Whitey Ford, the Yankees’ all-time wins leader, Hall of Famer and six-time World Series champion, has died at the age of 91.
The Yankees announced Ford's passing on Friday, 12 days shy of what would have been Ford's birthday. They said he died on Thursday night, surrounded by family while watching the Yankees' Division Series game against the Rays.
“Today all of Major League Baseball mourns the loss of Whitey Ford, a New York City native who became a legend for his hometown team," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Whitey earned his status as the ace of some of the most memorable teams in our sport’s rich history. Beyond the Chairman of the Board’s excellence on the mound, he was a distinguished ambassador for our National Pastime throughout his life. I extend my deepest condolences to Whitey’s family, his friends and admirers throughout our game, and all fans of the Yankees.”
• When it came to winning, Ford led the way
“Whitey’s name and accomplishments are forever stitched into the fabric of baseball’s rich history," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "He was a treasure, and one of the greatest of Yankees to ever wear the pinstripes. Beyond the accolades that earned him his rightful spot within the walls of the Hall of Fame, in so many ways he encapsulated the spirit of the Yankees teams he played for and represented for nearly two decades.
“Whitey was New York tough. When you couple that with his dedicated service to our country, a deep love for the only team he ever played for, six World Championships, and a genuine personality and charisma that showed throughout his life, it’s no wonder he endeared himself as a legend to generations of Yankees fans everywhere.
“While there is comfort knowing Whitey was surrounded by his family at the time of his passing while watching his favorite team compete, this is a tremendous loss to the Yankees and the baseball community. We have lost our ‘Chairman of the Board,’ and we extend our deepest condolences to the entire Ford family.”
The left-hander -- nicknamed “The Chairman of the Board” by batterymate Elston Howard -- went 236-106 with a 2.75 ERA during his 16 years with New York, winning his only Cy Young Award in 1961. Ford, whose .690 winning percentage is the highest of any pitcher with at least 150 victories in the Modern Era, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
“I grew up on Long Island, not too far from Yankee Stadium,” Ford said during his Hall of Fame induction. “I was a Yankee fan since I was five or six years old. To think when I was 21 years old I’d be playing with [Joe] DiMaggio and [Yogi] Berra against guys like Stan Musial and Roy Campanella, it’s just something I can’t fathom. It’s just been great.”
Born on Oct. 21, 1928, in New York City, Edward Charles Ford attended a tryout camp with the Yankees as a first baseman in 1946. A Yankees scout noticed his arm, suggested he try pitching and taught him how to throw a curveball. That led to Ford signing with the Yankees as an amateur for $7,000 before the 1947 season.
The blond-haired Ford was given the nickname “Whitey” by Lefty Gomez, the legendary Yankees southpaw who managed him in Binghamton in the Class A Eastern League.
Ford spent three seasons in the Minor Leagues before debuting as a reliever for New York on July 1, 1950. Ford would go 9-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 20 games (12 starts) during his rookie season, winning The Sporting News' Rookie of the Year honors while finishing second to Red Sox first baseman Walt Dropo in the American League Rookie of the Year vote by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Pitching behind fellow starters Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat, Ford went on to win the clinching game in the World Series that October, allowing two unearned runs in 8 2/3 innings against the Phillies in Game 4.
“That was my first big thrill in baseball,” Ford told YES Network during an interview for its “Yankeeography” series.
• Whitey could laugh even at his own passing
Ford missed the next two seasons while serving in the Army during the Korean War, though he was never sent overseas. He returned to the Yankees in 1953, winning 18 games in the regular season before helping the team to another World Series championship, the club’s fifth straight title.
“He wasn’t a power pitcher; he was just maybe the smartest pitcher that ever lived,” long-time teammate Jerry Coleman told YES. “With about 17 different pitches, he really had an array of pitches that was remarkable.”
In 1954, Ford was selected to the first of his 10 All-Star Games and won 16 games. Despite 103 victories that season, the Yankees’ championship streak came to an end at the hands of the 111-win Indians, who won the pennant. Ford would help his team play in each of the next four World Series, averaging 16 wins and a 2.41 ERA from 1955-58, with the Yankees winning championships in ’56 and ’58.
In Game 1 of the 1955 World Series, Ford was on the mound when Jackie Robinson stole home in the eighth inning. Robinson was called safe by home-plate umpire Bill Summers, though catcher Yogi Berra argued loudly that he had tagged him out.
“I’ve seen the films of that play maybe 50 times, and Robinson is out every time,” Ford wrote in this autobiography.
