WHITEY FORD – “Cool, Crafty with Nerves of Steel”
leaning for the sign / the pitcher rotates the ball / behind his back – japanese Haiku
I was sitting next to BD one night watching a program on ESPN called “The Boys in the Hall” narrated by Tom Brokaw. We were watching this program because it was about the Hall of Fame career of Whitey Ford….a Yankee of course. It so happens that Whitey Ford is one of BD’s favorite all time Yankees ever…..and by far his favorite starting pitcher of all time….for this was a man who was
slight in stature, 5′ 10″ but stocky at 178 lbs. He didn’t have any particular overpowering pitch….he just flat knew how and where to pitch. Whitey’s story began on East 66th St, across from where the City of New York parked their trolley cars….a place where the neighborhood boys would play stick ball….and the place where Whitey grew up a Yankee fan. In 1948 as a diminutive first baseman….he tried out for the New York Yankees baseball club.
Back in the day, MLB teams would hold open tryouts….and Whitey tried out….but he couldn’t hit a curve ball….so a Yankee scout suggested he try pitching….and just one year later he signs his first Yankee contract as a pitcher in 1950….with a signing bonus of $7,000. In the 1950’s, the Yankees were in the second year of winning 5 consecutive World Series….and Yankee Manager Casey Stengel already had veteran starters Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Ed Lopat and Tommy Byrne….so he pitched Whitey against the “poorer” teams like the St Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox….who weren’t as good as the richer teams were during that era (Back to the future….is it just me or what?….but isn’t that still the same in MLB today!?!). Anyway, Whitey still remembers today the feeling he had when he first took the mound and toed the rubber
as a New York Yankee pitcher at Yankee Stadium. There was his childhood idol, Joe Dimaggio, playing center field…..and there were the Yankees young guns…..Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Billy Martin…..with whom Whitey would become “running buddies”. These were the core players who would ultimately establish the MLB record of winning 13 out of 15 American League Championships….winning an incredible and daunting total of 9 World Series Championship Titles throughout
Whitey’s career from 1950 to 1964…an impressive feat by any standard. While entering the last series of Whitey’s 1950 rookie season against the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees arch rival at the time, that was when Yankee Manager Casey Stengel would insert Whitey as the starting pitcher in place of Vic Raschi….who had a sore shoulder. Whitey proceeded to throw a 6 hit complete game shutout….ending the season with a 9 – 1 record. In his first year as a New York Yankee pitcher he was voted Rookie of the Year.
Known for their off field antics….the rat pack consisting of Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were frequent patrons of Toots Shores….a place where the young Yanks hung out with the likes of Ty Cobb and Don Ameche. As Whitey put it….”we really raised hell the first 3 years….but we picked our spots”. On one famous night out….the three were celebrating Martin’s birthday at the Copa Cabana on a night when Sammy Davis, Jr. was performing. There was a bowling team there that night….who started making loud racial slurs at Sammy….so Hank Bauer, the team enforcer, went over to their table and told the “good ole boys”
on the bowling team, to give them a quick lesson in racial graciousness….which ignited a famous brawl leading to MLB disciplinary actions against Mantle, Berra, Martin & Bauer. As the story goes….the bowling team was left lying on Shores floor. By the time the ruckus ended….the young Yanks got fined $2,000 each….and Billy Martin was traded to Kansas City because the Yankee brass thought he was a bad influence on the others. Whitey had said on many occasions that neither he or Mickey needed Billy’s influence to get in trouble by saying ”We had plenty enough of our own bad influence”.
Whitey retired in 1964 at the age of 38 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 as a first ballot inductee along with his teammate and good friend, Mickey Mantle. The night before the Induction Ceremony….Whitey spent the night up in his room preparing his speech….and all the while…..The Mick, his 4 sons and Whitey’s 2 sons found a locked room at the hotel that had a pool table in it which Mickey gained access thruthe transom above the locked door
He and the 6 boys played pool and drank beer all night….and in typical style….The Mick had 3 hours of sleep and never wrote a speech….and in Whitey’s words…”was as spectacular on stage as he was in center field that day at The Hall”.
After the conclusion of 2010 World Series…..Whitey Ford still held World Series Records for the Most Wins / Most Games Pitched / Most Innings Pitched / Strikeouts / 33 and 1/3 Scoreless Innings…..and as The Mick said of THE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD as the Yankees like to refer to Whitey….that… “no matter what the situation or how much pressure….Whitey pitched his game….COOL, CALM with NERVES OF STEEL”.