Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part 13

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Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part 13

The last article in this series about Yankee greatness covered various pitchers the Yankees have had through the years.

 

But one pitcher in particular has to be singled out. Whitey Ford – "The Chairman of The Board."

 

Edward Ford was born in Astoria, Queens, just across the TriBorough Bridge from Manhattan, so he was a hometown boy. 

 

He was signed by the Yankees in 1947 and never played for any other organization. He came to the Bronx late in the 1950 season and seemed not to be phased by the glitz, the glamour, and the stress of another pennant race with the Yankees.

 

Ford was 21 years old when he joined the big club. He was used by Casey Stengel in relief a lot that first year but also as a starter. He won his first nine games and ended the regular season with only one loss. 

 

In the World Series, Whitey pitched Game Four and was magnificent. He pitched eight-and-two-thirds innings of shutout ball and the Yankees swept the Series.

 

The Yankees lost Whitey Ford to military services in 1951 and 1952, taking away what should have been two of his most productive years. His military service conservatively cost him 30 wins over his career.

 

Ford returned in 1953 for his first full season in Yankee Stadium. He started 30 games, went 18-6 with an ERA of 3.00, and the Yankees won their fifth straight World Series.

 

In that Series, Whitey was not his masterful self, losing Game Four. What was even more strange was that manager Casey Stengel held the young phenom out until the fourth game. It would become a pattern with "The Old Perfesser" that few would ever understand.

 

Stengel would often not pitch Ford in a usual rotation. He would hold Whitey out of games in order to be able to use him against teams Stengel considered stronger. But that affected Ford’s overall records and his usefulness to the Yanks. It also obviously had an impact on his career stats because he seldom pitched against weak teams in the league.

 

Ford would continue to be successful, winning 16 games in 1954, 18 games in 1955 and 19 games in 1956. In 1957, he started only 17 games, winning 11. But he would finish the year with an ERA of 2.58. 

 

In 1958, Whitey started 29 games, won 14, had an amazing seven shutouts and finished the year with an ERA of 2.01. 

 

The Yankees faced the Milwaukee Brewers for the second straight year in the ’58 Series and curiously Stengel again did not pitch Ford until the fourth game, when he lost to another Hall of Fame lefty, Warren Spahn.

 

In 1959 and 1960 Ford would have what seemed to be mediocre years, winning only sixteen and twelve games. The World Series in 1960 would be one of the most bizarre contests in memory and Stengel would be second guessed forever about the way he handled his left handed ace.

 

The Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27 in the 1960 Series. They out hit the Bucs 91 to 60. But the Pirates won the Series on Dick Mazeroski’s ninth inning home run in the seventh game.

 

Ford threw two shutouts in his two appearances. But inexplicably, again, Stengel did not start Ford in Game One of the Series. Nor in Game Two. Ford didn’t start until Game Three, and then was only available for Game Six. If Stengel had started him in the first game, Whitey would have been ready in Games Four and Seven if needed.

 

Stengel was “retired” after the 1960 World Series at the age of 70 and no one was happier to see him go than Whitey Ford.

 

New manager, Ralph Houk, asked Ford at the beginning of 1961 if he would like to pitch every fourth day and Whitey was ecstatic. 

 

In 1961, Ford started 39 games, pitched 283 innings, struck out over 200 hitters and finished the season with twenty-five wins against only four losses and an ERA of 3.21.  He was awarded the Cy Young for his effort at a time when only one award was given for both leagues.

 

In the World Series, New York beat the Reds four games to one. This time there was no question who was going to start game one. 

 

It was Ford, who went on to throw two more World Series shut-outs, extending his streak of scoreless innings in the Fall Classic and breaking Babe Ruth’s record. Eventually Ford would stretch the streak to thirty-three and two thirds inning, a record that stood until broken by another Yankee, Mariano Rivera.

 

Whitey continued to thrive under Houk starting thirty-seven games in 1962 and winning seventeen with an ERA of 2.90.  The Yankees were in the Series again and beat the Giants this time. Whitey again started game one of the Series leading his team to a win.