Ford won that game, as well as Game 6, but the Dodgers beat the Yankees for the title in Game 7.
Ford pitched in 11 World Series during his 16 seasons, winning six rings. His 10 World Series victories remain the most of any pitcher in history.
“I don’t care what the situation was, how high the stakes were,” Mickey Mantle once said of his close friend. “The bases could be loaded and the pennant riding on every pitch, it never bothered Whitey. He pitched his game. Cool. Crafty. Nerves of steel.”
Although Ford never pitched a no-hitter during his career, he tossed one-hit shutouts in consecutive starts in 1955, only the fifth time in Major League history a pitcher had accomplished that feat, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.
“He was outsmarting most of the hitters,” Hall of Famer Bob Feller once said of Ford. “He was a very tough competitor.”
The 1961 season proved to be notable for several reasons, beginning with a change in the manager’s office. While Casey Stengel had routinely started Ford no more than once every five days (sometimes even six or seven), new skipper Ralph Houk decided to hand the lefty the ball every fourth day. After starting 29 games in each of the three previous seasons, Ford started 39 times in 1961, throwing a league-high (and career-high) 283 innings.
Ford went 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA that season, beating out Milwaukee’s Warren Spahn for the Cy Young Award, which was given to only one big league pitcher per year until 1967. Overshadowed all season by the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris home-run race, the 5-foor-10 lefty capped his memorable year by leading the Yankees to another championship. Ford went 2-0 in two starts against the Reds, throwing 14 scoreless innings to take home World Series MVP honors.
“I really enjoyed that season because the writers were so busy with Maris and Mantle with their home-run derby that they didn’t bother me,” Ford told YES. “It was the best year I ever had.”
The Yankees won again in 1962, Ford’s sixth and final World Series title. They would return to the Fall Classic in 1963 and ’64, though Ford went 0-3 in those two series as the Yankees fell to the Dodgers and Cardinals. He left Game 1 in 1964 with an arm injury and never pitched in another World Series.
Ford finished 10-8 with a 2.71 ERA in 22 career World Series starts. In addition to holding the World Series records for career wins and starts, he also has the mark for strikeouts (94) and innings pitched (146).
Between 1960-62, Ford threw a record 33 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series, breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 29 2/3. The mark still stands.
“If the World Series was on the line and I could pick one pitcher to pitch the game,” Mantle said. “I’d choose Whitey Ford every time.”
Ford passed Red Ruffing as the Yankees’ all-time wins leader in 1965 with his 232nd victory, and he won only four more games over the next two seasons as he battled circulatory issues. Ford retired in May 1967, having been limited to only seven starts due to bone spurs in his elbow.
“Sooner or later the arm goes bad. It has to,” Ford said late in his career. “The arm wasn’t meant to stand the strain pitching imposes on it. It’s unnatural. Sooner or later you have to start pitching in pain.”
Ford made his retirement official on May 30, 1967, in a ceremony at Yankee Stadium.
Following his playing career, Ford served as Houk’s first-base coach in 1968, then returned to the Yankees in 1974 as the club’s pitching coach. He came back as pitching coach in 1975 before health issues prompted him to end his coaching career. Ford continued to serve as a Spring Training instructor, but never worked as a coach again. He did give broadcasting a try, serving as a color analyst for the Blue Jays in 1977.
Ford became the first Yankees pitcher to have his number retired when his No. 16 was hung up in Monument Park in August 1974, the same summer in which he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside Mantle, his good friend.
During his induction into Cooperstown, which came in his second year of eligibility, Ford thanked his teammates, including “fellas like Mickey and Maris and Berra for scoring all those runs.”
In August 1987, Ford was honored with a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
During the 1999 World Series, Ford was named as a member of MLB’s All-Century Team.
In 2000, the Yankees honored the legendary hurler with “Whitey Ford Day,” 50 years after he debuted for the club. Ford fought back tears as some of his former teammates, including Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto, talked about his career during the ceremonies at Yankee Stadium, showing an emotion he rarely displayed during his playing career.
“It’s different when you’re pitching,” Ford told reporters that day, according to the New York Post. “You’re moving your whole body, but when you’re just sitting there watching all these ex-teammates, it was tough. It was a great day.”
Ford also threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
Ford had been the second-oldest living Hall of Famer since Red Schoendienst died in June 2018. Tommy Lasorda, 93, is the oldest among living Hall of Famers.
He is survived by Joan, his wife of 69 years, and two of their three children, Sally Ann and Eddie, as well as eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Their third child, Tommy, died in 1999.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.