Whitey Ford

They called Ford “The Chairman of the Board” for good reason. He was for more than a decade the star pitcher of a team that operated with corporate efficiency, and his intelligence and confidence were on display whenever he was on the mound. In contrast to pitchers who dominated hitters with overpowering physical abilities, the 5’10” 180-lb lefthander controlled games with his mastery of the mental aspects of pitching and pinpoint control. Batters had to deal with his assortment of pitches: He mixed splendid changeups, marvelous curves, and a good fastball. He had one of the league’s best pickoff moves, and he was an excellent fielder. And, like most successful businessmen, he was at his best when the pressure was greatest.

His most eye-catching statistics are his consistently low ERAs and his high winning percentage. In 11 of 16 seasons he was under a 3.00 ERA, and his worst was 3.24. His .690 winning percentage ranks third all-time and first among modern pitchers with 200 or more wins. Of course, he benefited from strong Yankee bat support, defense, and relief pitching, but his winning percentage was usually higher than the team’s. He allowed an average of only 10.94 baserunners per nine innings and posted 45 career shutouts, including eight 1-0 victories.

After joining the Yankees in mid-season 1950, he won nine straight before a home run by Philadelphia’s Sam Chapman gave him his only loss. In the WS, he pitched 8-2/3 innings without allowing an earned run to win the fourth game of a Yankee sweep. He spent 1951 and 1952 in the service, but returned to post 18-6 and 16-8 marks in 1953 and 1954.

His 18-7 record in 1955 tied him for most AL wins. He led in complete games (18) and was second in ERA (2.63). TSN named him to its annual ML all-star team. In the final month of the season, he pitched consecutive one-hitters. The following year he was even better, going 19-6, to lead the AL in winning percentage and ERA (2.47). Again he was named to the TSN all-star team. He won his second ERA crown in 1958 (2.01).

Through 1960, Yankee manager Casey Stengel limited Ford’s starts, often resting him at least four days between appearances, and aiming him for more frequent use against better teams. In 1961 new manager Ralph Houk put him in a regular four-man rotation, and Ford led the AL in starts (39) and innings pitched (283) and earned the Cy Young Award with a 25-4 record, leading the ML in wins and percentage. Two years later, he again led in wins, percentage, starts, and innings pitched, with a 24-7 mark. At the time there was only a single Cy Young award for both leagues. Sandy Koufax won for 1963, but Ford was voted the top AL pitcher by TSN. They opposed each other in both the first and fourth games of the ’63 WS, with Koufax winning both times. In Game Four Ford lost a two-hitter on an unearned run.

The Yankees won 11 pennants in Ford’s years with them. He ranks first all-time in WS wins (10), losses (8), games and games started (22), innings pitched, hits, bases on balls, and strikeouts. In the 1960, ’61, and ’62 Series, he pitched 33 consecutive scorelesss innings, breaking Babe Ruth‘s WS record of 29-2/3.

A fun-loving native New Yorker, Whitey formed a curious odd couple with Oklahoman Mickey Mantle. The two were a familiar duo in the Big Apple’s nightclubs. They were inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 1974.