn the tide against us last year. However, as you have so aptly pointed out, there were some far better memories to be had from Big Bad Bobby Jenks.

lorenzobandini

The most frustrating experience I have had as a Sox fan was being at the park while Jenks was booed. Sox fans who booed Bobby should be ashamed of themselves.
He was a great player for the Sox that made just under $15,000,000 TOTAL for 6 seasons. He NEVER deserved to be booed.

alwayssox

I also don’t get the booing. Especially for Jenks, but even some other players. Unless someone isn’t giving effort, I don’t see the value (e.g., what in the world was the point of booing Wise). Sox fans should be smarter than that. And I hate to see Sox fans develop a bad reputation that prevents some free agents from coming over.

ricksch

I agree with you two. Sox fans can be a bit too reactionary. Jenks let us down a few times last year, but he did some remarkable things in a Sox uniform. Short memories I guess.
Now Manny on the other hand deserved to be lustily booed. Hope that ‘roided-out quitter is out of baseball. I have a feeling Boras will hold out for the moon and stars and Manny will get nothing.

baseballjones

Hasn’t Boras already gone on record looking for a lower base, incentive-laden contract for Manny? One year was okay from what I recall…

ricksch

Yeah, “lower base” for Manny probably means $8-10m. The guy can’t play the field any more, is getting hurt often — which happens rather frequently once you go off the steroids — and has a me-first attitude. He’s a gamble at $2-5m in my book. Only an AL team has any use for him. There are maybe two or three teams that may have a use for him. Hope his market dries up to nothing.

baseballjones

All these things you say may be true, but if my memory serves me correctly, he was always “hurt”, even when “on the steroids”. It is pure speculation to say that he is hurt with any greater frequency since being off of them (does anyone besides he know definitively when that is?), or better yet that one is tied to the other. I know it sounds logical, and is a more popular band wagon to jump on, but for me it doesn’t even matter. As long as the guy can demonstrate to somebody/anybody that he can still produce runs at a higher than league average level, then there will always be a market for someone like him, thanks to the DH position…Vlad Guerrero was the same guy you described, until someone took a gamble on him, and he proved them all wrong.
I don’t even particularly care for the guy personally (never did) but I don’t know him so I can’t really make an educated decision on who he really is. I wasn’t in the clubhouse or the dugout last season during our brief Manny experiment, but one thing that I can honestly say that I did not witness was a “me-first” attitude. I’d love to hear and read more of what the players had to say on the subject before I formaulated my opinion.

dalton

“better yet that one is tied to the other” – re: Steroid usage and injuries.
It’s no doubt a guess, perhaps one informed by out-of-shape baseball writers, that Manny got injured more often or more easily once he was off steroids. Steroids do help the body heal more quickly and withstand the consistent, day-to-day physical toll the players endure over the course of a long season (and in improving their condition in the off-season).
Here’s my guess: 70% or more of the league took them, including many players you revere or never would have guessed were on gear, Ricksch. Who were they cheating? The other 30%? Maybe. You, the fan? No. You got to see the best athletes perform at their best night after night, rather than have them half-ass it, or be in prolonged slumps, have their production dip as the season progresses, or otherwise not be able to perform (nagging injuries, muscle tiredness, etc.).
I don’t advocate high school kids use steroids – or anyone for that matter. But these are grown men. What business is it of the US government to tell them what to put into their bodies? Especially something that, when taken correctly and not abused, is beneficial? And what business is it of yours?

dalton

For the record, I don’t mean to single you out or come across as though I was attacking you, Ricksch. I realize I used your posting name and all, but I was making a point to a general audience that includes you, not just an audience of one (i.e. you).

ricksch

Using your own facts or figures, why do the other 30% of the guys not ‘roiding get put at a disadvantage?
Because they choose to stay clean, play by the rules and compete with the skills they’ve worked on and developed their entire lives, they get screwed by a guy with less ability but who juices?
Tell you the truth, that’s NOT what I wanted to see. I understand that what’s I DID see during the Sosa/McGuire era, but I found it a sick burlesque of baseball, not the game I love.
Further, people shouldn’t look at pro athletes at role models, but they sure as hell have a lot of influence on kids, don’t they? For that reason alone, steroid use should not only be banned, but be seen for what it is, a way to gain an unfair advantage, i.e. cheating.
I agree that we shouldn’t governments shouldn’t infringe on our civil liberties, but baseball is organized competition, supposedly at the highest level of physical excellence. It was never supposed to be a competition based on how many drugs you’re willing to take to win.

fustercluck

For all of Bad Bobby’s baggage, Dave certainly lived up to the Wilder reputation. Wokka. Wokka. Wokka.

baseballjones

Jim, thank you for this, it was very well written, and I enjoyed it. I can’t think of anything else to say about Bobby Jenks other than: Thanks for the memories, they were plentiful, and more often than not very entertaining. As a fan, you can’t ask for much more than that. Best of luck in Boston Bobby Jenks, you will be missed, and I really hope that Boston treats you well.