Author’s Note: With no Double-A Binghamton baseball to discuss, we are periodically posting excerpts from “Celebrating 100 Years of Baseball in Binghamton: Tales from the Binghamton Baseball Shrine,” which is available from such online retailers as bn.com and amazon.com. This excerpt is on Whitey Ford. Enjoy the read and social distance!
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In a minor-league career that lasted a little over three years and saw Whitey Ford win 51 games, perhaps the most prominent memory of his minor-league years was that Ford couldn’t wait to put them behind him. Though he enjoyed playing baseball in each city in his minor-league sojourn and his confidence grew with each stop along the way, the bus trips were anything but fun. “We’d sit on that bus anywhere from ten to 12 hours. Then, after we played, we’d climb back on the bus for another 12-hour trip home. We might get in at 7 AM, then right away have to play a day game.”
Bus trips notwithstanding, Ford will never forget his stay in Binghamton. He made sure he did not have far to travel for home games, as he lived within a block of Johnson Field, renting an attic room on Broad Street. It was while he played for the Triplets that he started to throw his curveball more, mixing his pitches better than he ever had, demonstrating an increased ability to get strikeouts. Years later Ford recalled his stay in the Triple Cities: “I was starting to strike out six and seven guys a game now, and for the first time I began to think I had a chance to make it to the big leagues.”
Ford earned his entry to the Shrine in 1995 for both his major league and Triplet success.
During his Shrine induction speech in August his eyes grew moist as he recalled his years of being a teammate of Mickey Mantle, who was then dying of cancer. Ford closed his speech with perhaps the most poignant remark of any Shrine induction statement as he asked the fans, “When your knees hit the ground tonight, say a prayer for the Mick.” Mantle passed away a few days later, on August 13, 1995. Ford was one of the pallbearers, along with Yogi Berra, Bobby Murcer, and Hank Bauer.
In 1949, despite missing the first six weeks of the season with remnants of amoebic dysentery that he caught while pitching in the Mexican League that winter, Ford posted a 16-5 record for the Triplets, leading the league with 151 strikeouts and posting an ERA of 1.61. Though the Triplets finished in fourth place, they swept through the two playoff series and were the 1949 Eastern League Champs.
Ford lost his first name of “Eddie” while a member of the Triplets; in his autobiography, “Slick,” Ford explained how he gained the moniker of “Whitey”:
“It was the great Lefty Gomez, of all people, who stuck me with the name ‘Whitey.’ Lefty was managing the Yankees’ Binghamton club in the Eastern League, and I was assigned to spring training with his team in 1947. They trained at Edenton, NC, and there were so many players down there, I guess Lefty had a hard time remembering all their names, so he just gave them nicknames. I was ‘Blondie’ or ‘Whitey’ for obvious reasons. Eventually, he settled on ‘Whitey.’”
“Whitey” was just the start of nicknames for Ford. After he reached the big leagues, Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle bestowed on him the nickname of “Slick” due to his being born and raised in Queens. After Ford went 24-7 in 1963, catcher Elston Howard started to refer to him as the “Chairman of the Board” due to his mound excellence and presence. This phrase is second only to “Whitey” when Ford’s name is mentioned in baseball circles.
After his brilliant season in ‘49, Ford displayed his confidence by calling Paul Krichell, the scout who signed him, asking if Krichell could arrange for a call-up to the Yankees for the end of the season. The Yankees were locked in a close duel with the Boston Red Sox for the pennant and Ford felt he could be a difference maker. What the heck, he was on top of the world, ace of a championship team with an Eastern League check for $223.00 in his pocket as his minor league championship share.
Krichell conferred with George Weiss and they politely decided to turn down Ford’s request in 1949. Krichell responded, “But, if you behave yourself, we’ll take you to spring training with the Yankees next year.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ford was a key element of the Yankee pitching staff in 1950, winning 9 games and starring in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. He became the ace of the New York Yankee staff from 1953 through the mid 1960’s, winning 236 games and compiling a 2.75 ERA over 3170.1 innings. His teammates during those years read like a “Who’s who” of Binghamton Shrine members: Johnny Blanchard, Clete Boyer, Al Downing, Bob Grim, Deron Johnson, Danny McDevitt, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron, Ralph Terry, and Tom Tresh.
Ford was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 in his second year of eligibility, being named on 77.8% of the ballots. He won six World Championships with the Yankees and in 146 innings of World Series play he won 10 games and posted a 2.71 ERA.
Ford’s penchant for enjoying a good laugh was evident in the opening of his Induction speech for Baseball’s Hall of Fame on August 12, 1974, a few days after Gerald Ford took over in Washington for the exiled Richard Nixon:
“Thank you, Commissioner. I tell you, I walked down the aisle three weeks ago with my daughter, she got married, and I thought I was nervous then, but I think this tops it today. Between what happened in Washington last week and up here in Cooperstown today, I’d have to say it’s a pretty good week for the Fords.”