Sunday, October 25, 2015

Remembering Yankees of the Past: Ron Guidry

Ronald Ames Guidry was born on August 28, 1950 in Lafayette, Louisiana. Guidry spent his college years pitching for the university of Southwestern Louisiana (now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) where he earned the attention from Major League scouts, but no scouts were more interested than those of the New York Yankees. When all was said and done Louisian Lightning, or Gator whichever nickname you prefer, pitched 14 seasons in the Bronx from 1975 to 1988 before also spending time as the team’s pitching coach from 2006 to 2007. Gator was a Yankee through and through and today we remember a great Yankee of the past, Mr. Ron Guidry.

Guidry was bounced around between the minor league and the Major Leagues, the bullpen and the starting rotation and from the trade block off the trade block and back on again from 1975 to 1977 before getting a full-time shot in 1978. Guidry almost quit baseball due to the shuffling back and forth and the constant trade rumors surrounding him but it was his wife that eventually talked him into staying in the game and staying in the Bronx. Guidry’s wife didn’t marry a quitter and Guidry didn’t quit much to the delight of the Yankees. See New York called Guidry up in 1977 as a relief pitcher before moving him to the starting rotation where he began the 1978 season. Guidry contemplated quitting the game with his 1977 World Series ring in hand but instead used that fire to lead the Yankees pitching staff to a second World Series victory in 1978. Guidry went 4-0 in the postseason with three complete games in five starts allowing just nine earned runs in 37.1 innings pitched.

Guidry was on the map and the Yankees radar after striking out a Yankees-record 18 batters in a single game against the California Angels on June 17th and especially after finishing the season 25-3 with an unheard of 1.74 ERA. Guidry won the American League Cy Young Award in 1978 and finished second in the American League MVP race to the Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, Guidry went from almost quitting the game to almost becoming the first pitcher to win the MVP Award in Major League history all in one calendar year, not bad for a boy from Louisiana and not bad for a team that needed all 25 of his victories to even make the postseason. Guidry’s 25th victory came at the expense of the Boston Red Sox in that famous one-game playoff. Most know it as the Bucky Dent game but Guidry remembers it as the game that stole the heart of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Guidry continued to pitch well despite the Bronx burning down around him and despite the collective cast of characters the Yankees threw out there were less than effective. Guidry quietly won five consecutive Gold Glove Awards for the struggling Yankees and compiled a 113-57 record in the five seasons after his World Series heroics of 1977 and 1978. Arm problems hit Guidry in 1981 and a shoulder surgery that would not improve his condition ultimately ended his career with the Yankees on July 12, 1989.

When Guidry retired he has a 1978 Cy Young Award under his belt along with two World Series rings, one Sporting News AL Pitcher and Major League Player of the Year Award (1978), four AL Sporting News All-Star teams (1978, 1981, 1983 and 1985) and finished in the Top 10 in the Cy Young Award voting six times from 1977-1985. Guidry was named the co-captain of the New York Yankees alongside Willie Randolph from March 4, 1986 until the day he retired in 1989 and even had his number 49 retired by the Yankees on Ron Guidry Day. Guidry’s plaque that he received on August 23, 2003 stated that Louisiana Lightning was a “dominating pitcher and a respected leader” along with the words “True Yankee” engraved on the piece. Guidry lived and breathed the New York Yankees and would be remembered as so for the rest of time.

Guidry made his return to the team in 2006 but not as a pitcher but as a pitching coach under then manager Joe Torre. Guidry was named the pitching coach that replaced Mel Stottlemyre and under his tenure the Yankees enjoyed a mixed bag of results. In 2005 the Yankees staff ERA was 4.52 and under Gator it dropped to 4.41 in 2006 although that same number climbed back to 4.49 in 2007 which was good for just 17th in Major League Baseball that season. Torre and the Yankees mutually decided not to reunite for the 2008 season and Guidry’s tenure as the Yankees pitching coach ended as well that season as new manager Joe Girardi did not offer him a position on his staff. Guidry has returned to the team as a spring training instructor but seems content being out of the game and out of the Bronx Zoo that he called home for so many years.

Guidry was one of those great Yankees that we don’t hear nearly enough about because the team was so bad during the 19080’s. Guidry is a talent and a personality that will likely never be emulated again, at least during my lifetime, and should be celebrated as so. This has been Remembering Yankees of the Past, the Ron Guidry edition.


Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)