- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Ford's dependency on Arroyo was never more obvious than in his 16th victory, the Red Sox game in which he gave up those three quick runs. At the start of the seventh inning Ford was leading 6-3 and seemed to have things well under control. But the Red Sox opened with two fast singles and Ralph Houk, after stalling around as long as possible, brought Arroyo into the game. Still not properly warmed up, Arroyo gave up a double, a walk and a forceout. The score was 6-5, and the tying run was on third with one out. Almost anything, a fly ball, a slow grounder, an error, could wipe out Ford's victory. But little Luis struck out the next batter and got the next to fly out. The Yankees hit two home runs to provide a cushion, and Whitey's win was safe.
When not pitching, Ford habitually assumes his role as the team comic. He kids his teammates a lot, but, as one of them points out, concentrates only on those who can take it. After the All-Star Game in San Francisco's gale-swept Candlestick Park he told a group of reporters: "There are dozens of you guys in here writing about the wind. Why not be different? Why not write about Kubek's error?" Tony Kubek, at the next locker, was equal to it. "I made the error under ideal conditions," he said. Ford also said that when he heard on the clubhouse radio that Berra was going in to catch Hoyt Wilhelm's elusive knuckle ball, he almost came out again so he could watch the fun. Before the game, leaning against the batting cage, Ford watched Stan Musial hit a few. "Silly stance," he commented, bringing a grin to Musial's face.
Earlier in the year the Yankees elected Ford their player representative. He immediately announced he would delegate authority. Mickey Mantle, he said, would head the bubble-gum committee, and Roger Maris would be in charge of grievances. Yogi Berra, of course, was appointed elder statesman, and Ford said he was considering promoting Major Ralph Houk to a five-star general. When one reporter suggested that Luis Arroyo be put in charge of relief, Ford gave the man a deadpan stare. "What are you, a wise guy?" he asked.
Like most pitchers who start to win big, Ford has been accused of throwing a spitter. "I not only think he throws one," says Jimmy Dykes, manager (perhaps pro tern) of the Cleveland Indians, "I know he throws one. Someone on his own team told me he does. He throws it with two strikes, the batter swings and misses, then the ball goes around the infield and comes back dry as the Sahara."
It is true that Ford sweats a lot. Sometimes he has to change shirts two or three times while pitching, and on occasion he has lost six or eight pounds during a game. It is also true that he flicks the sweat from his eyebrows, then tucks the glove under his left arm and rubs the ball down. Umpires, however, do not interfere, so presumably the maneuver is legal. Ford, naturally, denies he throws a spitter. "Don't need to," he says. "Got too much other stuff."
"That's what he's got, all right," says Elston Howard, one of three Yankee catchers. "He's got stuff, everything. And control? It's always right there."
Ford has three basic pitches—the fast bail, slider and curve, plus variations on each. "I just signal for a curve and let him decide what speed he wants to throw it at," says Howard. "He's got about three of them." It is Ford's slider that has turned him into a strikeout pitcher this year. (He's the league's best at this stage, ahead of such perennial leaders as Jim Bunning and Camilo Pascual.) In past years Ford could only throw the slider four times or so before feeling a pain in his arm. This spring Coach Johnny Sain advised Ford to make a slight change in the delivery of the pitch, and now Ford can throw the slider as much as he pleases.
When Ford warms up, 15 minutes before game time, he can usually tell how sharp he is. "Maybe five or six times a season you find out you haven't got much," he says. "Maybe the fast ball isn't moving. Then you fall back on the others and only show the fast ball."
Ford pitching is a pleasure for other pitchers to watch. "He never throws a pitch without a purpose," says Johnny Sain. "He's always bearing down, never careless." "You never see anything good to hit," says Brooks Robinson, Baltimore's fine third baseman. "At 2-0 or 3-1, he still comes in with a good pitch."
When runners get on base against Ford, he keeps them close to the bag with the smoothest pick-off motion in baseball. From his left-handed stretch, it is almost impossible to detect whether he is throwing to the plate or to first until the pitch—or pickoff—is thrown.