Whitey Ford is important, of course, to Yankee lore. “The Chairman of the Board,” is lumped together with Yogi and Mickey as the bulwarks of that era of Yankee baseball. It is often mistakenly thought that his success was largely due to the team he pitched for. After all, his 236-106 career record and .690 winning percentage are kind of freakish. But Ford was more than just a guy who benefited from pitching for the Yankees. He finished his career with a 2.75 ERA and allowed only 7.9 hits per nine innings for his career. His post season career may not look impressive at 10-8 in the World Series, but his post season ERA and hits per nine were nearly identical to his regular season career totals. He was a really good pitcher.
And Whitey Ford lost two full seasons to the armed services. He had broken in to the majors at the age of 21 in 1950 and had stunning success as he went 9-1. Though he pitched only 112 innings in 1950, he came in second in Rookie of the Year Award voting. Those two lost seasons of 1951 and 1952 would have certainly added to his career totals. Whitey Ford was a Hall of Fame pitcher and he was the Yankees’ ace. He would need to be on April 22 of 1959.
Ford would match up with Bill Fischer, a rather nondescript pitcher who pitched nine mediocre seasons from 1956 to 1964. He was not mediocre on this day. The game would be played at old Griffith Stadium, the place where Mickey Mantle hit his famous 565-foot homer. Despite the Yankees being in town, the Senators only drew 7,337 fans to the stadium that day. Those few souls got to see a heck of a game.
Fischer showed he had great stuff that day right from the first inning as he retired the side in order in the top of the first. The first batter of the game against Whitey Ford (Reno Bertoia) doubled. The second batter, Albie Pearson, lined out to third. Ford looked easy to hit early. But he would get out of the inning and avoid trouble the first three innings despite at least one hit in each inning. Fischer, meanwhile, retired the Yanks in order in the second and worked around two walks in the third.
The Yankees had a solid chance to score in the top of the fourth off of Fischer. Tony Kubek led off the inning with a single and Mickey Mantle walked. Yogi Berra, however, fouled out to first. Berra had an awful start to the 1959 season and after going without a hit in this game, would be batting .176. A Norm Siebern ground out moved both runners up, but Fischer escaped the jam when Bill Skowron flew out to center.
Whitey Ford put two more base runners on in the bottom of the fourth with a walk and a single. But they were wrapped around a double-play and a strikeout and the Senators were never a serious threat that inning. Fischer retired the side in order in the top of the fifth and Ford started getting nasty in the bottom of that inning as he wrapped two strikeouts around a weak ground ball right back to him. But the Yankees would rally in the top of the sixth.
After Hank Bauer struck out, Tony Kubek singled again. Mantle hit a grounder to second that should have been a double-play ball. Bertoia threw it to Ken Aspromonte, but the shortstop dropped the throw for an error and everyone was safe. Yogi Berra then proved that when you are going bad, luck plays a big part. He hit the ball on a line to first base. Norm Zauchin snared it and stepped on first to double up Mantle.
Ford was dominating at that point. From the fifth to the eighth inning, he struck out six Senators and they could not muster any kind of threat. The Yankees kept trying to score on Fischer and kept coming up empty handed. They had chances in the seventh and eighth but could not get the hit with runners in scoring position. The Yankees went in order in the top of the ninth and Ford worked around a single in the bottom of the ninth and those few fans in the stands were going to get free baseball.
Fischer would give the Senators one more scoreless inning in the top of the tenth, but it did not come easy. Whitey Ford led off the inning with a double and was bunted over to third by Hank Bauer. Whitey had a good year at the plate that season and as a pitcher, put up a 94 OPS+ for the season at the plate. But the free out proved costly as the Senators brought in their infield and Fischer would get Kubek and Mantle to ground to the second baseman and Fischer had shut out the Yankees for ten innings.
The ten innings of shutout baseball gave Fischer his highest game score of his career at 79. He would break it a month and a half later with a complete game shutout of the Indians and finish that conventional nine-inning start with an 85 game score. But this game against the Yankees was also his highest WPA game and arguably, the best start of his career. His day was done as the Senators pinch hit for him in the bottom of the tenth. But Whitey Ford still had a lot of work to do.
Ford walked the first batter in the bottom of the tenth. The Senators’ catcher, Jay Porter bunted to get the runner to second. Ed Fitz Gerald pinch hit for Fischer and grounded out. Bertoia was intentionally walked to get to Albie Pearson and the strategy worked as Pearson popped out to third. With Fischer out of the game, perhaps the Yankees would have a better chance against reliever, Chuck Stobbs.
Stobbs had some decent seasons for the Red Sox and Senators, but by 1957 had fallen on hard times. He went 9-20 in 1957 with an ERA over five. He lost his starting job in 1958 and made only a few spot starts and pitched mostly in relief. He went 3-9 in 1958 with an ERA again over five. He had already lost a game for the Senators before this April 22 game giving him a auspicious record of 12-30 in his last 42 decisions. But in this game, he retired the Yankees in order in the eleventh and thirteenth and worked around a walk in the twelfth.
Meanwhile, Ford faced eleven batters in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth and struck out four of them and worked around two walks. The two teams had completed thirteen innings and the score was still tied at zero.
Elston Howard pinch hit for Norm Siebern to lead off the top of the fourteenth, but fouled out the the catcher. Bill Skowron then walked to the plate. Skowron had a bad game to that point with five at bats without a hit including a strikeout. But his day ended sweetly as he crushed a Stobbs pitch into the left field seats and the tie was broken. The Yankees tried to score more in the inning as Bobby Richardson doubled and Whitey Ford walked. But the Senators brought in Dick Hyde to replace Stobbs and Hyde got his team out of the inning. The Senators had one more crack at Whitey Ford.
Zauchin led off the bottom of the fourteenth with a single. And then Senators’ manager, Cookie Lavagetto, pulled a move that should put him in the manager Hall of Shame. He decided to have Harmon Killebrew try to bunt the runner to second. First of all, Killebrew hit 42 homers that season. Second of all, he had already gone two for five against Ford in the game. Sure, he was slow and a double-play threat, but to take the bat out of his hands? Ludicrous. Naturally, his bunt did not work as the runner was thrown out at second and now the slow-footed Killebrew was on first.
Whitey must have appreciated the gift because he got Aspromonte to pop out to second. But Jay Porter singled and there were runners on first and second with two outs. Ron Samford pinch hit for Hyde and Ford got him to ground out to second to end the game. Whitey Ford had just thrown a shutout for fourteen innings!
The game was a milestone for Ford in many ways. His fifteen strikeouts in the game was the most he would ever record in a contest. His game score of 106 for the game is the second highest for a Yankee pitcher in the team’s history and Ford’s WPA of 1.413 remains the Yankee record for a single game. The game did seem to take something out of Whitey Ford. His next three appearances covered 20.1 innings and he gave up 33 hits. But there was no way Whitey Ford was not going to finish that game on April 22, 1959. It would be his masterpiece.
Bill Fischer had nothing to show for his great effort and poor Dobbs was saddled with the loss. His record for the season ended up at 1-6, giving him a three year total of 13-35. Ouch. Of Whitey Ford and the New York Yankees, those few fans in Griffeth Stadium saw one of the best pitched games ever in a Hall of Fame career.