Newspaper article International New York Times

Whitey Ford Goes to the Head of Yankees' Table

Newspaper article International New York Times

Whitey Ford Goes to the Head of Yankees' Table

Article excerpt

Babe Ruth was once considered the Greatest Living Yankee, as were Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra. Now it is Ford's turn.


Who is now the Greatest Living Yankee?

For 16 years, Yogi Berra wore that honor, and he wore it well, and humbly. He would show up in spring training and patter around the clubhouse, a little old man amid the modern-day behemoths.

Berra, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, seemed most comfortable with the Guidrys and Gossages, spring advisers from more recent glorious eras. Presumably, most of the new breed, crowded into narrow aisles of lockers, had some clue that this was the very same Lawrence Peter Berra who once terrorized pitchers from April to October, swinging at anything that moved.

On no other North American sports franchise is there the same cachet to the hypothetical ranking of Greatest Living. Undoubtedly fans and writers perform the same mental exercise for the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Celtics or the Dallas Cowboys, but the Yankees lead the league in monuments and plaques and retired numbers and special "days," some of it blatantly extraneous, to sell tickets and memorabilia.

Still, the Yankees have nearly a century's worth of excellence, starting with Babe Ruth's arrival in 1920. At some point, people began playing with the concept of Greatest Living Ball Player for the entire major leagues. I recall ongoing debates about Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in their old ages -- Stan Musial was always third in that exercise -- and now it is probably Willie Mays.

Admittedly, these mental gymnastics have a morbid side because they involve the passing of the mantle -- never worn by Mickey Mantle, by the way.

Whether or not anybody had invented the category in his lifetime, Babe Ruth was surely the Greatest Living Yankee almost immediately upon lofting home runs at the Polo Grounds, allowing the Yankees to build their own palace across the Harlem River. Lou Gehrig came later and died young. When the Babe died on Aug. 16, 1948, he was surely the Greatest.

Was there any debate that Joe DiMaggio became the Greatest Living Yankee as he morphed from classic center fielder to pitchman for coffee machines and perennial guest at banquets? Mantle, who inherited the superstar role after 1951, lived longer than he ever imagined, but died on Aug. 13, 1995, at the age of 63. DiMaggio lived until March 8, 1999, and was honored in a funeral in the cathedral in his hometown of San Francisco. Outside, in the plaza, dozens of people performed tai chi in the brisk sunshine.

Then, with all due respect to the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto, the title went to Berra, with his .285 batting average and 358 homers (12 more in 41 World Series games), his exemplary catching and versatility that allowed Casey Stengel to station "Mr. …

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