New York Yankees: Whitey Ford Was Unaware He Had Been Treated with Cocaine

Harold FriendChief Writer IJuly 16, 2011

Whitey Ford
Whitey FordT.G. Higgins/Getty Images

Whitey Ford didn’t know he had been treated with cocaine in an attempt to alleviate the pain in his left shoulder during the 1957 season.

The New York Yankees ace spoke to his friend, Toots Shor, who recommended Dr. Milton Reder. Ford visited the good doctor, received the treatment and reported his shoulder felt better the next day.

It was a short-lived improvement, but Ford eventually recovered enough to finish the season 11-5 with a 2.57 ERA. He started two games in the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves, going 1-1 with a 1.13 ERA.

Ford didn’t know Dr. Reder had treated his patients, who included many celebrities, for pain with a solution of about 13 percent cocaine.  Reder used cocaine he had purchased legally from pharmaceutical companies.

Famed attorney Marvin Mitchelson, entertainer and politician Sonny Bono, comedians George Burns and David Brenner and legendary war hero, Gen. George Patton were among Dr. Reder’s patients.

Could General Patton have known how he was being treated? Did he really care?

After many years, the New York state government, realizing it had been lax in performing its duty to protect its people, decided Dr. Reder had to be stopped. After all, he was using cocaine to help people who suffered from pain.

Who are we to question the government if it feels that suffering from physical pain is preferable to the guilt that accompanies not obeying the government?

It’s the same old story repeated over and over. Treatments for injuries are fine if those in power decide they are fine.

Cortisone is a steroid hormone. A synthetic form is injected into an area of inflammation in order to alleviate the problem. Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory, not a painkiller.

Use the “wrong” treatment or training method and you will be excoriated by the media and most fans. Just ask Barry Bonds, who claimed he was aware he was given steroids and not flax seed oil and an arthritic cream by his courageous trainer.

Jim Bouton, who is not one of MLB’s favorite individuals, told ESPN that in 1965, he and Ford splashed DMSO (Dimethyl sulfoxide) all over their pitching arms. DMSO penetrates membranes and eases pain.

In early 1965, DMSO was banned.

Ford didn’t know he had been treated with cocaine. Even if he did know, so what?

There is no difference in Ford’s unknowing use of a cocaine treatment and his knowing use of DMSO in attempting to cure a sore arm. He did what he hoped would help him.

A more recent Yankees left-hander, Andy Pettitte, admitted he used HGH to help him recover from an elbow injury. So what?

Pettitte’s pituitary gland synthesizes human growth hormone. Don’t fall for the false notion that the HGH he received is synthetic. So is the cortisone that is shot into pitchers’ arms.

There is nothing wrong in using a stimulant if the stimulant is in a cup that contains coffee, but it is wrong if the stimulant is in the form of a pill?

What a bunch of hogwash. If a player is willing to accept a treatment, only he and his physician have the right to decide if he should receive that treatment.

Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Chuck Knoblauch and yes, even Clemens' loyal friend Pettitte, did nothing wrong, despite what those in power have convinced the public to believe.


“Doctor Battles Health Department Over Prescription of Cocaine.” Albany Times Union. 7 Feb. 1989. P.86.

Lee, Felicia R. "Doctor Defends Cocaine Treatments.(Metropolitan Desk)." New York Times 10 Feb. 1989. Custom Newspapers. Web. 16 July 2011.