“The Chairman of the Board”
A 10-time New York Yankee All-Star, a Cy Young Award Winner, an eight-time MVP nominee, a lifetime record of 236-106, and a career ERA of 2.75, it could be only one person, Edward Charles “Whitey Ford.” Ford spent his entire career of 16 years with the New York Yankees. During his 18 years with the Yankees, he spent two years in the Army serving in the Korean War. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974. With the death of Yogi Berra, Ford has been named the greatest living baseball player by the New York Times.
Ford was a local boy, born in Queens just a few miles from the Bronx. As a child, Ford played baseball and stickball in the summer in the sandlots of the Queens, football in the fall, and roller hockey in the winter. During the summers, Ford and his friends played sandlot baseball until dark on fields next to the Madison Square Garden Bowl, about a mile from his home neighborhood. When not playing there, he and his friend would play stickball against a wall using a broomstick.
Several neighborhood fathers got together and bought uniforms for their sons. They organized a team for the 13-year-olds, called the Thirty-fourth Avenue Boys. The group stayed together for five years. Ford’s childhood baseball hero was Joe DiMaggio, who he got to see when he and his Father boarded the Subway for the trip to Yankee Stadium.
In Ford’s senior years of highschool In April 1946, he attended a Yankees tryout camp at Yankee Stadium as a first baseman. Paul Krichell, a Yankees scout, noticed Ford’s strong-arm during fielding practice. It was thought he was too small to play first base but had him throw a few pitches on the sidelines and showed him how to throw a curveball. He alternated every other game by pitching and playing at first base, in the summer after he graduated by playing with the Thirty-fourth Avenue Boys. The team went 36-0 to win the Queens-Nassau semipro league, with Ford winning 18 games without a loss when pitching.
Whitey was signed by the Yankees in 1947 as an amateur free agent and was assigned to the minor leagues. It was during this time that he got his nickname “Whitey” for his nearly albino blond hair, He made his major league debut on July 1, 1950, and let it be known that he was a force to be reckoned with. He won his first nine games in a row. He was named AL Rookie of the Year by sporting news. One thing most of today’s fans are not aware of is that his record would probably be even better, had Casey Stengel not saved him for the bigger games.
In 1951 Whitey would marry is wife, Joan. After the wedding, the Fords delayed their Florida honeymoon for three days so that Whitey could throw out the first pitch at the Yankees’ 1951 Opening Day in Yankee Stadium. They lived on Long Island and raised two sons and a daughter. After his first very successful first year with the Yankees, he served the next two years during the Korean War in the Army.
When returning to the Yankees in 1953, he showed he hadn’t lost any of his skills, going 18-6 on the year and pushed the Yankees to their fifth World Series win in a row. In 1954 the Yankees were loaded with great players and fully expected to win their sixth straight pennant and World Series. They won 103 games, more than in the past five seasons. But lost to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, who would lose the World Series to the Giants.
In 1955 Ford would go 18-7, but the Yankees would not win the World Series again. In 1956 Ford would pitch even better going 19-6. Ford was 27 years old at the beginning of the 1956 season and started off winning his first six starts while giving up only five runs. He had a minuscule 0.83 earned run average. He would have had 20 wins, but when the Yankees clinched, he decided to forgo his start and save it for the World Series. The Yankee defeated the defending Brooklyn Dodgers in the Series.
The Yankees would again win the World Series in 1958 against the 1957 Champion Milwaukee Braves. In 1961 Whitey was to have his best season ever. He went 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA. He again would be an All-Star and would win his Cy Young Award. In early September, the Yankees held “Whitey Ford Day” before a game against Cleveland, in appreciation of his outstandinng season and perhaps to make up for being overshaded by the home run race of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
The club showered him with gifts, including a six-foot package of Life Savers that was wheeled in from the bullpen. When it arrived on the mound, out popped the other top Yankee Luis Arroyo. Ford took the joke all in good humor. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series in five games against the Cincinnati Reds, their 19th World Series win.
Ford had three nicknames; Whitey was one of them due to his light blonde hair. He was also called “Slick” by manager Casey Stengel. But the nickname that has always stuck is “The Chairman of the Board.” He got that moniker due to Stengel saving him for big games, and his ability to withstand high-pressure situations was an easy calm while remaining in complete control of a situation.
Ford would go on to have four more winning seasons, including another World Series win in 1962. the last success for the next 15 years. During his career, he had 13 seasons with eleven wins or more. His second best was the 24-7 season in 1963. He will go down in history as one of the greatest Yankee pitchers of all time. At age 91, we hope again to see the “Chairman” at this year’s Old Timer’s Day Game at Yankee Stadium.