Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins spoke about dealing with tragedy Thursday as the guest speaker at MELD’s celebrity sporting event.

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins said Thursday night that players that used -- or are suspected to have used -- steroids will have a hard time getting into the Hall of Fame.


“Guys like (Sammy) Sosa might not make it,” he said. “Neither will Bonds or McGwire. A-Rod might not make it. Once you get that particular black mark on your record, they are not going to give you the required amount of votes. You have to get 75 percent. McGwire only got 22 percent. He’s not even close.


“We were trying as ex-players to straighten the game out. Now with Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, who knows who is going to be next?” Jenkins said.


Jenkins was in Rockford to speak at a banquet for MELD, a social services agency. His topic was dealing with tragedy, a subject he knows too well.


Jenkins spoke from the heart. His wife was in a car accident and died after 35 days in intensive care in 1991, three days after Jenkins was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His son was 9 at the time and he also had an infant daughter. Two years later, while he was a pitching coach with the Cincinnati Reds, his girlfriend killed herself and Jenkins’ 3-year-old daughter with carbon monoxide poisoning.


Jenkins, speaking to the media before the event, held at Giovanni’s Restaurant, said therapy and his Baptist upbringing pulled him through.


“As a youngster, I used to go to church three times on Sunday,” he said. “I taught a Sunday school class when I was 11, 12 years old, then I sang in the choir and I took my mother to church in the evening.


“Everybody has problems in their life and they have to get over it. I was able to bridge the gap. I’m not in a rubber room. I’m fine.”


In a wide-ranging interview, Jenkins also said:


— He may have won 20 games six years in a row with the Chicago Cubs and 25 games his first year with the Rangers, but it’s the Phillies who taught him how to pitch. “I signed with the Phillies out of high school, and all the things I was taught as a Philadelphia Phillie, I got to display as a Cub for those 10 years. Learning the game, I did that in the minor leagues.”


— Teams rely too much today on their bullpens. Jenkins completed almost half of his career starts. Cubs current starters average 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings, but have lasted just 5.7 innings per start. “These guys might have a little gas left in the tank, but they take them out because they’ve got so many guys in the bullpen,” Jenkins said. “When I broke into the game, there were only nine pitchers on the staff. Now teams have 13 or 14. The managers like to get to the bottom part of the game because that’s where the strategy is. The strategy revolves around the holders, setup men and closers.”


— Pitchers should throw more, not less. “I threw batting practice between starts. That’s unheard of now. Guys look at me, ‘You did what?’ We had a four-man rotation. After the second day, I threw batting practice for 8-10 minutes, to help my control and help my pitch selection. It also helped me with my sinker.”


— Pitchers should wind up more. “In my eight years as a pitching coach, I tried to get guys to use more of their body. Now they have hardly any windup at all. They might as well just pitch from the stretch.”


— The Cubs of Jenkins’ day that featured all-time Chicago greats Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo never made the playoffs because they couldn’t match the World Series-winning Pirates, Cardinals and Mets in one area. “Our teams were evenly matched, but our bullpen wasn’t as strong as theirs.”


— The Mets’ Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball today, followed closely by Zach Greinke of the Royals and Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays.


— And, lastly, Cubs fans need not worry about Chicago’s mediocre start this season. “They’re playing decent,” Jenkins said. “Score more runs. That’s all they’ve got to do.


“But then,” he said with a laugh, “a pitcher always wants more runs.”


Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com.