Early in his career he was known as “Slick,” but by the time Whitey Ford ended his 16-year Hall of Fame pitching career with the New York Yankees, the smooth left-hander was called “The Chairman of the Board.”
With the 2016 season about to begin, it’s worth noting that Ford was the first pitcher to get the Opening Day starting assignment seven times for the Yankees. It has since been matched by Mel Stottlemyre and another lefty, Ron Guidry. But Ford set the bar starting in 1954 with his first Opening Day start. Ford, who went 236-106 for New York, actually struggled on Opening Day, going 3-4.
It’s hard to believe that Ford, who turns 88 on October 21, is the fourth oldest living Hall of Famer. Born in 1928, Ford trails Bobby Doerr (who turns 98 on April 7), Red Schoendienst (born in 1923) and Tom Lasorda (born in 1927).
As a left-handed kid and a Yankees fan, I enjoyed watching Ford pitch. I always thought he was shorter, though. His playing height and weight was listed at 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds.
Ford had a fair amount of baseball cards issued during his career, both by Topps and Bowman. Here is a look at five favorites including some budget-priced options.
1951 Bowman — This is Ford’s rookie card, coming off his 9-1 debut season with the Yankees in 1950. He is card No. 1 in the set, and there have been 1,126 cards submitted to PSA. Of those cards, none grade as gem mint and only three rate a PSA-9. Forty-five have been graded PSA-8. Being the first card in the set, rough handling was inevitable. Centering is a problem, too, particularly with the small size (2 1/16 inches by 3 1/8 inches) of the card.
There are 308 SGC graded cards of the 1951 Ford rookie, and only two have graded as high as 96. There are two more that came in at 94.
High-end Ford rookie cards will often sell for well into four figures. You can find a middle-of-the-road version, though, for around $350-500.
Certainly, the ’51 Bowman is the most valuable of all Ford cards. But there are other interesting ones, too, representing several stages of his career.
1955 Bowman — Ford appeared in both Bowman and Topps sets in 1953 and ’54, but he only appeared in the Bowman set in 1955. It’s a nice addition to the famed wood-grain look that is designed to depict a television set — still quite a novelty in 1955. Placed at card No. 59 in the set, Ford is featured in a tightly cropped image in a stretch position and wearing his road uniform.
The nice thing about this one is it’s readily available and not expensive.
There are 950 PSA-graded cards from this set, but only one that grades out gem mint. Ten earned a PSA-9 grade. There is also one SGC submission that grades at 98, out of 59 submitted.
1962 Topps “Ford Tosses a Curve”— Another wood-grain set, this ’62 set featured a subset of “in action” cards. Some include Mickey Mantle (The Switch Hitter Connects), Stan Musial (Musial Plays 21st Season) and Warren Spahn (Spahn Shows No-Hit Form). Those were cards that featured three action shots.
Ford’s card (No. 315) showcased four photos, under the heading “Ford Tosses A Curve.” For 1962, it’s a great in-game sequence that was rarely used by Topps back then, except perhaps in recapping World Series games.
It’s an easy score on eBay and you can own a very nice one for $25 or less.
Ford, by the way, did indeed have a fairly wicked curveball.
1967 Topps — Card No. 5 proved to be Ford’s final regular-season Topps card. It shows him in a photo pose that he seemed to take in several Topps issues—in a follow-through after delivering a pitch.
The 1967 shot was a closer-angle shot than the 1957 version, which is virtually the same pose. The 1959 Topps follow-through shot is slightly different, but we see that arm extension again in the 1961 set on Ford’s high-number all-star card (No. 586). That pose was duplicated for Ford’s base card in the 1962 Topps set (No. 310), and there were similar variations in the 1964 and ’66 sets.
A graded 9 will run $175 and up but $15 will buy you a respectable ungraded copy.
1953 Topps — Staying on that theme of follow-through, Ford’s first card with Topps (No. 207) hints at him finishing his windup.
The beautiful artwork that characterized the ’53 Topps set hints at it, although the portrait is too tightly cropped to tell. After his debut in the 1951 Bowman set, Ford missed the 1951 and ’52 seasons due to military service. That deprived collectors of a 1952 Topps version of Ford, but the 1953 version is a nice, colorful start. It’s not hard to find but nicer versions will go $100 and up.