NEW YORK – During an era when the Yankees won the World Series so routinely it was joked that rooting for them was like rooting for General Motors, their ace pitcher owned the most fitting nickname: “The Chairman of the Board.”
Whitey Ford, the street-smart New Yorker who had the best winning percentage of any pitcher in the 20th century and helped the Yankees become baseball’s perennial champions in the 1950s and ’60s, died Thursday night. He was 91.
The team said Friday that the Hall of Famer died at his Long Island home in Lake Success, New York, while watching the Yankees in a playoff game. His wife of 69 years, Joan, and family members were with him.
Ford had suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in recent years. His death was the latest this year of a number of baseball greats — Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.
On a franchise long defined by power hitters, Ford was considered its greatest starting pitcher. Not big and not overpowering, the wily left-hander played in the majors from 1950 to 1967, all with the Yankees, and teamed with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra to win six championships.
“If you were a betting man, and if he was out there pitching for you, you’d figure it was your day,” former teammate and World Series MVP Bobby Richardson told The Associated Press on Friday.
Ford won 236 games and lost just 106, a winning percentage of .690. He would help symbolize the almost machinelike efficiency of the Yankees in the mid-20th century, when only twice between Ford’s rookie year and 1964 did they fail to make the World Series.
Edward Charles Ford was born on the East Side of Manhattan, about 100 blocks south of Yankee Stadium. He was nicknamed “Whitey” while still in the minor leagues, and quickly reached the mound at Yankee Stadium.
The World Series record book is crowded with Ford’s accomplishments. His string of 33 consecutive scoreless innings from 1960 to 1962 broke a record of 29 2/3 innings set by Babe Ruth. Ford still holds records for World Series games and starts (22), innings pitched (146), wins (10) and strikeouts (94).
Ford was in his mid-20s when he became the go-to guy in manager Casey Stengel’s rotation, the pitcher Stengel said he would always turn to if he absolutely needed to win one game. Ford was Stengel’s choice to pitch World Series openers eight times, another record.
Ford’s best seasons came in 1961 and 1963, amid a stretch of five straight American League pennants for the Yankees, when new manager Ralph Houk began using a four-man rotation instead of five. Ford led the league in victories with 25 in 1961, won the Cy Young Award and starred in the World Series. In 1963, he went 24-7, again leading the league in wins. Eight of his victories that season came in June.
He also led the AL in earned-run average in 1956 (2.47) and 1958 (2.01) and was an All-Star in eight seasons.
Ford was 10-8 with a 2.71 ERA overall in the World Series. His final appearance there came in the 1964 opener when he lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, who went on take the title behind Gibson.
Ford was not a power pitcher. Instead he depended on guile and guts, rarely giving hitters the same look on consecutive pitches. He’d throw overhand sometimes, three-quarters other times, mixing curves and sliders in with his fastball and change-up.
A few tricks
Ford would also acknowledge using some special methods to add movement to his pitches, including saliva, mud and dirt and cutting the ball with a ring.
“If there are some pitchers doing it and getting away with it, that’s fine by me,” Ford told sportswriter Phil Pepe in 1987. “If it were me and I needed to cheat to be able to throw the good stuff that would keep me in the major leagues at a salary of about $800,000 a year, I’d do whatever I had to do.”
After his retirement, Ford briefly worked as a broadcaster and opened a restaurant in Garden City, “Whitey Ford’s Cafe,” that closed within a year.
Ford’s death leaves Bobby Brown, who won four Series titles with the Yankees in the 1940s and ’50s, as the last living link to prominent Yankees who played with both DiMaggio and Ford. Brown is 95.
In addition to his wife and son Eddie, Ford is survived by a daughter, Sally Ann; eight grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Ford’s other son, Thomas, died in 1999.
Source: Voice of America