The Yankees have lost legendary Hall of Fame lefty Whitey Ford just before taking on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5.
While Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris bashed their way into the hearts of a generation that learned to associate the Yankees with the inevitability of victory, Whitey Ford was always the one to drop the hammer and cinch things up.
Nobody could touch the Chairman of the Board in the regular season, and the diminutive lefty became a fire-breathing change-of-pace specialist once the calendar flipped to October, a place the Yankees found themselves in annually for the duration of his remarkable tenure.
Edward Charles “Whitey” Ford died on Friday hours before the Yankees prepared to take the field in San Diego against the Tampa Bay Rays in a deciding Game 5, and the fact that I, a Yankees fan born in the ’90s, knew the particulars of Ford’s given name without even a cursory search, shows how much the heaviness of his moniker still hangs from the stadium frieze.
For those of my generation, it’s John Sterling intoning that melodic sequence of nomenclature on Old-Timers’ Day that rings true. “Please, won’t you welcome the Chairman of the Board. Edward. Charles. “Whitey” Ford!”
For the millions who came before me, it was Mel Allen stepping up to the microphone each autumn to recount Ford’s many accolades before he was set to take the mound and create more memories.
The numbers the blonde lefty from Astoria, Queens posted during his career speak for themselves, on the largest stage the game had to offer.
236-106 in the regular season, the Clayton Kershaw of his day. A 2.75 ERA across 16 seasons. And when October rolled around, he was somehow superior. With the World Series the only impediment to a championship in those days, Ford made 22 starts and finished 10-8 with a 2.71 mark.
With a nation’s eyes constantly upon him, he was the exact same pitcher when he toed the rubber in the crisp fall air as he was during the sweat-sopped summer outings he’d inevitably be forced to muddle through in a hellacious New York August. It was no matter; he was born in the city, and bred of success.
Those responsible for the second (of three, and counting) Yankees Dynasty are swiftly disappearing. With Ford now gone, the men who can recount the post-World War II era of dominance are very few, and must be cherished while they remain.
Ford’s death is yet another reminder that baseball immortality does not transcend to this mortal coil, but his exploits will be long remembered by generations of young fans who will always flip through the Baseball Encyclopedia as if it is their very own, worn-out bible. Ford’s majesty will never die, and the game will never cease to breathe.
It’s incumbent upon all of us to continue to tell this story, just as John Sterling’s rattling baritone did for us, and just as a spritely Ford doffing his cap once a year in the Bronx symbolized his two decades of dominance. He is and will always be the best pitcher this franchise has to offer — consistently and inevitably himself, even when the spotlight was focused upon him.
There was nothing like being a Yankee when Whitey Ford was a Yankee, and for a franchise that recalls its history unlike any other, his otherworldly calm must continue to radiate from the Stadium’s walls — hopefully, all the way to San Diego.