At the heart of baseball is great pitching, the most indispensable part of any team.
At the heart of baseball’s greatest dynasty was Whitey Ford, who won a higher percentage of his decisions than any other modern pitcher.
Since his Hall of Fame election in 1974 following his 16-year big league career, Ford became the embodiment of the New York Yankees team that was baseball for the postwar generation.
“I don’t care what the situation was, how high the stakes were – the bases could be loaded and the pennant riding on every pitch, it never bothered Whitey,” said Mickey Mantle, who along with Ford and Yogi Berra helped power Yankee Dynasty III that produced 14 American League pennants and nine World Series titles from 1949-64. “He pitched his game.”
Edward Charles Ford was born Oct. 21, 1928 in New York City. Signed to an amateur free contract by the Yankees prior to the 1947 season, Ford quickly rose through the minor leagues – surfacing in New York in the summer of 1950. The 5-foot-10, 181-pound Ford quickly established himself in a Yankee rotation filled with veterans like Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds. In 20 games, Ford went 9-1 with a 2.81 earned-run average and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
In the World Series, Ford started Game 4 and pitched for 26 of the 27 outs, recording a 5-2 victory against the Philadelphia Phillies that clinched the Series for the Bronx Bombers.
Ford spent the next two seasons in the Army, returning in 1953 after two more Fall Classic wins by the Yankees. Ford picked up where he left off, going 18-6 while helping New York win its fifth straight World Series championship – a record that has not been approached since.
Over the next seven seasons, Ford averaged 15 wins per year despite manager Casey Stengel’s cautious use. Ford never pitched in more than 255 innings a season during that span but did appear in 11 World Series games, winning six en route to a record 10 Fall Classic wins.
Stengel was let go following the Yankees’ 1960 World Series loss to Pittsburgh. The next season, new manager Ralph Houk began pitching Ford every fourth day – and the little lefty thrived on the extra work, going 25-4 to win the Cy Young Award.
The Yankees won the Series that year and the next, then added two more AL pennants in 1963 and 1964. The dynasty ended in 1965 with a sixth-place finish, but Ford still went 16-13. From 1961-65 – starting at the age of 32 – Ford averaged 260 innings per season.
He suffered through his only two losing seasons in 1966 and 1967, posting a combined 4-9 record while battling injuries. When he retired before the 1968 season, Ford’s final mark was 236-106 – good for a .690 winning percentage that is the best among modern pitchers with at least 150 victories.
In the postseason, Ford was 10-8 with a 2.71 ERA. He set a record with a stretch of 33 1/3 shutout innings and was named the World Series Most Valuable Player in 1961.
Ford passed away on Oct. 8, 2020.