Ford missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons while in the Army, but returned with an 18-6 season in 1953. As he remembered it, Yankee catcher Elston Howard gave him the nickname Chairman of the Board around the mid-’50s.
Ford kept rolling along, winning 53 games from 1954 to 1956.
Then came an infamous night in Yankee lore. In May 1957, Ford and Mantle joined with a few teammates to celebrate Martin’s 29th birthday at the Copacabana nightclub. A patron wound up on the floor with a broken nose and accused Hank Bauer, the Yankees’ strapping right fielder, of decking him. Bauer denied it, and no charges were filed, but the Yankees fined all the players who were there for the embarrassing headline-making episode. It was never clear who clobbered the customer, and Berra famously explained, “Nobody did nuthin’ to nobody.” But Martin was soon banished to the lowly Kansas City Athletics.
In April 1958, to mark the start of another baseball season, Ford did a star turn with Berra, Mantle and first baseman Bill Skowron on Ed Sullivan’s popular CBS variety show with a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” They were accompanied by Jack Norwood, who wrote the lyrics in 1908.
The Yankees concluded the season by defeating the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series.
A World Series Maven
The winning ways continued for Ford into the early 1960s.
He was at his best in the World Series, his records including most victories (10) and most strikeouts (94) along with his 33⅔ straight scoreless innings.
He threw two shutouts against the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, though his pitching was overshadowed by Bill Mazeroski’s Series-winning home run for Pittsburgh in Game 7. He pitched another shutout in Game 1 of the 1961 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds and pitched five scoreless innings in Game 4 before a reliever came in. The Yankees won that Series in five games, with Ford’s total of 32 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play eclipsing the record of 29⅔ innings set by Babe Ruth for the Boston Red Sox in 1916 and 1918.
Ralph Houk, who replaced Stengel as the Yankees’ manager in 1961, used Ford more frequently than Stengel had, and Johnny Sain, who became the pitching coach that year, added to Ford’s repertoire by teaching him to throw a slider. Ford won 14 consecutive games, posted a 25-4 record and captured the Cy Young Award as baseball’s best pitcher.