Whitey Ford, Yankees pitching ace who led group to 6 world titles, dies at 91
The Yankees announced his death. The New York Daily News reported that he had dementia.
Mr. Ford, the most successful pitcher on the most successful baseball team of his generation, was one of the last survivors of a Yankee dynasty whose baseball dominance has remained unmatched since then. He was astute and intense – some said arrogant – on the pitcher’s hill, armed with a bewildering arsenal of fastballs, curveballs, sliders and, as he later admitted, spitballs.
Ted Williams, the famous Boston Red Sox thug, named Mr. Ford one of the five toughest pitchers he has ever faced. “You never see anything good happening,” said Brooks Robinson, the third baseman of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.
Mr. Ford was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, in 1974, the same year as his longtime teammate Mickey Mantle. During their years together with the Yankees, Mr. Ford and Mantle were sometimes known for their off-field antics, especially when accompanied by Billy Martin, a fiery infielder who later administered the Yankees five times. Mr. Ford insisted that his night life never interfered with his performance and that he was always sober and rested on the days he pitched.
By baseball standards, Mr. Ford wasn’t a big man, at 5-foot-10 and about 180 pounds. His strategy was to outsmart thugs, not to overpower them. As a left-handed person, he had misleading pick-ups that made the base runners shy when they contemplated a second theft.
More than once he spoke about the three ingredients that go into making a good mug: “Arm, heart and head. Arm and heart are assets, the head is a necessity. “
During his 16 seasons with the Yankees, Mr. Ford had a record 236 wins and 106 losses – still the most wins of any Yankee pitcher in history. His profit share of 0.690 was among the highest in history. With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, a current star with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mr. Ford’s lifelong run average of 2.75 is the lowest of all starting pitchers whose career began after 1920.
For more than a decade, Mr. Ford was the best pitcher on powerful Yankee teams that included Hall of Famers like Mantle in midfield, shortstop Phil Rizzuto and catcher Yogi Berra. After Berra’s death in 2015, Mr. Ford replaced him with the honorary title of “Greatest Living Yankee,” according to New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey. Berra’s predecessors as the greatest living Yankees were Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.
Mr. Ford had a stellar rookie season in 1950, ending with a 9-1 record and an ERA of 2.81. He started Game 4 of the 1950 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies and went 5-0 in the ninth inning.
Thanks to a flyball that Yankee outfielder Gene Woodling had lost in the sun, the Phillies rallied to make it 5-2. With two outs, two men on the base and the tie run in the bat, manager Casey Stengel was killed from the Yankee dugout make a pitching change and was greeted with a chorus of boos. Mr. Ford wondered why the fans had booed him before he realized the boos were aimed at Stengel for taking him out of the game.
Allie Reynolds relieved Mr. Ford and took the finals to secure victory in the Yankees World Series. In the New York Times, sports columnist Arthur Daley wrote the next day that Mr. Ford had “the brass of a burglar”.
After the season ended, Mr. Ford was drafted and would miss the next two seasons while serving in the Army. He returned to the Yankees in 1953.
Three times, in 1955, 1961 and 1963, Mr. Ford led the American League in Siegen. He led the league twice on earned run averages, recording ERAs of 2.47 in 1956 and 2.01 in 1958. His best year was possibly 1961 when he went 25-4 and won the Cy Young Award, too a time when he was loaned out to only one pitcher in the major leagues. He had another stellar season in 1963 when he was 24-7 with a 2.74 ERA.
In the World Series competition, Mr. Ford won a record 10 games and lost eight, which was also a record. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 1961 World Series, in which the Yankees defeated the Cincinnati Reds in five games.
That year, Mr Ford set a World Series record for most consecutive innings without running. The previous record was held by Babe Ruth when he was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. After becoming outfielder for the Yankees, Ruth hit 60 home races in 1927 – a mark that was also eclipsed by the Yankees in 1961 by Roger Maris.
“It’s been a bad year for the baby,” said Mr Ford.
Edward Charles Ford was born in New York City on October 21, 1928. His father, a semi-pro baseball player, worked for the energy company Consolidated Edison and later ran a bar in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. His mother was an accountant.
Mr. Ford witnessed his first Yankees game when he was 8 years old, and played sandlot baseball on summer nights until it got dark. Since his high school in Queens did not have a baseball team, he attended an aviation high school in Manhattan.
After graduating in 1946, the small but heavily armed leftist had offers from the Boston Red Sox and New York Giants, but signed with the Yankees, the team he’d chosen since childhood. He played for Yankee Farm teams until he was named to major leagues in the mid-1950s.
One of his managers in the small league called him “Whitey” because of his blonde hair. Over the years, Mr. Ford has earned other nicknames including “Chairman of the Board” for his leadership and “Slick” for his late night walks.
Mantle, Martin, Mr. Ford, and other Yankee players made headlines in the 1957 incident known as Copacabana. The players had gathered to celebrate Martin’s birthday at the Manhattan nightclub where events got out of hand. Six Yankees were fined after a brawl and Martin was immediately taken to Kansas City.
There would be other such nights for Mr. Ford and Mantle during their playing years and beyond.
“I think Mickey and I went overboard,” Ford admitted on a 1994 classic car day at Yankee Stadium. By then, he had stopped drinking, said Mr. Ford. Mantle, who was being treated for alcohol abuse, died in 1995 at the age of 63.
After a series of shoulder injuries and circulatory problems in his pitching hand, Mr Ford had his first losses of the season in 1966. He tried to return in 1967 but lasted less than two months. Unwilling to fight mediocre, he abruptly left the hill during a game and retired at the age of 38.
Mr. Ford later told interviewers that he sometimes threw spitballs and stole, clouded, scratched, or otherwise manipulated baseball balls to make his pitches harder to hit.
“I only started cheating late in my career when I needed something to survive,” he admitted in an autobiography in 1987: “Slick: My Life in and Around Baseball.”
“When I won the 25 games in 1961, I wasn’t cheating. I don’t want anyone to get ideas and take away my Cy Young Award. And I didn’t cheat in 1963 when I won twenty-four games. Well, maybe a little. “
In 1951, Mr. Ford married Joan Foran. They had three children. One son, Tommy Ford, died in 1999. A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.
After retiring, Mr. Ford spent a season as the Yankees first base coach, then quit baseball for a while before returning as a pitching coach in 1974. His # 16 uniform was retired that year.
He later served as a pitching instructor for the Yankees during spring training, invested in harness racing, and owned a restaurant. In 2008, Mr. Ford auctioned many items from his baseball career, including his 1961 World Series Most Precious Player Trophy, a 1950 Yankees jersey, and a baseball signed by President John F. Kennedy during a visit to the White House.
In 2001, Mr. Ford co-wrote a book with sports journalist Phil Pepe entitled “The Few and the Chosen: Defining Yankee Greatness in All Eras” in which he selected Lefty Gomez as the greatest Yankee left-handed of all time.
When asked why he chose Gomez over himself, Mr. Ford replied, “I lied.”