Chairman of the Board

by John Delach

I am interrupting my series about Foley’s NY Pub & Restaurant out of respect for Edward Charles (Whitey) Ford who died Thursday night, October 8th at 91 years of age. Understandably, his passing has received wide coverage in the press especially in the New York area where he holds just about every team pitching record from his outstanding career with the New York Yankees. Yankees catcher, Elston Howard tagged Whitey Ford with the nickname, Chairman of the Board, to recognize how he controlled and managed each game he pitched. He engineered each of his pitches to take advantage of the batter facing him. Whitey was a natural nickname given his light blond hair.   

My purpose is to remember Whitey Ford with two humorous stories that demonstrate his long-term relationship with his teammate, room-mate and best friend, Mickey Mantle. Both stories are well-known and have spurred several versions. Please bear with me if you heard them differently.

In 1961, Ford and Mantle were selected to the All-Star Game held that year in newly opened Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Peter Stoneham, son of Horace, the Giants owner invited the boys to a round of golf at dad’s trendy country club. Ford and Mantle were not prepared for the club’s dress code. “Peter told them to simply sign for anything they might need. The fun-loving Yankees stars took that literally signing for golf shoes, sweaters, balls and shirts running up a $200 tab  extremely large for that era.” ( $1,740 in today’s money.)

“Ford saw Horace Stoneham later that night and offered to pay the bill, but the Giants owner made a deal instead. If Ford could retire star centerfielder, Willie Mays during the All-Star Game, the debt would be canceled. If Mays got a hit, the total would be doubled.”

Mantle wanted no part of such an arrangement, but Ford talked him into it. Ford only acknowledged after he retired that he sometimes doctored baseballs using saliva, and dirt or a combination of baby oil, turpentine and resin to make his fingers sticky. He also wore a ring with a rasp to cut the surface of the baseballs that affected their flight.

Ford started the All-Star game. Mays came up to bat with two outs. After getting  two strikes on Mays, Ford recalled: “Now the moneys on the line because I might not get to throw to him again. So, I did the only smart thing possible under the circumstances, I loaded the ball up real good…and then I threw Willie the biggest spitball you ever saw.”

Mays stood there transfixed, bat on his shoulder as the umpire called, “Strike Three.” Ford played it cool, but Mantle was so happy that they had won the bet that he ran home from center field hopping and clapping as if they’d just won the game.

The second story happened in January of 1974. I was researching my book about the Giants when I came across a newspaper column about another event that occurred that day. The Hall of Fame had just announced that both Ford and Mantle had both been inducted as part of the Class of 1974. A news conference was hastily put together in the Royal Box, a nightclub in the Americana Hotel to honor the two stars in a light-hearted manner.

“Another legend, the saloon keeper emeritus, Toots Shor, held court: ‘Put a glass in their hands,’ Shor shouted, ‘they don’t look natural”

“Somebody did even though it was only 11 am. Bloody Mary’s were procured.”

Among the subjects raised,  the press wanted to know how the two players  overcame their different backgrounds to become such good friends. Ford was a Queens kid from the streets while Mantle was a country boy from Oklahoma.  A reporter put the question to Mantle this way: “What  was the chemistry of your friendship with Whitey?”

“We both liked Scotch.”

RIP Whitey Ford