When Nolan Ryan was smokin', he was untouchable, as he proved with a record seven no-hitters. But what about his other 766 starts? Ryan's .526 winning percentage is the third lowest of any Hall of Fame pitcher, and his 292 losses are the third most of all time. Nonetheless, Ryan was voted into Cooperstown on the first ballot and, mind-blowingly, was the top pitcher in the 1999 voting for baseball's all-century team.
O.K., so the fans who voted were numskulls dazzled by Ryan's 5,714 strikeouts, 1,578 more than Steve Carlton, his nearest rival. Still, if Ryan was the king of the K, he was emperor of the base on balls. He issued free passes to 4.6 men per nine innings, amassing a lifetime total—2,795—that's 962 greater than anyone else's. Should Ryan be in the Hall? Of course he should. However, the man who belongs on the all-century team is Ryan's p.r. agent.
You'd have been laughed out of the press box in the '50s and '60s if you'd suggested that Whitey Ford (right) was underrated. He was the man—the best pitcher on the best team—for more than a decade. Memories are short, though, and when fans voted for baseball's all-century team in 1999, the Chairman of the Board finished 12th.
Ford's numbers stand up to anyone's and surpass those of Sandy Koufax, generally considered the top lefthander in the game. Nothing against Koufax, but he was a sub-.500 pitcher for the first half of his 12-year career. In Ford's first six seasons he was 91-33. All told, Ford was 236-106 over 16 years, a .690 winning percentage that's third best alltime and easily the highest of any pitcher with more than 200 wins.
So why has history denied him his due? He played for the Bronx Bombers, who gave him a lot of run support, and unlike Koufax he wasn't overpowering. He didn't strike fear in opposing batsmen: All he did was get them out with machinelike consistency. In 438 career starts Ford had 156 complete games, 45 shutouts and an ERA (2.75) that is lower than Koufax's (2.76). He had pinpoint control over a good fastball, sharp curve and straight change, and he knew how to pitch from the time he went 9-1 as a 21-year-old rookie. He also fielded well and had a killer pickoff move. He was the complete package.
Ford, however, should be best remembered for his postseason presence. Eleven times his Yankees reached the World Series, and eight times Ford pitched the opening game. Facing the toughest matchup year after year, Ford set records for most World Series wins (10), starts (22) and strikeouts (94). He pitched 33 consecutive scoreless innings over three World Series, between '60 and '62, breaking the mark held by Babe Ruth. Other pitchers have put together better seasons and better five-year stretches, but no one pitched more big games, better, over a longer period than Whitey Ford.