Bock’s Score: A Bad Time For Hall of Fame Pitchers

Valhalla is assembling a terrific pitching rotation with the passing of Whitey Ford, joining Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Don Newcombe as casualties of this terrible season.

That’s four awesome starters and if any of them falters, why there’s Ron Perranoski lurking in the bullpen.

They were all skilled pitchers but Ford was the lone lefty starter and he brought a different skill set to this group. Born in Manhattan, raised in Queens, he was New York tough, crafty and cocky, equipped with a bit of whimsy that made him the best pitcher the New York Yankees ever had.

For evidence of that consider that he won more games (236) pitched more innings (3,170 1/3, started more games (438) and threw more shutouts (45) than any other pitcher in the team’s history. His .690 winning percentage is the best in baseball history for any pitcher with 200 or more wins.

A 10-time All-Star, he won a record 10 World Series games had a Series record 94 strikeouts and threw a record 33 consecutive scoreless innings.

And boy, did he have fun doing it.

He always seemed to have a mischievous grin on the mound, like he knew something you didn’t. And he usually did.

There was, for example, the 1961 All-Star Game in San Francisco. Ford and Mickey Mantle played golf the day before the game with Peter Stoneham, son of the Giants owner, who told them to sign his father’s name for any bills they ran up. They accumulated $200 in charges and when he heard about the arrangement, Horace Stoneham offered Ford a deal. If the pitcher retired Willie Mays, the debt would disappear, but if Mays got a hit, it would double.

Ford got ahead of Mays and with two strikes, the left-hander loaded up what he described as the biggest spitball he could. Mays struck out and there in centerfield, absolved of the golf debt, Mantle started clapping and jumping around as if the Yankees had just won the World Series.

When he needed help late in his career, Ford occasionally found himself with a scuffed baseball, courtesy of catcher Elston Howard’s belt buckle. He also wore ring under a band-aid when Howard’s belt was not available.

He was a brash kid when the Yankees signed him out of a tryout camp and turned him over to a minor league affiliate managed by Lefty Gomez. The team was in Edenton, N.C. when Ford and a couple of teammates headed for a local carnival. They had a 10 p.m. curfew, time for one last spin on the Ferris wheel. Problem was, the wheel did not stop until exactly 10 p.m. leaving Ford and his buddies sprinting back to their hotel where Gomez was waiting in the lobby. The fine was $5 apiece which made up for the couple of bucks Gomez had paid the operator to keep the Ferris wheel going,

Years later, Ford confronted Gomez in the Yankees clubhouse and his old manager confessed to the prank. Ford demanded payback and collected $10. Now you know why they called him Slick

Photo: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

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