Baseball stars – Whitey Ford: World Class Pitcher

In his first 100 big-league decisions, Whitey Ford posted a .740 winning percentage (74-26), the highest winning percentage in history for a pitcher in his first 100 decisions. Ford finished his career at 236-106 for a .690 winning percentage, the highest among 20th-century pitchers with 200 or more decisions.

Three times he led the American League (AL) in wins (1955, 1961, and 1963) and winning percentage (1956, 1961, and 1963). Fourteen of his 25 wins in 1961 (the most wins in a season by a Yankees pitcher since Lefty Gomez won 26 games in 1934) were won consecutively, tying a club record established in 1904 by Jack Chesbro. Eight of those consecutive wins were recorded in June, making Ford the first left-hander in AL history to win eight games in one month. Ford also owns almost all the World Series pitching records, including the record for most wins (10).

More Than Anything Else, Whitey Ford Was a Winner

Born in Manhattan on October 21, 1928, Edward Charles Ford grew up in the Astoria section of Queens. He graduated from Manhattan High School of Aviation and played as a first baseman and pitcher in sandlot baseball.

Yankees Scout Paul Krichell urged Ford to concentrate on pitching. “I never saw a kid with a curveball like his or one who could throw one so easy,” Krichell, the Yankees most famous scout, once said.

In October 1946, Krichell signed Ford to a Yankees contract with a bonus of $7,000, and in 1947, Ford began his climb through the Yankees farm system. In 1950, Ford was 6-3 at Kansas City, the Yanks’ top farm club, when the Yankees summoned him to join them. On July 17, 1950, Whitey beat Chicago for the first of nine consecutive major-league wins. Although Ford lost his final decision of the season to finish with a 9-1 record, the Yankees, finishing in first place by only three games, claimed an AL pennant the club would not have won without Ford’s enormous contributions.

Ford went on to win the World Series clincher against the Phillies, then departed for Fort Monmouth, NJ, and a two-year hitch in the military. When Whitey returned to the Yankees in 1953, he did so as the ace of the Yankees pitching staff, a role he held for 14 years.

At 5’10″ and approximately 178 pounds, Ford was far from an overpowering or intimidating left-handed pitcher. He was no Randy Johnson. Instead he was artistic and crafty, keeping hitters off stride with a repertoire of pitches, speeds, and locations, and seldom making mistakes or beating himself.

Baseball stars   Whitey Ford: World Class Pitcher

Whitey Ford: Efficient and In Control

Some called him cute, sometimes derisively, but Ford was unremittingly efficient, often using fewer than 100 pitches in disposing of the opposition. He could throw a sneaky fastball and the beautiful curve of which Krichell spoke, and both pitches were complemented by a slider he developed in 1961. Whatever he was throwing, it was difficult to hit; not once in the 14 seasons in which he exceeded 100 innings pitched did Ford allow as many hits as innings pitched.

Along with having complete command of his pitches, including a few notorious “trick” pitches, Ford worked hard on other aspects of being a complete pitcher. He used a Yankees tour of Japan in 1955 to work on his pick-off move and managed to actually develop the best pick-off move in baseball. He wasn’t just sneaky to first base either.

Once, having allowed a lead-off triple late in a game which the Yankees were only leading, 1-0, Ford signaled his third baseman, Andy Carey, and then promptly picked off the runner, protecting his slim lead. Ford also was a decent hitter and a very good fielder.

Whitey Ford: A “Money” Pitcher

Ford was a competitor in the best sense of the word. He was gutsy and had nerves of steel and a driving desire to win. He was a “money pitcher,” at his best when all the chips were on the table. His boyish appearance said one thing, but his body language told another story. Yankees Pitching Coach Jim Turner once recalled this of Ford: “I have never seen pressure bother him, and the Yankees during those days were always under pressure.”

Yet, if he lost, Ford didn’t fall into despair or point fingers. He was usually a stand-up guy who earned and kept the respect of teammates, fans, and the press alike.

Ford’s pitching highlights included back-to-back one-hitters in September 1955. Twice he struck out six consecutive batters in a game. Perhaps his greatest regular-season effort came on April 22, 1959, when Whitey went 14 innings to best Washington, 1-0, while notching 15 strikeouts. But his most famous record was pitching 33 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series competition (1960-1962) and breaking a record held by Babe Ruth.

Today Ford ranks first on the Yankees all-time lists for wins, games started, innings pitched, strikeouts, and shutouts. His stats could have been better. Yankees Manager Casey Stengel never started him more than 33 times in a season between 1950 and 1960, generally holding Ford out to pitch against the better clubs and pitchers, but when Ralph Houk became manager in 1961, Ford began working every fourth day in a regular rotation. In fact, Ford’s best seasons were under Houk. Beginning in 1961, Ford started 39, 37, and 37 games, and over those years he won 25, 17, and 24 games. He also won the Cy Young Award in 1961.

Injuries Force Whitey Ford Into Retirement

Ford was bothered by shoulder and arm problems in mid-career, and in 1964, he developed a circulation problem in his left shoulder. In August 1966, Whitey underwent surgery to correct a blocked artery in his left shoulder, but in May 1967 a painful bone spur in his left elbow worsened and forced his retirement. It certainly was not AL hitters who drove him from the game, not when Whitey was sporting an ERA of 1.64 (over seven starts) at the time he retired.

Ford, dubbed the Chairman of the Board by Elston Howard, pitched in 16 seasons with the Yankees, longer than any other pitcher. His uniform No. 16 was retired, and in 1974, Ford and his best friend in baseball, Mickey Mantle, were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame together. “Yes sir, they were fairly amazing in several respects, ” Stengel said that day, “and that’s the damned truth!”