Saturday October 10, 2020
Whitey Ford (1928-2020)
And now Whitey Ford. Good god.
Have so many legendary baseball players died so close to each other before? In five weeks we've lost Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and now Whitey Ford. Plus Gale Sayers if you expand to the NFL. This in the midst of a horrific year in which Don Larsen, Al Kaline, John Prine, John Lewis, Curly Neal, Chadwick Boseman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Olivia de Havilland, and Eddie Van Halen have all died.
Whitey lived longer than those other baseball legends, which is partly why he wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The BBWAA was a bit chincey until the late '70s. It took Ford two goes, which means he didn't get inducted with fellow pitcher Warren Spahn but had to settle for going in with his great friend and teammate Mickey Mantle. Ford debuted before the Mick (1950 vs. '51), went 9-1 in 12 starts, pitched 8 2/3 shutout innings in the final game of the 1950 World Series, then lost two years to the military. He, Mantle and Billy Martin were big booze buddies, and after one particularly egregious outing at the Copacobana that made noise in the press, the Yankees looked at the trio and quickly traded Martin. Sorry, Billy. (He made his way back.)
Here's how hard it is to win 300 games: Ford pitched 16 years for one of the winningest teams of all time, and posted the lowest complete-career ERA for any starting pitcher since World War II, and he won just 236 games. I guess he was oft-injured? He didn't win 20 until 1961, when he won 25. He led the league in wins three times, ERA twice, innings pitched twice, complete games once, shutouts twice. Never in Ks. He wasn't a K machine and his career K-BB numbers aren't HOF-worthy: 1,956-1,086. Not even two-to-one. But he's much better than I thought. For a while, with a bit of an anti-Yankees bias (cough), I dismissed him as a beneficiary of those great Yankee teams rather than a great pitcher on his own. But a 2.75 ERA doesn't lie.
He owns most World Series pitching records: wins, IP, GS, Ks. After winning Game 1 of the '62 Series against the Giants, a 6-2 complete-game victory, his record stood at 10-4. He started four more World Series games and lost them all. Then the real fall. The Yankees went from unstoppable pennants winners in 1964 to bottom dwellers in '66, and two months into the '67 season, injury plagued, he hung up his spikes for good. If you look at his W-L, he was done: 2-4. If you look at his ERA, he wasn't: 1.64. His last game was the first half of a double-header in Detroit on May 21, 1967. In the bottom of the 1st, he gave up a double, a groundout, a sac fly to Al Kaline, a walk and then a groundout: P unassisted. Then he called it quits.
Elston Howard dubbed him the Chairman of the Board and the name stuck. When his retirement was announced, his longtime manager Casey Stengel told longtime New York Daily News columnist Dick Young: “I'll tell you about Mr. Ford. He was quiet, egotistical and witty. He was my banty rooster. He'd stick out his chest, like this, and walk out on the mound against any of those big pitchers. They talk about the fall of the Yankees. Well, the Yankees would've fallen a lot sooner if it wasn't for my banty rooster.”
He died Thursday night. Here's the Times obit.