 

In 1963, Ford had what may have been his best year winning twenty-four games and losing seven with an ERA of 2.74. Unfortunately, he lost the Cy Young that year to Sandy Koufax who had a season for the ages. 

 

And the Yanks met Koufax’s Dodgers in the Series in ’63 with Sandy beating Whitey in the first and fourth games. The fourth game was one of the best in World Series history with both lefties pitching jewels. The Dodgers came out on top 2-1 and swept the Bombers.

 

In 1964, Houk moved to the front office as General Manager. Whitey’s long time battery mate, Yogi Berra became Yankee skipper and Whitey had another great year, finishing 17-6 with a 2.31 ERA.

 

The Yanks lost in their fifth straight trip to the Series, going down to the Cardinals. It would be the last year the Yankees would make the post season during Ford’s career.

 

In 1965, Ford was 13-1 as the Yankees finished sixth in the league. In 1966, the Yanks finished dead last and Whitey slipped to 2-5. He was beginning to experience circulatory problems in this throwing shoulder that would reduce how much he could pitch.

 

His final year in 1967 Whitey was 38 year old, started only seven games, and was 2-4. But his ERA was a remarkable 1.64. Aware that he could no longer perform as he once had, Whitey retired early in that season.

 

In 1974, Ford was elected to the Hall of Fame. His lifetime record of 236 wins against only 106 losses leaves him with the highest winning percentage of any pitcher with at least 300 decisions since 1900. If he had not been in the Army in '51-'52, and if Casey had used him as Houk did, Ford would have had a very good chance to get 300 wins.

 

Ford pitched in 498 games over his career. He started 438 of those. He threw 156 complete games, a number that would be unheard of in today’s game. And he had forty-five shutouts.

 

In 11 of his 16 seasons Ford had an ERA less than 3.00. His lifetime ERA of 2.75 is remarkable. He struck out 1956 hitters in 3170 innings and was not a power pitcher.

 

Using some stats that hadn’t been considered when Whitey retired, his WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) would have been 1.21.  Obviously, the lower your WHIP, the better because you are giving up fewer walks and hits.

 

And his ERA+ is 133. (ERA+ is a statistic that measures a pitchers ERA against the league average and also accounts for the home ballpark, as either a pitcher’s park or a hitter’s park.) An ERA+ of 100 is average.  Anything lower is worse.  Anything higher is better.

 

Of course the ERA+ is not purely objective.  It is subjective to some extent with regard to the determination regarding the ballparks being hitters' or pitchers' parks.

 

Arguments are heard that Ford was not equal to pitchers of today and that he would not make the Hall of Fame with 77.81 percent of the vote as he did in 1974. Some have said that because he pitched from the higher mound he had an advantage he could not use today.

 

So let’s compare Whitey Ford against some of the pitchers of his own era and some today.

 

                                                WHIP                          ERA                 ERA+

 

Whitey Ford                             1.215                           2.75                 133

Warren Spahn                          1.195                           3.09                 118

Bob Feller                                1.316                           3.25                 122

Sandy Koufax                          1.106                           2.76                 131

Tom Glavine                             1.314                           3.54                 118

Nolan Ryan                              1.247                           3.56                 111

Roger Clemens                         1.173                           3.12                 143

Pedro Martinez                         1.051                           2.91                 154

C.C. Sabathia                           1.244                           3.66                 121

Johan Santana                           1.102                           3.11                 144

 

Of the three older pitchers, all are in the Hall of Fame, as is Nolan Ryan.  Glavine and Martinez are almost certain to make it.  And there is no question Clemens would if not for the steroids issues.  The jury is still way out on Sabathia and Santana.

 

As is easily seen in this chart, Ford had a better ERA+ than any pitcher of his era, even Koufax. His pure ERA was better than any of the three from his day. And his WHIP was better than Feller but higher than Spahn and Koufax.

 

Of the six pitchers from Glavine through Santana, Whitey beats all of them on pure ERA, beats three on the ERA+ and has a better WHIP than three of them.

 

So statistics would show that Whitey Ford should be considered among the best who ever toed a major league rubber. Without question, he is the best to ever do so in Yankee pinstripes.

 

Whitey Ford is a major reason the New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team in history.

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