Friday, July 20, 2012

Whitey Ford: His six consecutive strikeouts

FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012

On this day, 56 years ago, pitching great Whitey Ford tied an American League record with six consecutive strikeouts.  So why don't we go back in time and enjoy that great moment in baseball history.  I'll be happy to set the stage for you.

It was July 20, 1956 at Yankee Stadium.  On that Friday night, there were 16,103 fans in attendance to watch the Bronx Bombers play host to the Kansas City Athletics.  The Yankees boasted a stellar line-up with an infield that consisted of Bill Skowron at first base, Billy Martin at second base, Andy Carey at third and Gil McDougald at shortstop.  Elston Howard was the catcher.  Future Yankee manager Hank Bauer played right field while 24-year-old Mickey Mantle was the centre fielder and Bob Cerv was in left.  The team was managed by the legendary Casey Stengel.

Whitey Ford's string of six strikeouts began in the top of the second inning when Kansas City catcher Joe Ginsberg was called out on strikes.  In the top half of the third inning, Ford struck out three batters in succession: the A's shortstop, Joe De Maestri; their second baseman, Clete Boyer and their pitcher, Jack McMahan.  He added two more consecutive strikeouts in the top of the fourth inning:: third baseman Hector Lopez  and centre fielder Al Pilarcik.  His streak came to an end when he hit the next batter, left fielder Enos Slaughter, with a pitch.

Ford finished the game with eight strikeouts in a 6-2 Yankee victory over the Athletics.  Mickey Mantle had the game-winning RBI.  The time of that memorable game was 2 hours and 20 minutes.  It is also worth noting that Whitey Ford struck out six consecutive batters for the second time in his career on June 2, 1958 at Yankee Stadium.  He shut out the visiting Chicago White Sox by a score of 3-0.

Born Edward Charles Ford in New York City on October 21, 1928, Whitey is a native of the Astoria neighbourhood of Queens and he graduated from Aviation High School in nearby Sunnyside.  His father, James Ford, worked as a bartender.

The Yankees signed Ford as an amateur free agent in 1947.  While in the minor leagues, he was nicknamed "Whitey" because of his light blond hair.  On July 1, 1950, at the age of 21, the young left-hander played his first game in the major leagues.  He made quite an impression during his rookie year, winning his first nine decisions before being defeated in relief.  Sporting News voted him the American League Rookie of the Year.

Despite his auspicious debut, Whitey Ford chose to put his baseball career on hold in order to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.  After missing the 1951 and 1952 seasons, he rejoined the New York Yankees in 1953.  During his rookie season, Whitey had worn the number 19 on his uniform.  Upon his return to the Yanks in 1953, he began wearing the number 16 (my favourite number).  Ford wore that number as a player from 1953 until 1967 and later as a coach.  His number was retired by the New York Yankees in 1974, the same year that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

Whitey Ford played his entire 16-year career with the Yankees (my number again).  His statistics are truly outstanding.  He won 236 games and lost 106.  In addition, he had an impressive 10 victories in World Series play.  His career earned run average was 2.75.  He accumulated 45 shutouts and struck out 1,956 batters.

During his illustrious career, the southpaw had two twenty game seasons.  He recorded 25 wins and four losses in 1961, the year he won the Cy Young Award.  In 1963, he had 24 wins and seven losses.  When the Yanks won the World Series in 1961, Ford was named World Series MVP.  He was a member of six World Series championship teams (1950, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962).

After going 17-6 in 1964 and 16-13 in 1965, Whitey Ford developed health problems.  During the next two seasons, his appearances on the mound became infrequent and he only recorded four wins.  In August of 1966, plagued with circulatory problems in his left shoulder, Ford underwent surgery.  He appeared in his last major league game on May 21, 1967.  He only lasted one inning in his final start and retired at the end of the 1967 season.

During the 1966 season, while still an active player, Whitey became a coach for the New York Yankees.  For a year after his retirement, he remained with Yankee organization as a coach.  He left to engage in business ventures, but returned as a pitching coach in 1974.  He later took a position as a spring training coach with the team.

Whitey Ford pitched in 498 games.  He had a 690 win percentage, the highest of any major league pitcher in modern baseball history with at least 300 career decisions.  He was also a ten-time All-Star..


* Whitey Ford disliked pitching at Fenway Park in Boston..  He seldom did.

* Whitey Ford acquired the nickname "Chairman of the Board" because he was able to remain calm and in control during intense situations. His other nickname, Slick, came about because of a stern lecture manager Casey Stengel gave to his players for drinking too much and not applying themselves.  Stegel said that some of the guys were getting "whisky slick."  After Stengel's lecture, the other players began referring to Whitey and Mickey Mantle as "Slick."  The title of Whitey Fords's 1987 biography with New York sports writer Phil Pepe is Slick: My Life In and Around Baseball.

* There is one huge blemish on Whitey Ford's spectacular career.  He has admitted to cheating, especially during the latter part of his career, to give himself an edge when his skills were declining.  He was caught doctoring baseballs with the assistance of his catcher who made sure the ball landed in the dirt so that the evidence was concealed.  Here's how Ford rationalized his illicit activities.  "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."

* Ford specialized in the curve.  He was a high percentage winner, a "money pitcher," who excelled at winning when the stakes were high.  He came up big when he need to.  That is why he holds World Series records for victories (10), consecutive shutout innings (33) and strikeouts (94).  That's why Mickey Mantle proclaimed, "If the World Series was on the line and I could pick one pitcher to pitch the game, I'd choose Whitey Ford every time."

*  Whitey married Joan Foran on April 14, 1951 in Long Island City, Queens, New York.  His entire New York Yankees team showed up after playing an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Joan and Whitey had three children: Sally Ann, Eddie and Tommy.  Son Eddie works as a baseball scout.  Tom Ford, who was a resident of Long Island, died in August of 1999 at the age of  44.  At the time of Tommy's death, Jason Zillo, a spokesman for the New York Yankees, said that Whitey's son had died of a heart condition.

*  In 2000, Whitey Ford missed attending the New York Yankees' spring training camp for the first time in 49 years.  He acknowledged that he had received radiation treatment for cancer, but refused to identify the type of cancer for which he had been treated.

* Ford opened a sports bar and restaurant in 2002.  It is located next to Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, New York and it was called Whitey Ford's Cafe.  Whitey Ford's Cafe shut down after less than a year.


In April of 1977, Whitey Ford was a member of the broadcast team for the very first game in Toronto Blue Jays history.

- Joanne

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