Saturday, July 29, 2006

Featured Player: Whitey Ford

Edward Charles "Whitey" Ford (born October 21, 1928) was a Major League Baseball pitcher.

A native of New York City, Ford was signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1947. He was given the nickname "Whitey" while in the minor leagues for his blond, almost white, hair.

Whitey Ford
is a member of
the Baseball
Hall of Fame
He began his Major League Baseball career on July 1, 1950, with the Yankees. In 1951 and 1952 he served in the Army during the Korean War. He rejoined the Yankees for the 1953 season, and the Yankee "Big Three" pitching staff became a "Big Four," as Ford joined Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Eddie Lopat.

Eventually he went from the #4 pitcher on a great staff to the universally-acclaimed #1 pitcher of the Yankees, becoming known as the "Chairman of the Board" for his ability to remain calm and in command during high-pressure situations. He was also known as "Slick" for his craftiness on the mound, necessary because he did not have an overwhelming fastball, but being able to throw several other pitches very well gave him pinpoint control.

In 1955, he led the American League in complete games and games won; in 1956 in earned run average and winning percentage; in 1958, in earned run average; and in both 1961 and 1963, in games won and winning percentage. In 1961 he broke Babe Ruth's World Series record of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings (the record would eventually reach 33 2/3), and won the World Series MVP as well as the Cy Young Award. He played his entire 16-year career as a Yankee, retiring in 1967.

He won 236 games, still a Yankee career record. Red Ruffing, the previous Yankee record-holder, still leads all Yankee right-handed pitchers, with 231 of his 273 career wins coming with the Yankees. Roger Clemens notched his 300th career victory as a Yankee, but pitched for the Yankees only five seasons with 77 wins.

Among pitchers with at least 300 career decisions, Ford ranks first with a winning percentage of .690. Among those with at least 200 decisions, only Pedro Martinez ranked ahead of him at the end of the 2005 season, at .701. Among starting pitchers whose careers began after the advent of the Live Ball Era in 1920, Whitey's 2.75 earned-run average is second to Martinez's 2.72. Hoyt Wilhelm, mainly a reliever during his career, leads all post-1920 pitchers in ERA at 2.52.

After his career ended, Ford admitted to occasionally cheating by doctoring baseballs. Among the various methods he used included having Yankee catcher Elston Howard pretend to lose balance while in his crouch and land on his right hand - with the ball in it - to cover the ball in mud. Ford would sometimes use the diamond in his wedding ring to gouge the ball, but he was eventually caught by an umpire and warned to stop. Howard then sharpened a buckle on his shinguard and used it to scuff the ball.

Ford wore number 19 in his rookie season. Following his return from the army in 1953, he wore number 16 for the remainder of his career. He was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1974 with his longtime pal and Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle. At that time, the Yankees retired his number 16. On August 2, 1987, the Yankees dedicated plaques for Monument Park at Yankee Stadium for Ford and another lefthanded pitcher who reached the Hall of Fame, Lefty Gomez. Ford's plaque calls him "One of the greatest pitchers ever to step on a mound."

In 1999, he ranked number 52 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

In 1997, and animated Ford was knocked unconscious by a barrage of pretzels at a baseball game after a controversial prize giveaway angered fans. Fortunately for him this was on an episode of The Simpsons, The Twisted World of Marge Simpson, and Mr. Ford was not actually harmed.

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