Esposito: Time to Honor Whitey, Bill

Seeing Whitey Ford at last weekend’s annual OldTimer’s Day at Yankee Stadium stirred many great memories. One of the greatest Yankees, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and currently bestowed as the greatest living ex-Yankee, Edward Charles “Whitey” Ford has certainly earned the accolades with a list of baseball accomplishments longer than an Aaron Judge home run (more on those in a few moments).

His appearance also reminded this fan of an oversight. Of all the many great former Yankees, and in particular, the dozens who have worn the uniform and are now enshrined in Cooperstown, only three originated in New York, and can truly be called New Yorkers – Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto, and Whitey Ford.

Gehrig grew up in upper Manhattan, born at 309 E. 94 St., where a plaque now commemorates the event, and not too far from his future work address in the South Bronx. Rizzuto was born in Brooklyn, but really grew up in Glendale, Queens, as he would occasionally remind us in his decades of broadcasting Yankees baseball after a stellar Hall of Fame as shortstop for those same Bronx Bombers.

Ford grew up in Astoria, on 34th Ave., near Steinway Street, and on a nice day, he too, could have even walked across the then-named Triborough Bridge to Yankee Stadium, or at least jogged. He first played his sport of choice on the sandlots of Astoria, later for the Manhattan High School of Aviation, and fortunately for baseball fans, he did not become an aviator. He was signed by the Yankees in 1947.

The “short” list of Ford’s abilities in his 16 seasons with the Yankees (1950, ‘53-’67) include: a 236-106 won-loss record, (which stood for many decades as the game’s greatest winning percentage – .690 – until it was broken by Pedro Martinez in recent years), 2.75 ERA, 1,956 strikeouts in 3170 innings – 498 regular season games, 156 complete games, 45 shutouts, 10 All-Star games, three times leading the AL in wins, two times leading the majors in ERA, a Cy Young Trophy in 1961, six times a World Series Champion, 11 times in the World Series, a World Series MVP, a legendary nickname – “Chairman of the Board,” and his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1974.

So what’s missing?

It would be nice, while the 89-year-old longtime New York resident – who still maintains a home on Long Island – is still around to enjoy the acknowledgment, to have something nice named in his honor in the city where he gave so many New Yorkers so much joy.

Gehrig and Rizzuto are no longer with us, and they should be honored as well with something appropriate and long-lasting, but let’s start a campaign to have Mayor Bill DeBlasio sign off on something significant in Whitey’s honor.

When the great Joe DiMaggio passed, Mayor Rudy Giuliani named a large portion of the West Side Highway the Joe DiMaggio Highway. Babe Ruth has a plaza named in his honor near Yankee Stadium.

In not unrelated tributes, the Triborough was renamed the RFK bridge in honor of Robert F. Kennedy, the New York State Senator who was assassinated on his way to the White House in 1968. And the Queensborough Bridge – aka the 59th Street Bridge – was re-branded the Ed Koch Bridge – while he was still alive!

There is this wonderful image the news outlets reveled in as Koch himself stood at the entrance of his newly re-christened bridge “welcoming” drivers to his bridge.

With that in mind, it would be nice if the Chairman of the Board could “throw out the first pitch” for a renamed something in his honor. Not a bridge, per se, maybe not even a highway, but here’s a thought…

There’s a Broadway that cuts through Astoria not far at all from where Ford enjoyed his formative years on 34th Ave. So how about renaming Broadway – there’s already that really famous one in Manhattan, anyway – as Whitey Ford Blvd.

Yes, that would be nice.

There actually already is a Whitey Ford Field in Astoria, a softball field at 2nd Street and 26th Ave. However, after years of use and neglect, the field’s condition has greatly deteriorated. Help is on the way, though. This past January, the Community Board in Astoria signed off on a $2 million dollar renovation project tailored for the field which will commence in the fall of 2019.

The field will be re-sodded, regraded for drainage, new bleachers will be built, with a new dugout, new fencing, picnic tables, bike racks, and water fountains.

But guess what they forgot, or neglected to consider, in the plans – bathrooms. Oh, well. Might make double-headers a little uncomfortable. For two million dollars, you couldn’t throw in a couple of restrooms?

There also is a Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park in South Richmond Hill, not too far from where he grew up and went to school. The Park, located at 95th Ave. and 125th Street, has baseball and football fields, handball and basketball courts, a playground, picnic area, and how about that – rest rooms.

There are Lou Gehrig Fields and even Little Leagues named in his honor in several locales, including East Amherst, NY, Milford, CT, and Worcester, Mass. But nothing of any great note within the city limits of New York. Hmm…

There are streets and bridges and parks and all kinds of things named after Revolutionary War heroes, politicians, fallen first responders and others of note, but it’s always nice when the honoree is around to say thank you.

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