Alcohol was becoming problem for Jenks
White Sox closer quits 'cold turkey' and feels much better
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This is not a tale preaching sobriety or centering on the evils of alcohol.
Instead, it's a story about Bobby Jenks and a decision he made this offseason that showed more intestinal fortitude than throwing a 3-2 curve with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the ninth.
Since arriving loudly on the White Sox scene with his 100-mph fastball intact in July 2005, Jenks has always been a larger-than-life character. Just the sound of his entrance music instantly pumps up the fans at U.S. Cellular Field as he jogs in from the bullpen, glove in hand. That fact holds true whether the White Sox are 10 games ahead in the American League Central or well out of title contention.
Jenks doesn't just watch Major League life go by, but instead fully embraces and enjoys the existence of a professional athlete. He's the guy who strikes out the opposition's top hitter in the most precarious of situations, while also being the same guy tossing hot dogs to smiling kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs at the White Sox annual holiday party.
But at some point this offseason, Jenks, who turns 29 on March 14, decided alcohol was becoming a problem not just for his life as this ballplayer, but also his life as a family man and for those around him. So, he stopped drinking.
No grand plan. Jenks just quit and never looked back, having not taken a drink in more than four months. He spoke previously of this change back at SoxFest, but as White Sox pitchers and catchers begin working out in Glendale, Jenks talked to MLB.com about the thought process behind the decision.
"I just got tired of it, plain and simple," Jenks said. "When you want a bad habit out of your life, either you wean yourself off or you quit cold turkey.
"For me, it was easier to just quit. It was to the point where it was easy for me to lose control. I got to the point where not for my sake and my family's sake, but everyone's around me, it was just time to back off and live my life not for myself.
"Everyone says you live for your family," said Jenks, the father of four. "But when you are doing something like that, you are living selfishly and I was tired of living that way."
Jenks talked to his wife, Adele, previously about this particular decision. He didn't feel as if alcohol had turned into an issue until this past offseason.
What led Jenks to see his drinking as a trouble spot? It was a daily pattern of unwanted behavior.
"Getting [drunk] every night. Let's put it plain and simple," Jenks said. "When I took a long, hard look at myself and saw where I was headed, at that point, I was headed in the wrong direction.
"Not just mentally, but physically, as well. I needed to make a change. I have four kids. You look at yourself, and it was like even if I have a few occasional ones, I didn't even want that at all."
So, Jenks won't be partaking in that occasional beer after a tough ballgame. It's a plan working for him, one already making a noticeable change in his life, aside from showing up to camp 25 pounds lighter.
"This sounds [strange]," said Jenks with a smile. "But everything is brighter. You are not waking up with this film over your head or in front of your eyes. You feel cleaner."
Fellow White Sox reliever Scott Linebrink served as a sounding board for Jenks during the past season, when the two discussed Linebrink's religious faith and what it did for his life. Linebrink is appreciative of how Jenks counts him as a positive influence, but points out how ultimately only Jenks could make the changes he did.
"He's made some lifestyle choices that I think will be beneficial for him and his family down the road and I'm proud of him," Linebrink said. "He just felt it would be better for him, and there are certain people who do need to stay away from it for what it leads to. I applaud him for it, for being a big enough man to say this is something I want to cut out."
Ken Williams didn't really speak with detail concerning Jenks' decision regarding alcohol. But after an offseason featuring a few acrimonious interactions between the White Sox general manager and his closer through the media, Williams took time to point out the huge upside of having a person such as Jenks on the roster.
"You know, we had some growing pains initially with Bobby when we got him here, but he's a good guy," Williams said. "He's a good dad, a good positive influence in the clubhouse.
"We all have, whether it's you or I, or anybody else in the clubhouse, we all have our own little things we can try to improve upon. Him being what we all are, fallible, he made a self-assessment that he needed to make some changes.
"Again, I'm proud of the man, not just the player," Williams said. "I think he got a raw deal with the perception he had this awful year last year. He had some blips here and there but when you perform at such a high level as he has in the past, and then you falter a little bit, that's when the sharks come out. I know a little bit about that."
Getting noticed when you come up short, or save 29 games and post a 3.71 ERA as Jenks did in 2009, simply has become part of the job for the White Sox last line of pitching defense. Judging by Jenks' present conditioning and attitude, he seems primed for another 40-save season -- what would be the third of his career.
While he's trying to reach that on-field goal, Jenks will continue following a decision arguably as tough as recording those final three outs.
"Actually, it was both: tougher and easier than I thought," said Jenks of giving up drinking. "During the season, on the plane rides, hanging out with the guys, that's going to be the challenge, the real test comes this season. I've passed one this offseason. Spring Training is next and then I'll think about the season when it starts.
"No, I'm not an alcoholic. It was just time to stop."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.