Whitey Ford Honored by Yankees

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — A half-century ago, Whitey Ford made one of the more forgettable debuts in Yankees history. On Sunday, he was praised for all he accomplished in pinstripes after that first game.

Surrounded by fellow Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto and showered with gifts that included a new car, a mini-van and trips to the Bahamas and Hawaii, the great left-hander was honored on Whitey Ford Day.

``I haven't been this nervous since I pitched against Ted Williams for the first time,'' Ford told the big crowd before New York played Anaheim.

It was on July 1, 1950, that Ford — who had joined the Yankees system three years earlier — faced the Boston Red Sox in his debut at Fenway Park.

Working in relief, Ford gave up five runs on seven hits and six walks in 4 2-3 innings. Relatively unknown at the time, he was referred to as ``Eddye'' Ford in local newspaper accounts.

Edward Charles Ford went on to set team records for wins (236), strikeouts (1,956), ERA (2.54), innings (3,170 1-3) and shutouts (45). He excelled in October, winning six championship rings as he set the World Series record with 10 victories and broke Babe Ruth's mark by pitching 33 2-3 scoreless innings.

``I never knew Ruth was a good pitcher. I thought he was a lousy pitcher that became a hitter,'' Ford said.

After his first season with the Yankees — he won the clinching Game 4 of the 1950 World Series sweep against Philadelphia — Ford served two years in the U.S. Army. He returned to pitch from 1953-67, earning the nickname the ``Chairman of the Board.''

``I've been a Yankee for 53 years and I'll be a Yankee forever,'' he said.

Ford, looking dapper at 71 with his white hair, has overcome two bouts with cancer.

He had surgery in December 1994 to remove a cancerous tumor behind one ear, and was diagnosed last November with a form of skin cancer. By all accounts, he's doing fine these days.

Ford already had a plaque in Monument Park in left-center field, and his No. 16 was painted onto the field for the day along the first- and third-base lines. Former teammates Luis Arroyo, Hank Bauer and Moose Skowron joined Berra and Rizzuto for the half-hour ceremonies.

``I used to love to play ball behind him,'' said Bauer, an outfielder. ``He didn't walk anybody.''

The eight-time All-Star was 236-106 overall. His .690 winning percentage is the highest ever for pitchers with at least 200 wins.

Ford recalled attending his first Yankees game when he was 9 years old and watching Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. He said he sat in the center-field bleachers that day, and drew a cheer when he waved at that area.

``Little did I know that 12 years later I'd be on that mound,'' he said. ``It's been 50 years since I first stepped on this field and it's still a thrill every time I come back.''

As part of the celebration, a montage of Ford's highlights was shown on the video board, including a tribute from the late Mickey Mantle.

Ford was presented with several gifts, among them a 2001 Dodge Stratus R-T Coupe and a 2000 Ford Winstar mini-van.

Ford and his wife, Joan, also received the round-trip airplane tickets, a 36-inch television, a watch, a set of golf clubs, re-creations of his six World Series rings and a statuette commemorating his military service.

In addition, a baseball field in New York was renamed ``Whitey Ford Field.''

Ford's son and daughter took part in the festivities. Always known for his composure while pitching, Ford appeared to get choked up only once, when he remembered his son, Tommy, who died last year of a heart attack shortly before Old-Timers Day.

In Tommy's name, a $25,000 donation was made to the Whitey Ford Children's Foundation.

Moments later, Ford went to the mound and threw out the first ball. Before making the toss, he spoke a few seconds to Yankees starter David Cone.

It was on Yogi Berra Day — July 18, 1999 — that Cone pitched a perfect game against Montreal at Yankee Stadium.

``I told him to go out there and do something close to that today,'' Ford said.

Cone did his best, striking out the side in the first inning and retiring the first nine batters. He was pulled after six innings with a 3-0 lead, and the Angels rallied to beat the Yankees 5-4.