At Washington State University, Dale Ford played varsity football, basketball and baseball – an accomplishment that’s almost unheard of today at large universities.
Before college, Ford was a standout athlete who played football, basketball and baseball at North Thurston High School near Olympia and was recruited by the University of Washington, Notre Dame and WSU, along with other schools, his brother recalls.
But “he was comfortable with the environment over there in Pullman and he was comfortable with the coaches,” Tim Ford said of his brother.
In the fall of 1961, Dale Ford enrolled at WSU and immediately signed to play what was then called junior varsity football. “That’s where people really started sitting up and taking notice of him,’’ Tim Ford said.
A year later as a sophomore, Ford was playing varsity football as a quarterback for the Cougs under coach Jim Sutherland.
In the fall of 1962, when Sports Illustrated scoured the United States for four standout sophomore football players, Dale Ford was selected best in the West, his brother remembers with pride.
As quarterback in the ’62 season, Ford completed 14 of 34 passes for 172 yards, playing with the legendary receiver Hugh Campbell. Ford also played defensive back.
The following season as a quarterback, Ford ran 12 times for 47 yards and two touchdowns and completed 7 of 12 passes for 117 yards as WSU upset Stanford 32-15 on Nov. 16, 1963.
The late Harry Missildine, who was sports editor and columnist for The Spokesman-Review, loved the size and athleticism of Ford and dubbed him “The Whale.” The nickname stuck, at least for a time, recalls Dick Fry, the sports information director at WSU from 1957 to 1970.
“Dale might have been one of the last athletes to letter in three sports at WSU,” Fry said. “In my time, Ford was really one of the finest all-around athletes at WSU.”
Fry said he has often wondered about Ford’s disappearance.
“I’ve thought about it for years,” Fry said. “It’s something that has really been a mystery for many of us.”
“It’s so unlike ‘the Coug’ to just disappear,’’ Fry said. “It breaks my heart. It sure does.”
When the 1962 football season ended for the Cougars, Ford headed to the basketball court and easily made the varsity team as a starting forward. He played basketball for WSU for three seasons – a total of 66 games, averaging 6.1 points per game and 4.3 rebounds.
But playing baseball for WSU was what “The Whale” liked most, his family and former players say. Ford played varsity baseball for three seasons, starting as an outfielder and first baseman in 1964 and 1965 and in left field in 1966.
Even though he also played varsity football and basketball, baseball was where Ford excelled, WSU’s retired, legendary baseball coach Chuck “Bobo” Brayton recalled.
“He could hit the ball a mile,’’ Brayton said of the former standout player he remembers well.
In the spring of ’66, Ford blasted 17 home runs – setting an NCAA record at the time and a WSU record for the wood bat era that stands today.
In a 1966 game against the Washington Huskies, he became one of only two players ever to hit a baseball out of WSU’s Bailey Field, the former ball field where Mooberry Track is now located.
Ford ranks second all-time at WSU with a .365 career batting average and is the school record holder for career slugging percentage at .670. His career home runs (27), RBI (110) and total bases (270) all established school records for the wood bat era.
In 1965, Ford was part of the WSU squad that advanced to the College World Series. “I still remember ‘The Whale’ hitting a triple in that College World Series,’’ Brayton said.
In 1966, his baseball talent landed him on the NCAA’s All-America First Team.
On Nov. 12, 1983, Ford was inducted into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and his 16-by-20-inch photo was hung in Beasley Coliseum.
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