Mighty Yankees Hall of Fame ace Whitey Ford dies at 91

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In an era when the Yankees won the World Series so consistently, it was joked that rooting them for them was like rooting for General Motors, their pitcher’s ace had the most apt nickname: “The Chairman of the Board.”

Whitey Ford, the smart New Yorker who had the best winning percentage of any pitching player in the 20th century and helped the Yankees become baseball’s perennial champions in the 1950s and 1960s, died Thursday night. He was 91 years old.

The team said on Friday the Hall of Fame died at his Long Island home in Lake Success, New York, while watching the Yankees compete in a playoff game. His wife of 69 years, Joan, and members of his family were with him.

Ford had suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in recent years. His death was the last this year of a number of big names in baseball – Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.

On a franchise long defined by strong hitters, Ford was considered its best starting pitcher. Not tall and not overwhelming, the crafty southpaw played in the majors from 1950 to 1967, all with the Yankees, and teamed up with players like Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra to win six championships.

“If you were a bettor, and if he was out there pitching for you, you would think it was your day,” former World Series teammate and MVP Bobby Richardson told The Associated on Friday. Press.

Ford has won 236 games and lost just 106, for a winning percentage of 0.690. It would help symbolize the almost mechanical 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.

The blonde-haired Ford was nicknamed “Whitey” while still in the minor leagues, and quickly reached the mound at Yankee Stadium.

His death came in a month he had climbed the biggest stage in baseball for so long and hours before his former team played Tampa Bay in a tie-breaker 5 in the AL Division Series. The Yankees are planning a patch with Ford’s No. 16 on their uniforms.

“He would’ve been the starting pitcher for the Yankees in recent years,” said Richardson.

The World Series record book is full of Ford’s accomplishments. His streak 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).

Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, the only unanimously elected player in the room, let the post-season record set for back-to-back innings – a majority of them in the AL playoffs.

“Whitey has earned his status as ace of some of the most memorable teams in our sport’s rich history,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “Beyond the excellence of the chairman of the board on the mound, he has been a distinguished ambassador of our national pastime throughout his life.

Ford passed away on the 64th anniversary of the greatest pitching performance in Yankee history – Don Larsen’s perfect play in the 1956 World Series. Larsen passed away on New Years Day that year.

Ford also made October 8 a special day, surpassing Ruth’s mark for back-to-back shutout innings on that date in the 1961. Ford was the MVP of this Fall Classic, beating Cincinnati twice.

“Mickey was injured and we had a lot of substitutes against the Reds,” teammate Tony Kubek told The Associated Press. “We won this thanks to Whitey’s pitch.”

Ford was in his mid-twenties when he became the guy of choice in manager Casey Stengel’s rotation, pitcher Stengel said he would always turn if he absolutely needed to win a game. Ford was Stengel’s choice to launch the World Series workers eight times, another record.

Ford’s best seasons came in 1961 and 1963, amid a streak of five straight AL pennants for the Yankees, when new manager Ralph Houk began using a four-way rotation instead of five. Ford led the league with 25 wins in 1961, won the Cy Young Award, and played in the World Series. In 1963 he went 24-7, again leading the league in wins. Eight of his wins this season came in June.

He also led the AL in the average points earned in 1956 (2.47) and 1958 (2.01) and was an All-Star in eight seasons.

Ford has had its disappointments in the World Series. He spoke bitterly of the 1960 Championship, when he shutout Pittsburgh twice, but was used by Stengel in Games 3 and 6 and was therefore unavailable for the final, won 10-9 by the Pirates on Bill Mazeroski’s ninth home run. In 1963, Ford was twice overtaken by Sandy Koufax as the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Yankees.

Ford was 10-8 with a 2.71 overall ERA in the World Series. His last appearance there was in Game 1 of 1964 when he lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, who went on to win the title behind Gibson.

Unlike Gibson and Koufax, Ford was not a power launcher. Instead, he depended on cunning and courage, rarely giving hitters the same look on back-to-back pitches. He would throw over it sometimes, three-quarters other times, mixing curves and sliders with his fastball and change.

Ford would also admit using some special methods to add movement to his throws, including saliva, mud, and dirt and cutting the ball with a ring.

