The percentages always favored the New York Yankees when left-handed starter Whitey Ford took the mound. In 16 major league seasons, Ford had a record of 236-106 for a winning percentage of .690. He threw 3,170 innings in his career with 1,956 strikeouts and an earned run average of 2.75.
Ford died Oct. 8 while sitting in front of his television, watching the Yankees in the American League Division Series. He was 91 years old.
In the days before interleague baseball, fans of the Milwaukee Braves had an opportunity to see Ford in action during the 1957-58 World Series.
The hitting of Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Joe Adcock and pitching of Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette helped the Braves capture two consecutive National League pennants.
The American League’s Yankees of Ford, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Wisconsin native Tony Kubek dominated baseball since the end of World War II. New York won six world championships between 1949-1956. The 1957 and 1958 World Series were hard fought battles with both played to the maximum seven games.
1957 World Series begins
Ford opened the 1957 series and beat the Braves 3-1 at Yankee Stadium. Milwaukee managed just five hits as Ford went the distance and beat Spahn.
The Braves stormed back in Game 2 with 4-2 win as Burdette took the victory on the mound. Game 3 went to the Yankees 12-3, but Milwaukee tied the series at 2-2 with a 7-5, tenth-inning triumph in Game 4.
Ford returned to the mound for the Yankees in Game 5 with Burdette pitching for Milwaukee at County Stadium. The Braves scored the only run of the game in the sixth inning as Mathews reached base on a two-out infield single, and Aaron moved him to third base on a base hit to center field. Adcock produced the Braves third hit of the inning with a single to right field that scored Mathews.
The Yankees didn’t score as a double play killed a rally in the seventh and in the eighth, pinch runner Mantle was thrown out trying to steal second base. In the ninth, Burdette struck out Hank Bauer and Kubek, and allowed a single to Gil McDougald before Berra ended the game by popping out to third base. Burdette scattered seven hits to win his second game of the series.
The victory put Milwaukee one game from the world championship heading back to New York. But the Yankees forced a seventh game by nipping the Braves 3-2 in Game 6.
Milwaukee manager Fred Toney put Burdette back on the mound for Game 7 and that turned out to be a wise decision. The Braves scored four runs in the third inning as Burdette earned a 5-0 win. It was the Braves’ first World Series win since 1914 when the team was based in Boston. Burdette was named the series most valuable player.
Braves go for two in a row
The 1958 World Series was a rematch between the two teams and it ended in a heartbreaking finish for Milwaukee.
Ford was the starter in Game 1 for the Yankees against Spahn for the Braves. The Yankees led 3-2 heading into the eighth inning when Ford gave up a leadoff walk to Mathews and a double to Aaron to put runners on second and third. Cazenovia, Wisconsin native Ryne Duren, who took over for Ford in relief, struck out Adcock but Wes Covington drove in the tying run on a sacrifice fly. Milwaukee won the game in the tenth inning as Adcock and Del Crandall reached on base hits, and Bill Bruton drove in the winning run with a line drive single to center field. Spahn pitched all 10 innings to earn the victory.
The Braves jumped to a 2-0 advantage in the series with a 13-5 win in Game 2 as Burdette earned the victory, but New York won Game 3 at Yankee Stadium in a 4-0 shutout.
Ford took the mound for New York in Game 4 against Spahn, and held Milwaukee to three hits through five innings before surrendering a leadoff triple to the Braves’ Red Schoendienst in the sixth. Schoendienst scored after Johnny Logan reached base on an infield error to put the Braves on top 1-0. Milwaukee added another run off Ford in the seventh as Crandall led off with a walk and one out later, Andy Pafko doubled to put runners on second and third. Spahn helped his own cause with an RBI single to give Milwaukee a 2-0 advantage.
Ford left the game in the eighth inning after Logan cracked a ground-rule double and Mathews followed with his own double to produce Milwaukee’s third run. There would be no more scoring as Spahn set the Yankees down in order in the eighth and ninth innings for a 3-0 win to put Milwaukee one win away from its second world championship.
The Yankees staved off elimination with a 7-0 triumph in Game 5 and headed into Milwaukee for Game 6 with Ford as the scheduled starter. Bauer pounded a solo homer in the first inning, but the Braves came back to tie the game after Schoendienst led off the first with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Logan and came home one out later on a single by Aaron.
Milwaukee struck again in the second inning as Spahn’s run-producing single sent Covington home from third for a 2-1 Braves lead. Later in the inning, Ford walked Schoendist to load the bases. Art Ditmar came on in relief of Ford and got out of the inning on a double play ball.
New York tied the game 2-2 in the sixth inning after Berra drove home Mantle with a sacrifice fly. The Yankees strung together four hits in the tenth inning and scored two runs as McDougald led off with a home run against Spahn and two outs later, Elston Howard and Berra singled to put runners on first and third.
Milwaukee reliever Don McMahon gave up a single to Bill Skowron to send home another run.
Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the tenth, Aaron clubbed an RBI single off Yankee reliever Duren but New York held on for the victory.
In Game 7, Milwaukee scored first on Covington’s ground out to first, but the Yankees put up two runs in the second inning. The Braves tied the game in the sixth inning on a Crandall home run but Skowron capped off a four-run eighth inning for New York with a three-run homer to give New York a 6-2 lead. The Yankees went on from there to win the game and take another World Series title.
Those would be the only two appearances by the Braves in the World Series while they were in Milwaukee. Eight seasons later, the team would move to Atlanta.
Ford would pitch in five more World Series for the Yankees and help the Bronx Bombers win two more titles. He retired in 1967 and would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 along with Mantle.
That same year, the Yankees would retire Ford’s jersey No. 16.