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September 27, 1936: Bill Ford

William Ford is a poor old chap who, on this day 83 years ago, entered a game for the Boston Bees with a chance to make a name for himself. Instead, he walked off the mound with an ERA of infinity. He is one of 17 pitchers in baseball history with that dubious distinction. Ford's performance wasn't as bad as his stats may indicate, though.

If he wants to blame someone for his infinite ERA, he can blame relief pitcher Guy Bush. With Bill Klem, one of baseball's most famous umpires, behind the plate, Ford strode to the mound at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia to try and hand the Philadelphia Phillies their 100th loss on the final day of the season. It was the first of two games in a doubleheader that would round out the regular season campaign.

Klem didn't like what he saw from Ford as the young pitcher walked the first three batters he faced. Just like that, Ford was removed from the game. Bush then entered and allowed two inherited runners to score. Since Ford had put them on and hadn't recorded an out, his ERA went straight to infinity. Bush settled down after that, pitching nine innings in relief, allowing just one additional earned run in a 7-3 Bees victory.

The Penn State grad went on to play several seasons in the minor leagues between 1937-1941 before the United States entered into World War II. Amazingly, from 1938-1940, he played for eight different teams. Clearly, his love for the game wasn't going anywhere as he was sent around the country to places like Columbia, South Carolina, El Dorado, Arkansas, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Hutchinson, Kansas.

Although his one MLB appearance was as a pitcher, he gave up moundsmanship after the 1937 season with the Zanesville Greys in which he went 3-6 with a 7.30 ERA in 20 games. His remaining four seasons in organized baseball came as a hitter. Seemingly the highlight of his career came in 1939 when he hit .300 as a member of the McKeesport Little Pirates, much closer to his hometown of Buena Vista, Pennsylvania.

By 1942, he was out of the game. He lived a long life, passing away on April 6, 1994. Tragically, at the time of his death, he had not yet entered the official major league record book. A scoring error had credited his appearance to Gene Ford, another pitcher who pitched just one game for the Bees in 1936. It wasn't until 2003, nine years after Ford's death, and 67 years after his lone appearance, that this was corrected.

Rick Benner of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) discovered the error and had it corrected, helping Ford become recognized as having pitched in the major leagues. While many players from baseball's early days in the 1880s and 1890s have been discovered over the years, for Benner to "discover" a player from the 1930s was very rare. Thanks to Benner's methodical research, there is proof forever that on one big-league afternoon, though his numbers may not indicate it, Bill Ford was a 20-year-old big-league pitcher with all his life ahead of him.


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