Monday, November 24, 2014

Card #134: Dan Ford

Who Can It Be Now?
Darnell Glenn Ford was born on May 19, 1952, in Los Angeles, California. He attended Fremont High School, the same high school attended by such baseball luminaries as Bobby Doerr, his own future manager Gene Mauch, Bobby Tolan, Bob Watson, George Hendrick, Chet Lemon, and Eric Davis, among others. When Ford was a Freshman, Hendrick was a senior, and Lemon was a freshman when Ford was a senior.

Based off his high school exploits, the Oakland A's selected Ford with the 18th pick overall in the 1970 June Amateur Draft. The A's assigned Ford to Burlington in the Midwest League in 1971. In 107 games, he hit 14 HR, drove in 80, stole 12 bases in 18 attempts, and slashed at .267/.361/.446 -- not too bad for a 19-year-old in a league of 21-year-olds. He repeated the level in 1972 and played in just 72 games that season -- but he made the most of them: 292 plate appearances, 18 HR, 9 SB (4 CS), and .354/.438/.667 slash line. Just some gaudy numbers.

The A's promoted Ford aggressively in 1973, skipping him over Double-A, and in retrospect you have to wonder why they did that. Sure, Ford hit fine -- 21 2B, 12 3B, 14 HR, 16 SM, and .292/.371/.480 slash -- but the outfield in Oakland was both young and very good. Perhaps Ford could have been the DH on the 1973 or, in particular, the 1974 World Champion team, but the A's did not even give Ford a late season call-up in 1974. In fact, by the end of the 1974 season, Ford has fallen so far out of favor that the A's traded him to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for the 27-year-old 1B-DH Pat Bourque -- who never took another swing in the major leagues after 1974 and moved to Mexico City. Truly a head scratcher.

The Twins, on the other hand, said "thank you, A's" and plugged Ford into their lineup as an outfielder.  He stayed with the Twins for four productive years in his early and mid 20s, totalling 57 HR and slashing at .272/.331/.435 in over 2200 plate appearances.  While in Minnesota, he made what one commentator called the worst play in team history: he scored a run from third base on a single to the outfield on which the man who was on second -- Jose Morales -- scored before him and got called out. Ford trotted in from third and neglected to touch home before Morales slid in safely. As a result, Morales was called out for passing Ford on the basepaths, and the Twins lost a game 4-3 that they easily could have won otherwise.

Perhaps unsurprisingly after negligence of that nature, Ford soon found himself in a different uniform. Now, to be fair, Ford demanded the trade in the wake of comments made by the Twins then-Owner, Calvin Griffith. Griffith was quoted as saying, among other things, that he moved the team to Minneapolis from Washington after learning that the Twin Cities had only 15,000 black people in its metropolitan area in the early 1960s. Griffith said that the move was justified because blacks just don't go to baseball games.

Also, the other team in the trade -- the California Angels -- really wanted Ford too. After the Angels' rising star OF Lyman Bostock was murdered in September of 1978 in Gary, Indiana, the Angels continued tapping the Minnesota pipeline. In the late 1970s, the Twins appeared to serve the Angels in the way that the Kansas City A's served the Yankees in the early 1960s: as a glorified major-league version of a Triple-A team. Bostock had signed from Minnesota after the 1977 season, and in the 1978 offseason, the Twins and Angels made two trades. The first saw Dan Ford join the Angels in exchange for Ron Jackson and Danny Goodwin, and the second was the trade in which future HOF member Rod Carew joined the Angels. 

Ford went from a mediocre Twins club to a team that would lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS, serving as the Angels starting right fielder and putting up his best statistical season at the age of 27. He hit 21 HR (career high), drove in 101 runs (career high), and hit .290 (career high) with an OBP of .333 and an SLG of .464 (career high).

His final two seasons in California, though, saw Ford struggling through injuries and ineffectiveness. He got suspended for corking his bat, and started a fight with A's catcher Mike Heath when Heath tried to grab the bat to claim it was corked. 

With his attitude and the controversies he stirred up -- such as posing for a centerfold for Playgirl magazine -- the singing cowboy Gene Autry lost patience. And, once again, another team really wanted Ford. This time, it was the Baltimore Orioles. Looking to open up third base for a highly touted rookie named Cal Ripken, the Orioles traded their incumbent third baseman Doug DeCinces to the Angels with pitcher Jeff Schneider for Ford. 

Ford spent the final four seasons of his career in Baltimore, though injuries again claimed a significant portion of his final two years as an Oriole. He did win a World Series ring as part of the 1983 Orioles even though he struggled at the plate in that series. But, after a 1985 season in which he appeared in just 28 games (and after a similarly limited 1984 season), Ford called it quits at the age of 33.

Mustache Check: Though it is tough to see on this photo, Ford definitely is mustachioed here.

Everybody Wants You
We haven't had one of these in a while, so I thought I'd resurrect this category to represent the fact that Ford was traded after his card was finalized to the Baltimore Orioles on January 28, 1982.

Trivial Pursuit
In 1976, the New York Yankees reopened the newly renovated House that Ruth Built. The Yankees had spent the entirety of 1974 and 1975 playing their home games in Shea Stadium. The reconfigured stadium opened on April 15, 1976, when the Yankees opened their home slate of games against the Twins.  

Dan Ford hit second for the Twins that day. Jerry Terrell walked to start the game. Ford stepped up and hit a fat pitch from Rudy May over the wall. That home run was the first home run in what some folks call "Yankee Stadium II."

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Dan Ford had a distinctive batting style with a very closed stance at the plate. I remember mimicking his stance while playing as a kid in the wake of the 1979 ALCS. If you never saw it, that "Batting Stance Guy" tries to do it in his video here, though I feel like that one is more of a caricature than a real representation. For comparison's sake, here's Ford against Jim Palmer in game 1 of the 1979 ALCS. Ford's stance wasn't as bent-over as the BSG dude makes it appear, and Ford's back is turned much further toward the pitcher as well.

Ford never hit well against the Brewers. He only hit 3 of his career 121 HR against Milwaukee, second fewest ahead of only the Red Sox. His AVG was .255 -- third worst ahead of only the Tigers and Twins. And, his SLG was against second worst ahead only of the Red Sox. I have no logical explanation for how this worked.

Dan Ford has one of the best nicknames of that late-1970s era: Disco Dan. The alleged story behind that nickname -- which appears in Angels Journal: Year by Year and Day by Day with the Los Angeles Angels -- is that Ford got the nickname because he had a financial stake in a disco club in 1979. Another book, Oriole Magic: The O's Of 1983, claims that Ford got the nickname because "he came from California and had a little more style and flair than the conservative Baltimore Orioles clubhouse was used to."  

No offense to Mr. Thom Loverro, who wrote that Orioles book, but I tend to believe the first explanation over the second. I distinctly recall Ford being called "Disco Dan" during the ALCS in 1979. Now, certainly, that could be my overactive imagination from 35 years ago kicking in, but that is my recollection.

After his career ended, he stayed away from baseball for four years and helped run his family's ranch in Louisiana. He says that he did not enjoy that job and found it difficult to judge talent, so instead he got out of baseball. He and a man named Darryl Jackson (no idea if it is the former Twins pitcher, whose name is Darrell Jackson...but that misspelling is an easy one to make), started an intervention program to work with what Ford calls "tough kids." 

Hopefully, they made a difference in at least one person's life.

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