As the New York Yankees opened spring training in 1967, they had many question marks, not the least of which was the status of 38-year-old Whitey Ford.
The greatest pitcher in Yankees' history was a free agent, but only because he didn't want to occupy a spot on the roster until he discovered if he could still pitch.
In Oct. 1964, Ford had surgery to alleviate a circulatory problem that resulted in a numbness in his left hand. A bizarre aspect was that he perspired only his right side. As usual, Whitey took it in stride.
"I'm the only ball player who can get 10 days out of a five-day deodorant pad."
A Short-lived Comeback
Whitey had a decent 1965 season, which was more than the rest of the team could say.
Pitching for a team that finished sixth, the diminutive left-hander worked 244 and one-third innings, won 16 games, lost 13, and posted a 3.24 ERA.
He passed Red Ruffing for the most wins as a Yankee on the last day of the season when he beat the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Whitey had tied Ruffing almost a month before, but despite pitching extremely well, he failed to get the needed win.
"That was a strange one. I tied Red's record when I got my 15th win of the year with a month to go. Then my luck went sour. I kept losing 2-1 games, one close one after another. I thought I'd never make it.
"Then, up in Boston, on the last day of the season, I pitched my worst game. But we won by some terrible score, 11-7, or something like that."
The following season was another story. Whitey's arm miseries returned, and he needed another operation in Aug. 1966.
"I had to have that second operation. I really thought it was the end because I thought they would have to cut through the left shoulder. But they took an artery from my thigh and inserted it under the shoulder without disturbing it.
"Now I have a pulse again and my left arm doesn't sweat as much, but at least it's a little damp."
After the operation in October, Ford went to Florida. He tried to throw, and much to his delight, discovered that he still had a fast ball.
"If it had not been for what I saw and felt in October, I wouldn't even be here. Under no circumstances do I want to be a hanger-on. Unless I contribute something, I don't want to stay."
The Yankees had finished last in 1966, and they sorely needed Ford for 1967.
The Yankees and Whitey knew he was no longer what once he had been, but both hoped he had enough left to help.
"My fastball isn't as fast as it once was, and my breaking stuff isn't as sharp. And I'm also 38-years-old. The good part is that no one is counting on me. If I don't make it, I can go home."
It didn't work out.
On May 30, 1967 Whitey Ford announced his retirement. As he held back tears, Whitey spoke to reporters and a crowd of over 41,000 fans at Yankee Stadium.
"This is a much tougher job than I ever thought it would be. But I have no complaints. I came in wearing a $50 suit and I'm going out wearing a $200 suit, so that's pretty good."
So was Whitey Ford.
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1967, March 2). Sports of The Times :Man With an Asterisk No Sweat Glorious Year. New York Times (1923-Current file),41. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 89662243).
By LEONARD KOPPETT. (1967, May 31). Ford, Suffering From Elbow Injury, Retires :Yankee Hurler Gets Standing Ovation at the Stadium. New York Times (1923-Current file),31. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 83122393).