My nomination of Whitey Ford as the Greatest Living Yankee is up and running on the NY Times web site, as of Thursday morning:
Here are two memories of Yogi and Whitey. The first is by Bill Wakefield, who had a really nice season pitching for the Mets in 1964 but was overtaken by the Seavers and Ryans. Bill and I keep in touch. He sent me this memory of Yogi:
1950 - Yogi and a brash outfielder from the Detroit Tigers, Dick Wakefield, a tall lanky outfielder who liked to smoke cigars, played together with the Yankees. It was a brief overlap of careers and Dick was soon on his way to play for the Oakland Oaks in the PCL.
1964 - Yogi is the Manager of the Yankees and I was pitching for the Mets - -- and in an era before Interleague play -- the Mets and the Yankees played a Mayor's Trophy Game every summer in NYC. In 1964 the game was at Shea -- full house - Yogi puts himself in to pinch hit -- Casey Stengel puts me in to face Yogi. In the category of minor miracles Yogi hits into a 6-4-3 double play -- inning over.
1965 - Spring Training -- Yogi is now catching for the Mets. I am trying to make the team. I come in to pitch two innings -- Yogi is my catcher. He comes to the mound and says "Dick, you still pitching after all these years??" Yogi says, "I can't catch curve balls, sliders, two seams or changes anymore and throw anybody out so today we're throwing all fast balls." What do you say to Yogi?? With a limited assortment of pitches -- one -- and a modest fastball I got out of the two innings unscathed.
1974 - I go back to Shea Stadium for an Old Timers game. Yogi is managing the Mets - Yogi sees me.
"Hey Dick how old are you? You got me out in the Mayor's Trophy Game. Can you still get anybody out?"
I got my guy -- Joe Pignatano - out in the Old Timers Game.
I was thrilled Yogi remembered -- Yogi was a good man!!!
When the Times asked me to nominate a new Greatest Living Yankee today, I did not have room to include this personal tribute to Whitey Ford:
Sometime in the early 60’s, the Yankee charter flight came back from out west, after a night game. (In those days, writers flew with the team, for convenience.) It was nearly dawn when they landed at JFK. I had a car in the lot across from the United terminal and I told Whitey, who lived in Lake Success, and Hector Lopez, who lived in Lakeview, that I would give them a ride to their homes. I left my suitcase with them at the curb.
When I got to my car, a tire was flat. By the time I got back to the terminal, the sun was up and they were gone. So was my suitcase. No cellphones in those days. I drove home, slept a few hours, and wondered where my suitcase was.
Around noon, the phone rang. Whitey had the suitcase in his house, and I could pick it up whenever convenient, which I did on my next trip to the Stadium.
Given the busy lives of ballplayers, I’m not sure every player would have done that act of thoughtfulness. I marked Whitey down as a mensch, and still do.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.