Major league debuts are memorable for every player that gets one. However, they also aren’t any sort of long term predictor of success. Plenty of players that went on to have short and less than stellar MLB careers had solid first games, and plenty of great players have had bad ones.
As far as memorable Yankees’ debuts, it’s hard to look past Aaron Judge’s where he hit a towering homer in his first ever MLB at-bat. On the other end of that spectrum is Whitey Ford’s debut in 1950.
Signed by the legendary scout Paul Krichell, Ford entered the Yankees’ system before the 1947 season and began to work his way through the organization. He really stamped his mark in 1949 when he put up a 1.61 ERA in 168 innings with the Binghamton Triplets of the Eastern League. However, he also developed the reputation as being a bit cocky. He reportedly anomalously called Casey Stengel saying the major league team should call up Ford. While playing for Binghamton, he also used to sit by manager and former Yankee player George Selkirk and frequently ask to be put in the game. When it came to 1950, the Yankees invited him to spring training, but with the request that he behaved himself.
Ford wouldn’t break camp with the Yankees in 1950 and instead started the season with the Triple-A Kansas City Blues. However after getting off to a good start there, he eventually got the call to New York. He travelled overnight in order to join the team for their July 1st game in Boston against the Red Sox.
Starting for the Yankees that day was Tommy Byrne, although that did not go great. Despite being given a 1-0 lead, Byrne allowed four runs in the bottom of the first on a Walt Dropo grand slam. Then in the second, he got just one out on a sacrifice bunt, as he walked the bases loaded and then allowed a RBI single to Dropo. At that point, Stengel had enough and went to his bullpen. He brought in Ford, giving him his MLB debut.
Ford came in, and while he allowed the inherited runners to score in the second, bounced back with scoreless frames in the third and fourth. However in the fifth, Ford allowed four runs on two hits and four walks, definitively ending any chances the Yankees had that day as Boston went up 12-1. He allowed one more run in the sixth before being replaced.
In his major league debut, Whitey Ford allowed five runs on seven hits and six walks in 4.2 innings. Even beyond that, he did it in essentially mop up duty. For someone that would eventually become arguably the greatest Yankee pitcher ever, that’s such an inconspicuous way to make a debut.
In his next appearance, Ford got the start and allowed four runs in seven innings, getting a no decision as the Yankees rallied for a win. On July 17th, he went 7.2 innings and got his first major league win. After that, his career was off to the races and ended with him in the Hall of Fame.
Sure, other Hall of Fame starting pitchers began their MLB careers in the bullpen, but it’s funny to think about the people there that day watching this guy come in and do badly, with no idea what’s coming in the future.
New York Times, July 2, 1950