C.C. Sabathia Is Replacing Whitey Ford as the Greatest New York Yankees Pitcher

Harold FriendChief Writer IJune 30, 2011

C.C. Sabathia
C.C. SabathiaJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Whitey Ford, the Chairman of the Board, is the greatest of all New York Yankees pitchers. But in a few seasons, that may no longer be true.

C.C. Sabathia joined the Yankees in 2009. He helped lead them to their 27th World Series Championship, winning 19 games that season and three more in the playoffs.

The big left-hander started the 2009 World Series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing only two runs in seven innings. But that was two runs too many, as former Cleveland Indians teammate Cliff Lee and the Phillies won, 6-1. 

Sabathia started the fourth game on three days rest, allowed three runs in six and two-thirds innings in a game, but didn't get a decision in the Yankees 7-4 win.

In his two and one-half seasons with the Yankees, Sabathia has averaged 20 wins, 236 innings pitched, a 3.27 ERA and a 133 ERA+. 

In 16 seasons with the Yankees, Ford averaged 17 wins, 230 innings pitched, a magnificent 2.75 ERA and a 133 ERA+.  He missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons defending the freedoms today's war on terror has forced the government to curtail.

Their identical ERA+ accounts for the fact Sabathia pitches in a much more offensive era than Ford did.

Sabathia has a fastball that travels between 91-95 mph. It shows life in the strike zone. According to a 2008 Sports Illustrated report, it shows cutting action to right-handed hitters.

He is extremely durable, despite appearances. Thanks to former pitching coach Carl Willis, he has excellent mechanics.

Ford won 236 games. He would have won more if manager Casey Stengel didn't sometimes "save" him for contenders, which meant he would get an extra day of rest and fewer total starts.

There were no playoffs during Ford's career, but he won a record 10 World Series games. He also lost a record eight World Series games. The Yankees won six World Championships while Ford played with them.

Sabathia knows how to pitch, but Ford was the master at setting up and fooling batters. Whitey didn't throw as hard as Sabathia, but he didn't have to.

He mixed an excellent changeup and a great curveball with a good fastball that usually kept hitters guessing. Ford had a better pick-off move than Andy Pettitte, and he was an excellent fielder.

When his career ended, Ford admitted he "doctored" the ball on occasion.

Ford is the master of the put on. But if he is to be believed, his explanation goes like this: A member of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew would wet down a small area near the catcher's box. Elston Howard would deliberately lose his balance, land on his right hand and coat one side of the baseball he was holding in his right hand with mud.

Other times, Ford would scuff up the ball with the diamond in his wedding ring. He admitted that was how he struck out Willie Mays in the 1962 All-Star Game.

At least no needles or pills were involved.

Sabathia has more talent than Ford and throws much harder. And as surprising as it might be, the 6'7", 290-pound Sabathia is more durable than Ford, who is 5'10" and 178 pounds. 

Yes, Sabathia outweighs Whitey by more than 100 pounds.

Miseries in his left shoulder limited Ford to 129 innings in 1957. Later in his career, Whitey suffered circulation problems in his pitching arm, which might have cost the Yankees the 1964 World Series when Ford had to leave the opening game. He missed the rest of the Series, and the Yankees lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

Ford has a .690 winning percentage, while Sabathia's career mark is .645. But as a Yankee, the latter's is a remarkable .727.

Yes, wins are overrated, but they sure beat losses.

Ford's strikeout-to-walk ratio was 1.80. Sabathia's is 2.71 for his career and 2.85 as a Yankee.

At this point, there is little to compare between Ford and Sabathia. Sabathia has a long way to go before he can be rated a greater Yankee than Ford. But during his brief tenure with the Yankees, Sabathia has done at least as well as Ford.

If Sabathia remains with the Yankees, which is highly likely, he has an excellent chance of being ranked as the top all-time Yankee pitcher.


Baseball Reference

Whitey Ford Biography

Ford's Ailing Arm is Worse. New York Times. 16 Aug. 1957.