COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – His career began with a rough outing against the Yankees' fiercest rivals, the Red Sox. But it proved no indication of times to come.
Sixty-one years ago this week – on June 29, 1950 – the Yanks called up Edward Charles "Whitey" Ford from the minor leagues for the first time. By the time his incomparable 16-year career ended in 1967, Ford was on his way to Cooperstown.
In his first big league game – which came the day after he was called up on July 1, 1950 – Ford walked six and allowed five earned runs in four-and-two-thirds innings of relief. Starter Tommy Byrne was tagged with the loss, however, and Ford managed not to lose a game until late September when the Yankees used him out of the bullpen with only one day of rest following a complete game. He pitched so well in between that he placed second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, going 9-1 with a 2.81 ERA.
By the end of the year Ford had established himself as not only just as a big league pitcher, but as a pitcher the Yankees could build their future around.
After helping the Yankees win the World Series in his rookie season of '50, Ford sacrificed two World Series Championship years with the Yankees, serving in the army during the Korean War.
Coming back seamlessly in '53, Ford helped the Yankees win their fifth straight title, posting an 18-6 record as the ace of the staff. He would grow accustomed to winning, helping the Yankees to six World Series titles and five other AL pennants.
His greatest single season came in the championship season of 1961, when he captured the Cy Young Award. In that season, Ford had the highest winning percentage in the league while winning 25 games compared to only four losses. He also threw a career and league high 283 innings.
Over the course of his career, Ford was known for his steady nerves that helped him post a career record of 236-106 – with a winning percentage of .690 – and a 2.75 ERA. No other 20th Century pitcher with at least 200 wins has a better career winning percentage than the man who came to be called The Chairman of the Board.
"I don't care what the situation was, how high the stakes were," said Hall of Fame teammate Mickey Mantle, "– 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."
Ford's Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel also raved about his ability to pitch not only in big games, but against top tier pitchers.
"He was my banty rooster," Stengel said. "Whitey used to stick out his chest, like this, and walk out to the mound against any of those big pitchers."
Ford was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1974 in his second year on the ballot, in an induction class that included his teammate of 15 seasons, Mantle.
Kevin Stiner was the spring 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum