Ford, Edward Charles ("Whitey")
Ford, Edward Charles ("Whitey")
FORD, Edward Charles ("Whitey")
Ford was a true son of New York, a hometown boy, brash, irreverent, funny, and a thoroughly professional athlete whose World Series records seem unapproachable. He was born to John Ford, a bartender, and Edith Ford, a homemaker, in Manhattan, but the family soon moved across the river to Astoria, Queens. Ford said his Grandma Johnson knew more about baseball than anyone else in the family. Ford grew up playing sandlot ball with the Thirty-fourth Avenue Boys Club of Astoria.
When it came time to attend high school Ford chose to travel by subway to Manhattan each day rather than attend his local high school, which did not have a baseball team. He enrolled at Aviation Trades High School, although he had little interest in technical subjects, and played first base and pitched for the school's baseball team. After graduation Ford continued to pitch for the Boys Club and did well enough to attract the attention of scouts from the New York Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Boston Red Sox. Yankee scout Paul Kritchell paid special attention. The Yankees offered Ford $7,000 in 1946; he signed and spent the next several years in the Yankee farm system. Small for a baseball player, he stood five feet, ten inches and weighed 180 pounds.
In 1950, in the middle of the summer, with the Yankees battling the Detroit Tigers for the pennant, Ford was called up from Kansas City, Class AA. Ford's debut was not auspicious; he lost his first major-league game. He seemed confident, though, and the rest of the season was a triumph. Ford won nine games for the Yankees while losing only one as he helped the Bronx Bombers win the pennant. He also captured the first World Series win of his career in Game 4 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ford's baseball career was interrupted by a two-year stint in the U.S. Army at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. During a furlough on 14 April 1951 he married a girl from Astoria, Joan Foran, whom he had met in an ice cream parlor when she was just thirteen and he was sixteen. The entire Yankee team was invited to attend, but the shy Mickey Mantle just sat in the bus. The couple had three children.
Ford played very little baseball in the army, and he was concerned that his return to the majors would suffer because of it. He need not have worried. Back with the Yankees in 1953, Ford had an outstanding 18–6 season. In 1954 his record was 16–8, followed by 18–7 in 1955, and 19–6 in 1956.
Ted Williams called Ford one of the five toughest pitchers he ever faced (Eddie Lopat, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, and Hoyt Wilhelm were the others). In addition to his fastball, Ford threw an excellent curve and a slider. He was especially effective sidearming lefties and helped win many of his own games with a good pickoff move and outstanding fielding.
Off the field, Ford was popular with the other Yankees, who enjoyed his quick wit and easy manner. Dubbed the "Yankee Quipper," Ford was best known as "Whitey," a name given to him by Lefty Gomez in reference to Ford's very fair hair. Elston Howard referred to Ford as "Chairman of the Board," and Mickey Mantle called him "the original city slicker." (Slick is the title of Ford's autobiography.)
Ford, who liked a good time, but never before he was scheduled to pitch, occasionally got into trouble, most notably at the Copacabana night club in New York City in 1957. At the Copa with teammates to celebrate Billy Martin's birthday, a fight with other patrons broke out. Six Yankees, including Ford, Mantle, and Yogi Berra were fined for breaking training. Ford has always denied wrong-doing by the Yankees.
On the field Ford was the consummate professional, totally focused on the game. Nevertheless, in 1957 he faltered because of arm and shoulder problems that scaled back his record to 11–5. His earned run average (ERA) was still only 2.01.
The pitching coach Johnny Sain was important to Ford's revival. While working on Ford's slider, Sain taught him to throw smoothly, placing less stress on the arm. Ford agreed to refrain from playing golf on days when he was scheduled to pitch a night game. When Ralph Houk replaced Casey Stengel as manager, he made sure to pitch Ford at least every four days. Longer periods of rest did not work well for the southpaw.
Year after year Ford chalked up outstanding win-loss records, but for nine seasons the magical twenty victories eluded him. In fact, he had only two years when he won twenty or more games, 1961 and 1962. Ford's best year in the majors was 1961, when he compiled a remarkable 25–4 record. Not surprisingly, he was named the Cy Young winner as the best pitcher of the year. Ford also added to his total of continuous shutout innings in World Series play. In 1960 he pitched two shutouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and followed that in 1961 against the Cincinnati Reds with another fourteen shutout innings, thirty-two in all. He had broken Babe Ruth's record; his own was still standing into the twenty-first century.
As the best Yankee pitcher on perhaps the best team in the history of baseball, Ford was modest about his winning, understanding that he played on extraordinary teams with the likes of Mantle, Roger Maris, Phil Rizzuto, and Berra. But he heaped special praise on the reliever from Puerto Rico, Luis Arroyo, who could usually be counted on to relieve Ford in the seventh or eighth innings to save the win. Ford said, "Arroyo deserved half of my salary." When Ford was honored with a Whitey Ford Day at Yankee Stadium (Ford joked that he lobbied hard for the day), Arroyo emerged from a huge LifeSaver package mounted on a truck.
Ford holds several World Series records, including most innings pitched (146), most strikeouts (94), most wins (10), and most losses (8). His total win-loss record is 236–106, a .690 percentage, and his lifetime ERA is 2.75.
Ford pitched his last major-league game in 1967; an overdeveloped muscle in his left arm was a factor in ending his career. In 1974 he was installed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with Mickey Mantle, whom he called the brother he never had. Ford's number 16 was retired by the Yankees in 1974, making Ford the only Yankee pitcher in history to have his number retired by the organization.
In his autobiography Ford admitted to pitching mud balls or dirt balls (dirt plus saliva) late in his career, something he learned from Lew Burdette of the Milwaukee Braves. He also revealed that he had a ring specially made that he used to scratch the ball.
Ford remained active with the Yankees as a coach and consultant in Florida and New York. In 2000 he was honored with a second Whitey Ford Day at Yankee Stadium in recognition of fifty years in the Yankee organization. Twice treated for brain cancer, Ford, an avid golfer, still looked fit in his seventies.
With Phil Pepe, Ford wrote Slick (1987), a revealing autobiography. Ford and Mickey Mantle, his closest friend, wrote a joint autobiography, Whitey and Mickey (1977), with Joseph Durso. Ken Young, Cy Young Award Winners (1994), has a chapter on Ford that includes his pitching records. Harvey Frommer, The New York Yankee Encyclopedia (1997), includes complete records. Phil Rizzuto and Al Silverman, The "Miracle" New York Yankees (1962), provides insights from the Yankee shortstop. The entry on Ford in Current Biography (1962) covers his career through the 1961 season.
Karen E. Markoe