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Obituary: Bill Ford, Cabarrus County baseball icon, dies at 89

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

Bill Ford has a unique place in Kannapolis baseball history. He was the Concord guy who coached the 1961 Kannapolis American Legion team to the state championship, and Kannapolis has been waiting for another championship ever since.

Ford died at 89 on Thursday at Pruitt Healthcare in Harrisburg.

He was born Dec. 3, 1927, in Cabarrus County, the son of the late Lester and Annie Strube Ford. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mildred Fink Ford. He was a graduate of old Hartsell High School and Catawba College and received a masters degree at North Carolina A&T.

Ford was an outstanding baseball player. The Cincinnati Reds signed the infielder in 1947, and he made his professional baseball debut when he was 19, playing for the Muncie Reds in the Ohio State League. He played two seasons for Muncie, batting .285 and .313.

Promoted to Class C ball with the Ogden Reds of the Pioneer League in 1949, Ford batted .380 as a 21-year-old and belted 27 doubles. That banner season got him moved up to Class A Columbia, S.C., for the 1950 season. He had another good year and he got  married following that season, but next came service in the U.S. Army and the Korean War.

Ford missed the 1951 and 1952 baseball seasons, and that stalled his chances of moving higher in the Reds organization. The Red welcomed him back when he returned to civilian life in 1953,  but management had changed and his skills had rusted a bit.

From 1953-58, he would toil for Class A and Class B squads, mostly with the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms in the Carolina League. When he was 28 in 1955, he played in Columbia with a 19-year-old whiz named Frank Robinson who would be in the majors a year later. In 1956, at High Point, he was the teammate of another rising star, 18-year-old Curt Flood.

Ford’s playing days were over at 30, and his coaching and teaching career began at Mooresville High (1958-60).

He coached at Concord High from 1960-89. He was the Spiders’ baseball coach from 1961-83 and served as athletic director from 1964-89. He also coached, among other things, girls basketball, cross country, golf and football.

He coached American Legion baseball at Kannapolis (1960-64),  and the 1961 team made its historic run to the state title with an all-star collection of players from Kannapolis, Mooresville, China Grove, Landis and Troutman. There were 15 players. All of them had offers to play somewhere beyond high school.

When members of that team gathered in Kannapolis for a 50th reunion in 2011, Ford downplayed his role in their success. “We had so many good players, and that allowed me to do a lot of things as a coach,” he said.  “Bunt, steal, hit-and-run—  I knew they would execute whatever I asked.”

But team members always were grateful for that summer that produced lifetime memories and for a young coach who brought that club together.

“There is still a bond with all of us, 50 years later, and a lot of that is because Coach Ford is such a great guy,” second baseman Herky Doster said at that reunion.

Ford coached the Concord Legion team for two seasons (1965-66) and later served as an American Legion umpire.

Concord High’s baseball complex was named in Ford’s honor in 2012. He was inducted into the Cabarrus County Sports Hall of Fame that same year. 

Ford is survived by his daughter, Sherry Brandon (Charles) of Concord; sons Randy (Susan) of Cornelius, Alan of Shelby, Brian (Vickie) and Marty, of Concord.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, January 21, at Connect Christian Church, Highway 3101 Davidson Highway, Concord, N.C. 28027, with visitation to follow at the church.

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