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Teasing My Upcoming Book

He Knew How to Pitch   

Talking Vintage Sports in the Zone.

October 14, 2020

Al Blumkin, Hal Bock, George Case and David Hubler.

Ralph Tyko:  The death of Whitey Ford at the age of 91, was absolutely a shock to all of us. Whitey was one of six Hall of Famers we lost this year. Joe Morgan, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Whitey all passed away between August and October of 2020 while Al Kaline died in April

But we are not here to mourn the loss of the “Chairman of the Board,”  but rather to tell stories, some familiar, some not, and to celebrate the life of Edward Charles Ford.  

Alan Blumkin: Whitey Ford once told a story about when he was first introduced to Yogi Berra in 1949 after Ford had signed with the Yankees. He said they took him down to the locker room and the clubhouse guy said “Eddie, meet Larry. “

In 1949, Ford was pitching in Binghamton and when that season ended, he called up the Yankees to offer his services for the 1949 pennant race. He was only 19 years old, but he was a brash kid from Astoria, Queens.

Ralph Tyko: He had what we used to call “moxie”.

Alan Blumkin: He came up in 1950, was 9-1 and won the fourth game of the World Series over the Phillies to complete the sweep. He then went into the army for two years.

He came back in 1953 and didn’t miss a beat. He became the Yankee’s ace and was the bridge between the retirements of Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds to the next generation of pitchers.

Hal Bock: I have a couple of Whitey Ford stories for you. When Whitey was first signed, maybe 18 years old, the Yankees assigned him to one of their low minor league teams. They were playing in a small town in North Carolina. His manager was Lefty Gomez, who was one of the great Yankee pitchers and a Hall of Famer. But Gomez was not only a great pitcher, he was also a great prankster. He loved to have fun.

So they were in North Carolina and Gomez set a 10 pm curfew. Whitey and one of his teammates were walking around a carnival and they see the Ferris Wheel and it’s ten minutes to ten. Whitey said “Well,  we have time for one ride on the Ferris Wheel and then we’ll go back to the hotel.” So they get on the ride but it was moving very slowly, so slowly that it’s now 10 o’clock and they’re still on the Ferris Wheel! Bad News right?

So they finally get off the ride and sprint back to the hotel. And there waiting for them in the lobby was Lefty Gomez. And he tells them, “You guys are late, you broke curfew. It’s gonna cost you five bucks each.”

But unbeknownst to Ford, Gomez was also at the carnival and saw Whitey and his teammate get on the Ferris Wheel and slipped the ride’s operator $2 to slow it down, insuring that the pair would be late getting back to the hotel.  .  

So now fast forward ten years later and Ford is a star, the best pitcher on the Yankee staff, and they have an Old Timers game at the Stadium and of course Left Gomez was there. Gomez is talking to Whitey and tells him about the prank he pulled on him years earlier. Whitey was outraged (or at least pretended to be) and demanded that Gomez give back the $10 fine. Lefty did, except the fine had been $5 so Whitey made $5 in the deal.

The other story I have occurred during the 1961 All Star game in San Francisco. Whitey was going to be the starting pitcher for the American League and Mickey Mantle would be the starting center fielder.

The day before the game, Peter Stoneham, Horace Stoneham’s son invited Whitey and Mickey to play golf at a prestigious San Francisco club. And Peter tells them to sign his father’s name if they wanted anything. So they bought about $200 worth of golf stuff and put it on Horace Stoneham’s tab. The next day, Horace learned of this and told Whitey,  “I’m willing to forgive that debt if you can retire Willie Mays, but if Mays gets a hit off you, we double the bill to $400.” Mays was at the top of his game at that time and basically owned Whitey – he was nine for twenty against him. But Whitey took the deal and told Mickey about it. So Mays comes to bat in the first inning of the All Star game and Whitey gets two strikes on him and turns his back to the plate and loads up the ball. He said it was the biggest spitball he ever threw, and Whitey was known to have thrown a few. Willie fanned on the pitch, so the debt was erased, and in centerfield, Mickey was jumping and clapping like the Yankees just won the World Series. But that was Whitey. He was a whimsical character, a mischievous guy, who liked to have fun, and was agreat pitcher

Ralph Tyko: I just want to note that we will probably never see pitchers like Whitey, Bobby Shantz, Eddie Lopat, Harvey Haddix and Billy Pierce again. They weren’t big, overpowering strike out pitchers. But they were crafty and they knew how to pitch, not just throw.

David Hubler: I remember watching Whitey when he started the fourth game of the 1950 World Series, and I was in high clover then because the Yankees had already won the first three games. I remember Whitey didn’t complete the game, but he did get the win. The Yankee’s pitching has not been the same since the days of Ford, and later Ron Guidry, guys who just went in there and won.  

Hal Bock: Guidry was like a modern-day Whitey Ford because he was such a smart pitcher.

Ralph Tyko: Ironically, Guidry was a good friend of Yogi’s. There was a book written by Harvey Araton called “Driving Mr. Yogi,” that chronicled their close friendship.

