By Cary Shuman
Forty years after he pitched in his final game as a professional baseball player, Ricky Ford has a championship ring to call his own.
Ford, a sophomore, southpaw fireballer on the 1973 Lynn Tech state title team who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, recently received a ring in the mail honoring his participation on the Burlington (Iowa) Bees A-Ball team that won the 1977 Midwest League championship.
“I played a half a season with Burlington and I was 6-2 with a 1.43 ERA,” Ford recalled. “I was promoted to Holyoke which was Double-A. Interestingly the guy who took my number (16) on the Burlington team was Paul Molitor, who won the Midwest League triple crown. It would make a great Trivial Pursuit question.”
Molitor went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Milwaukee Brewers and is currently the manager of the Minnesota Twins. (He wore jersey No. 4 for the Brewers.)
Ford made some lasting friendships with his Burlington teammates. His catcher was Chuck Ross, father of current Red Sox pitcher Robby Ross. Another teammates was 6-foot-8-inch Mike Dempsey, who played college basketball and baseball at North Carolina State.
Ford said the 1977 Burlington Bees recently held a reunion at which time he was going to be surprised with a presentation of a championship ring. He was unable to attend the reunion due to a family commitment. But the ring, sporting the Burlington Bees colors and the official “MLB” insignia, arrived at the Ford home, bringing a big smile to former pitching ace.
“The guys always kidded with me about not having a ring,” said Ford. “It was great to finally get one.”
The Brewers drafted Ford in the tenth round in 1975 following his spectacular career at Lynn Tech. That summer he played for the Connery American Legion team with several outstanding players from the Greater Lynn area.
“I received an $8,000 bonus from the Brewers,” said Ford. “I thought I was rich. I bought a car.”
Ford reported to spring training and was assigned to the Burlington Bees in 1976. He continued his progress with the Bees and was promoted to the Holyoke (Mass). Millers.
“I had a 5-5 record at Holyoke,” said Ford. “In 1978 I returned to Holyoke and was released in spring training. I had two offers from the Dodgers and Orioles, and I signed with the Dodgers and they sent me back to A-Ball in the Midwest League.”
During his stint with the Clinton (Iowa) Dodgers, Ford had a non-speaking role in “The Ron LaFlore Story” starring Levar Burton. “I got $40 a day to play a baseball game in the movie,” said Ford.
Ford said he also met Billy Conigliaro when he was with the Oakland A’s.
“We trained in Tempe (Arizona) and Billy trained out of Mesa,” said Ford. “I saw Billy walk by, and I told Billy how his father (Sal) once told me to behave and stay focused on baseball. We had a lot of similar memories growing up and playing baseball on the North Shore.”
Following his pro baseball career, Ford returned to Lynn and played for Mass. Envelope in the Boston Park League.
Ford is the long-time owner of the Little River Inn, a popular breakfast spot on Boston Street. He has also been busy in his campaign for Lynn city councilor-at-large.
Ford’s next stop as a former ace for the Burlington Bees: He and his teammates are hoping to join Paul Molitor for a reunion in Minnesota.