Whitey Ford has a rosy face, pale blue eyes, blond hair, blond eyebrows and blond lashes. Even the stubble of his beard is blond, hence his nickname. Despite these bland features, there are times when Ford looks like a tough. Standing on the mound, round-shouldered, arms hanging loose at his sides, Ford, as he stares at a batter, is cocky, insolent, wise and gutty—all qualities that help make him the best pitcher in baseball.
In the 10 years that he has been pitching for the New York Yankees, Ford has compiled the highest-winning percentage of any pitcher in history, .710. His lifetime earned-run average of 2.73 is lower than that of any active pitcher. But, in spite of this, Ford has never been able to achieve what baseball regards as the symbol of pitching success, 20 victories in one season. He won 19 games once, 18 games twice and 16 games twice, but never 20. "I never minded too much at first," says Ford, "but people kept bugging me every spring. 'When you going to win 20, when you going to win 20?' It began to get me down."
Ford has undoubtedly heard the question for the last time, for this year he is going to win his 20 games. He may even win 30. With the season barely half over, he has a remarkable record of 16-2.
Several things have contributed to Ford's success this year, but undoubtedly the most important was Manager Ralph Houk's decision to start him every four days during the first half of the season. Casey Stengel, who referred to Ford as "my professional," used to rest him generously between pitching assignments. Often Ford was held out of pitching rotation so that he would be ready for an important series. As a result, Ford just didn't pitch often enough to get a fair chance at 20 victories. In 1956, for instance, the year he won 19 games, Ford started only 30 times.
This year, through the All-Star Game (in which he pitched three innings, giving up one run), Ford had 21 starts. In June alone, he started eight games and won them all, something no American Leaguer has ever done before. Opponents are watching skeptically—and hopefully—for some sign that he has been overworked, but Ford says he has never felt better. Now, with the hottest summer weeks coming up, Manager Houk has announced Ford will start every five days, but even so, Ford will be pitching far more than in past years.
Another thing that has helped Ford is that his teammates are the Yankees, a double blessing, since he does not have to pitch against them. The Yankees provide Ford—and all their pitchers—with a cheerful working atmosphere, lots of runs and a tight defense. "I'm a ground-ball pitcher," says Ford. "It's very important to me to have a good infield. This one we have is the best I've seen since I came to the Yankees."
The Yankees' heavy hitting—by Maris, Mantle, Howard, Skowron and Berra—has helped Ford out of several jams this year. In Los Angeles in late June, Ford left the game after eight innings, losing 6-5. With two out in the ninth, Moose Skowron hit a three-run homer and Ford, in the showers, discovered he was a winner. In Yankee Stadium, against the Red Sox, Ford started a game by giving up two singles and a home run. He hung on, kept the Sox from scoring for the next five innings, and the big Yankee hitters more than made up for his lapse.
Of course, these instances are exceptional. Most of the time Ford does not need many runs. He is especially effective early in the game. In 17 of his first 21 starts this season he gave up two runs or less in the first six innings. By that time the Yankees had usually given him a lead. Then, whenever Ford started to tire, there was someone in the bullpen to relieve him. That someone has generally been Luis Arroyo.
Arroyo, called Yoyo by some, is a plump little 34-year-old left-hander who had an undistinguished career in the National League until the Yankees bought him last year. His best pitch is a screwball that causes batters to hit on the ground, a handy weapon in relief since it encourages inning-ending double plays. Arroyo has relieved Ford nine times this season, and all but once he has saved the victory. The one time Arroyo was ineffective, he was charged with the defeat himself, a reliever's fate.
Arroyo's locker in Yankee Stadium is, by accident, next to Ford's so that there is great merriment in that corner of the room whenever the two collaborate on a victory. "If I win 25," said Ford one night, "I'm going to hold out for $100,000 and split it with Luis." Arroyo said he'd settle for 60-40. After another Arroyo save, Ford announced that he was going to sponsor a special Luis Arroyo night at Yankee Stadium and shower him with gifts. When Arroyo relieved another Yankee left-hander, Bud Daley, Ford told Daley to keep his hands off "my relief pitcher." After Ford pitched two complete games in a row, Arroyo threatened to desert him for somebody else. "But I am just kidding," says Arroyo. "When I save a game for Whitey, he says 'nice going' and then he buys me a couple of beers."