“If there are pitchers who do it and get away with it, that’s fine for me,” Ford told sports writer Phil Pepe in 1987. “If it was me and I was. needed to cheat to be able to throw the right things that would. keep me in the big leagues with a salary of around $ 800,000 a year, I would 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,” which closed in less than a year. In 2001, actor Anthony Michael Hall played Ford in the HBO movie directed by Billy Crystal “61 (asterisk)”, about the 1961 season and Mantle and Roger Maris’ quest to break the single home run record. year of Ruth.

Ford and Mantle were cultural opposites, a strange couple turned inseparable off the field, Ford the fast-talking town kid, Mantle the shy country boy from Oklahoma. They enjoyed the allure of New York’s nightlife with Billy Martin and Stengel, the rowdy and wise infielder called the “whiskey slick” trio.

Mantle shortened this to just “Slick” for Ford, who proudly used the moniker as the title of his 1987 autobiography, co-written by Pepe. (Ford in turn would invent one of the most famous nicknames in baseball, “Charlie Hustle” for Pete Rose).

A typical episode of their adventures was an episode of a trip to Japan where they met a 400-pound sumo wrestler, accompanied by a translator. Throughout the evening, the wrestler never spoke, just smiling and nodding.

Then Martin came to mind that it might be fun to throw insults at the wrestler. Their new friend continued to nod and smile. Then, at the end of the evening, Martin said good evening in Japanese and the wrestler nodded and said, “Thank you very much for a good evening”, in perfect English.

It was a lesson in international diplomacy.

Ford’s son Eddie played a shortstop when Richardson was the head coach of the University of South Carolina.

“Sometimes if we were in a mess, Whitey would offer to get the boys down and out and make them nice and relaxed,” Richardson recalls with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Oh, Whitey, we can’t have none of this.’ ”

Kubek recalled that during his rookie season in 1957, on the Yankees’ first trip to Chicago, he was invited to hang out with Ford, Mantle and Martin at a nightclub on Rush Street. After dinner, the three Yankees veterans all apologized from the table for various reasons.

“The butler comes to give me the bill. It was over $ 100. I was embarrassed, I had to tell him I didn’t have any money, ”Kubek said. “Then Whitey comes back and laughs, he fixed everything.

“He was like a little gremlin. He had a little Irishman in him. He had pixie humor, ”he says. “But on the mound it was all business. And if you ever made a mistake behind it, it wouldn’t give you that look like some pitchers do. He was just going out to get the next batter.

After Martin was traded following a 1957 brawl at Copacabana nightclub, Ford and Mantle remained at the center of the Yankee dynasty and were elected to the Hall of Fame together in 1974.

Ford has often called his election the highlight of his career, made more meaningful because he was inducted along with Mantle, who died in 1995.

“It was never anything I imagined possible or anything I dared to dream of when I was a kid growing up on the sidewalks of New York,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I never really thought I would be successful as a kid because I was always too little.”

The Yankees retired his number 16 the month Ford was inducted into the Hall. He worked No.19 as a rookie and then changed it.

Edward Charles Ford was born on the east side of Manhattan, about 100 blocks south of Yankee Stadium. He grew up playing sand ball in Astoria, Queens, a part of the city that produced big Leaguers Sam Mele and Tony Cuccinello and singer Tony Bennett.

The Yankees signed Ford in 1947 and three years later he was called up at midseason. At just 5’10 and 180 pounds, Ford was considered a marginal prospect. But he won nine straight games and pulled off Philadelphia’s 1950 World Series sweep by winning Game 4, a full game.

After a two-year absence from military service during the Korean War – he remained in the United States in the military – Ford returned to the Yankees in 1953 and, along with Mantle, became the core of a team that won 10 American League pennants and five World Series in the next. 12 years. Ford won 18 games in his debut season and has never won less than 11 for 13 consecutive seasons.

Mantle summed it up: “He was the best pitcher I have ever seen and the greatest competitor. Whitey won seven out of ten decisions and no one in baseball history has done better than that.

Ford’s death leaves Bobby Brown, who won four series titles with the Yankees in the 1940s and 1950s, as the last living link with leading Yankees who played with DiMaggio and Ford. Brown is 95 years old.

In addition to his wife and son Eddie, Ford is survived by one daughter, Sally Ann; eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Ford’s other son, Thomas, died in 1999.

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