George Case: Whitey and my dad were guests at a baseball dinner in Trenton, NJ. while Whitey was still in the service. I have a photo of him and my dad at the head table and Whitey was in his army uniform.

He was a terrific pitcher, not overpowering but as we’ve said, he knew how to pitch. He’d change speeds, come three quarters, come over hand, side armed and try to get the hitter to bite on the pitch he wanted him to hit. Whitey was not going to be throwing 100 mph fastballs, he was gonna mix up speeds and keep the batter off balance.

He was a talented pitcher and if Stengel needed to win a ballgame he would go to Whitey and more often than not, he would come out with the win.  

I did a little research on the years Whitey was pitching and my dad was third base coach with the Senators under Mickey Vernon. In 1960, Whitey was 3-1 and 1961 4-0 against the Senators. So, he was able to handle Washington with no problems whatsoever.

He had some great years. In 1961, he was 25-4 which is incredible and in 1963 he was 24-7. If you’re a pitcher in the Major Leagues with that kind of winning percentage, that is just unheard of. Like we said, Whitey was not overpowering, but he knew how to pitch.

Ralph Tyko: How much did Luis Arroyo factor into Whitey’s success?

David Hubler: Yes, Arroyo too was of small stature, but he was lights out as a reliever. The first real relief pitcher I remember on the Yankees was Joe Page and after that Arroyo was probably one of the most prolific closers.

Hal Bock: He was Mariano Rivera before Mariano Rivera.  

Alan Blumkin: In 1962 the Yankees were playing in Detroit very early in the season. It was about 35 degrees that day and both Luis Arroyo and Frank Lary of the Tigers, who was a real Yankee killer, blew their arms out because of the cold weather.  

Hal Bock: I have a question for the panel: We have lost a great pitching rotation this season – Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Don Newcombe. Three are in the Hall of Fame and one deserves to be. Four great pitchers of the era from the late forties through the seventies. I want to know, if you had to win one game, that your life depended on, one game win or lose for all the marbles, which one of those four would you pick as your starter?

Alan Blumkin: Not Newcombe. He was 0-4 with an 8.59 ERA in the World Series.  

Ralph Tyko: You could make a case for any of them and how could you be wrong?

Hal Bock: I’d pick Bob Gibson. Gibson had an attitude on the mound. There’s a famous story – Gibson didn’t like to have visitors to his place of business, i.e. the mound. It was his mound and he was in charge. So one day he was pitching and got into a jam and his catcher Tim McCarver headed out to talk to him. Now Tim McCarver would talk to a wall. He was a chatterbox, who loved to talk to people. So McCarver got to within 10 feet of the mound and Gibson said, “What are you doing here? The only thing you know about pitching is that you can’t hit it!” So McCarver turned around and went back behind the plate.

Alan Blumkin: Gibson had a 1.12 ERA in 1968, and nine shutouts.

Ralph Tyko: And they changed the height of the mound after that season.

Alan Blumkin: I saw an interview with Bobby Richardson on the MLB Network after Whitey passed away and he said they loved to play behind him because there was no wasted motion. Gibson was like that too. He’d get the ball back, get the sign and pitch. There was no adjusting his hat and playing around with the rosin bag. No distractions like that. He said they loved playing behind Whitey.

Hal Bock: When I covered games, I always appreciated a pitcher who went out there and pitched. The Mets used to have a pitcher named Steve Trachsel who would get the ball and walk around the mound, look at the ball and just waste a lot of time. I remember one time somebody yelled from the press box, “Throw the ball, take a chance!” Those guys frustrated me something awful.  

Ralph Tyko: A pitcher with a quicker pace keeps the infield on their toes and makes for a nice clean game. And it doesn’t give the batter the chance to settle in and get ready.

Alan Blumkin: Bob Turley was another great Yankee pitcher, but he blew his arm out in 1958. He pitched three straight games in the 1958 World Series and won the Cy Young award. But then in 1959 he went 8-11 and couldn’t get anybody out.

His last year with the Yankees he gave up a hit to Ryne Duren, the pitcher, who was with the Angels and then gave up a three-run homer to Albie Pearson and that was about it for Turley.

George Case: Albie Pearson was about 5-foot-7,  he looked like a Little Leaguer out there.

David Hubler: We can’t forget Joe Morgan who also died recently. He was one hell of a ball player.

George Case: He was a great ball player. I was shocked when I heard about him. I didn’t even know he was sick. The last time I saw him, he was calling games on television. Terrific player and a lot of the Reds credited him with being the glue that kept them all together because he was surrounded by great players but he gave them that steadiness at second base and he could hit and run. He was a terrific player.

Hal Bock: I remember in the 1975 World Series, Boston and Cincinnati. The game where Carlton Fisk stood at the plate and waved the ball into fair territory, Joe Morgan got the winning hit in the ninth inning of game 7 of that Series.

We lost Don Larson this year too.

David Hubler: You know you’re getting old when your old baseball heroes are dying.

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