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Whitey Ford, New York Yankees' Hall of Fame pitcher, dies at age 91


Pete Caldera   | MLB Writer

Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford, the New York Yankees’ cheerful "Chairman of the Board," whose big-game reputation and World Series accomplishments secured his place among baseball’s greatest left-handers, has passed away at age 91.

"The Yankees are incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of Hall of Famer Whitey Ford,'' the club said in a statement hours before the team was to face the Tampa Bay Rays in the deciding Game 5 Friday night in the AL Division Series. "The Chairman of the Board was one of the best lefties to ever toe the rubber. He will be deeply missed.''

According to the Yankees, Ford died peacefully at his home in Lake Success, New York, surrounded by his wife of 69 years, Joan, son, Eddie, and daughter-in-law, Cathi, while watching Thursday night’s Game 4 Yankees win.

A quintessential scrappy New Yorker, raised in the Astoria section of Queens, the 5-foot-10-inch Ford used excellent control – and perhaps a scuffed ball on occasion later in his career – to compile a 236-106 record and 2.75 ERA over 16 big league seasons.

“You kind of took it for granted around the Yankees that there was going to be baseball in October,’’ Ford once said, and he pitched for 11 pennant winners, capturing six World Series titles – in 1950, ’53, ’56, ’58, ’61 and ’62.

For their ALDS Game 5 against the Rays at San Diego, the Yankees honored Ford by wearing his No. 16 on their uniform sleeves.

Manager Aaron Boone called Ford a "Mount Rushmore guy'' in Yankees history. 

"He's one of those guys who personifies this organization's greatness.''

"New York tough''

October was Ford’s domain, collecting a record 10 World Series victories (10-8, 2.71 ERA) in 22 starts, with seven complete games. Ford established another World Series record with 33⅓ scoreless innings, topping Babe Ruth’s previous mark of 29⅔ nnings as a Red Sox pitcher.

Following his 25-4 record in the 1961 regular season, for which he received the Cy Young Award, Ford was the MVP of the ‘61 World Series, tossing 14 scoreless innings in two victories against the Cincinnati Reds.

A career Yankee, the team retired Ford’s No. 16 in 1974, the year he was inducted into Cooperstown with Mickey Mantle.

Along with his lifelong pals and teammates Mantle and Billy Martin, Ford was known for his taste for New York’s nightlife. Manager Casey Stengel referred to the trio as “Whiskey Slicks,’’ though Ford was the one dubbed “Slick’’ by his teammates.

“If I didn't drink or smoke, I'd win 20 games every year,’’ was a quote attributed to Ford. “It's easy when you don't drink or smoke or horse around.’’

An eight-time All-Star, Ford’s .690 winning percentage is the highest in modern baseball of any pitcher with at least 300 career decisions. And his 236 Yankee victories remains a franchise record.

“He was a treasure, and one of the greatest of Yankees to ever wear the pinstripes,’’ Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “Whitey was New York tough.

"When you couple that with his dedicated service to our country, a deep love for the only team he ever played for, six World Championships, and a genuine personality and charisma that showed throughout his life, it’s no wonder he endeared himself as a legend to generations of Yankees fans everywhere.’’

Becoming a Yankees legend

Born on Oct. 21, 1928 in Manhattan, Edwin Charles Ford signed with the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1947 out of the New York sandlots.

Debuting on July 1, 1950, Ford made an instant splash in the majors, winning his first nine decisions and twirling 8⅔  innings in Game 4 of the World Series, a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.

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With two outs in the ninth inning of that game, Gene Woodling dropped Andy Seminick’s fly ball for an error, allowing two unearned runs to score and dissolving Ford’s shutout. Stengel brought in Allie Reynolds to get the final out.

At age 21, that World Series debut was "Without a doubt my biggest thrill considering all the circumstances," Ford told the New York Daily News in 2008. “I used to love telling Woodling over and over how I didn't appreciate him dropping that fly ball.

“It was actually kind of a low line drive that I think he just lost in the shadows. He was actually one of the best Yankee Stadium left fielders ever. Too bad he chose my game to drop probably the only ball he ever dropped.’’

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Ford served in the Army during the 1951 and ’52 seasons, returning to the Yankees to post an 18-6 mark in 1953, which ended with a World Series title over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

By then, Ford was emerging from the shadows of Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat to become the Yankees’ “Chairman of the Board,’’ the pitcher they relied upon for his cool demeanor and big-game persona.

Not a power pitcher by any standard, Ford’s legendary guile was expanded later in his career to include pitches that were scuffed or nicked on occasion.

In his 1987 book “Slick; My Life in and Around Baseball’’ co-authored with Phil Pepe, Ford wrote that “I didn't begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive.

“I didn't cheat when I won the 25 games in 1961. I don't want anybody to get any ideas and take my Cy Young Award away. And I didn't cheat in 1963 when I won 24 games. Well, maybe a little."

In 1987, a plaque was dedicated to Ford in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

“While there is comfort knowing Whitey was surrounded by his family at the time of his passing while watching his favorite team compete, this is a tremendous loss to the Yankees and the baseball community,'' Steinbrenner said.

" We have lost our ‘Chairman of the Board,’ and we extend our deepest condolences to the entire Ford family.”