Remembering Whitey Ford and his Canadian connections

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Who was Whitey Ford’s manager when he recorded the lowest ERA of his professional career?

The answer is Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee George Selkirk.

The Huntsville, Ont., native was the dugout boss of the class-A Eastern League Binghamton Triplets in 1949 when Ford, then a fresh-faced 20-year-old, posted a minuscule 1.61 ERA in 26 appearances (19 starts). That’s by far Ford’s best ERA in a full professional season.

In all, during that dominant campaign, Ford won 16 games and struck out 151 batters in 168 innings and, not surprisingly, his ERA was the best in the league.

Throughout that season, Selkirk referred to Ford as a “can’t miss” prospect for the New York Yankees. And when it came time for the postseason, after a so-so year that saw the Triplets finish 70-70 and in the fourth and last playoff spot, Selkirk would lean heavily on his prized young left-hander.

In the Triplets’ underdog run to a league title, Ford was used in four games over two series, and went 3-0 with a save and racked up 34 strikeouts in 28 innings. He was the starting and winning pitcher in Game 7 of the championship series against the Wilkes-Barre Indians. In that start, Ford went the distance, allowing three runs, while striking out 10, in the Triplets’ 7-3 victory.

This great 1949 Binghamton Triplets team photo was sold in a Huggins & Scott auction for $240 in June 2014. Whitey Ford is third from the right in the second row, while manager George Selkirk (Huntsville, Ont.) is on the far right in the bottom row, sitting with the bat boy and the team’s business manager.

So even as a 20-year-old in class-A, Ford was a clutch performer.

When the legendary lefty passed away on October 8 at the age of 91, he was rightfully heralded for his accomplishments in his 16-year big league career with the Yankees. While with the Bombers, Ford collected a franchise record 236 wins, 10 all-star selections, six World Series rings and the 1961 Cy Young Award. He also holds several World Series records, including most wins (10), strikeouts (94) and innings pitched (146). For his efforts, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

But Ford’s season under Selkirk in 1949 should not be overlooked. That was his true breakout professional campaign. It was the season that cemented his status as a “can’t miss” major league pitching prospect.

Ford’s link to Selkirk, however, is just one of several Canuck connections that I uncovered for the Yankees iconic southpaw. Here’s a summary:

– Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Pete Ward (Montreal, Que.) is the only Canadian to homer off Ford. In fact, the Chicago White Sox infielder took the Yankees legend deep twice. The first was a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning at White Sox Park on August 16, 1963. It was one of just two runs that Ford gave up in seven innings in the Bombers’ 4-2 victory that day. Ward’s second round-tripper off Ford was a two-run shot in the top of the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium on September 26, 1965 that tied that game 3-3. The White Sox eventually won 5-3. In all, Ward had 10 hits in 50 at bats against Ford, good for a .200 batting average.

– Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ted Bowsfield (Penticton, B.C.) went head-to-head against Ford as a starting pitcher twice. The first showdown was on June 26, 1960 when Bowsfield was with the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland Stadium. The game was 3-2 for the Yankees through five innings before the Canuck was lit up for three runs in the sixth inning. The Yankees came away with a 6-2 victory and Ford tossed a complete game. Just over two years later, Bowsfield fared better when he faced Ford and the Yankees while toeing the rubber for the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium. In that contest, Bowsfield hurled six scoreless innings before being charged with four earned runs in the seventh. But the Angels held on for a 5-4 win. Ford surrendered five earned runs in six innings and was tagged with the loss.

– As author and baseball historian Maxwell Kates noted in a Facebook post last week, Ford served as the TV analyst, alongside play-by-play man Don Chevrier, for the first ever Toronto Blue Jays game (April 7, 1977) which was broadcast on CBC. He was pinch-hitting for Tony Kubek, who would become the Blue Jays’ regular TV analyst. It was the only Blue Jays game that Ford ever called.

– On May 1, 1989, Ford was a guest, along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, at a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame fundraising dinner at the Harbour Castle Westin Conference Centre in Toronto. The theme of the event was a salute to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary in Cooperstown. Montreal Gazette reporter and Jack Graney Award winner Ian MacDonald reported that at the event Ford was asked if he had ever allowed three home runs in a game. Ford did and he shared the story. “It was in Washington and Jim Lemon hit home runs in his first three at bats,” Ford told the crowd. “I’m still in there and leading 5-3 in the ninth when Lemon comes up again with a man on base. I see Casey (manager Stengel) coming out of the dugout and I’m ready with a case for why I should finish the game. I blurt out my argument but Casey just looks me in the eye, reaches for the ball and says, ‘Get outta here!'”

– Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins never pitched against Ford, but the two were National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees and they came to know each other through Cooperstown events over the years. Jenkins paid tribute to Ford on Twitter on October 9. “The baseball world lost another legend today,” wrote Jenkins. “Fellow Hall of Famer and Yankees Great Whitey Ford. 2020 has been a tough year. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Ford Family.”

Published by cooperstownersincanada

Kevin Glew is a professional writer based in London, Ontario. His work has been featured on CBC Sports, Sportsnet.ca, MLB.com and Sympatico.ca. He has also written articles for Baseball Digest, Baseball America, The Hockey News, Sports Market Report and the Canadian Baseball Network. He has been involved with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for more than 16 years, including a two-year stint as the museum's acting curator.

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