Louisiana Lightning. Gator. Ron Guidry. No matter the moniker, the man born in Lafayette, Louisiana was one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of the New York Yankees. Guidry had a collegiate career ERA of 2.03 at the University of Southwestern Louisiana which led to him being drafted in the third round of the 1971 MLB Draft by the Yankees.
Guidry led the Yankees to two World Series Championships in 1977 and 1978. In 1978 he had one of the greatest seasons in MLB history for a pitcher going 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA. It was in 1978 that he had his historic 18 strikeout game at home against the California Angles that gave birth to a Yankee Stadium tradition that still lasts to this day. By mastering a slider that made MLB hitters look foolish, Guidry was named the 1978 AL Cy Young Award winner.
Guidry was so well respected by his teammates and the organization that he served as the Yankees co-captain from 1986-1989. A deserving honor for a man that was a five time Gold Glove winner, four time All-Star and was the American League leader in wins and ERA twice. Those accolades earned Ron Guidry a permanent spot in Monument Park as his number 49 was retired in 2003.
You've read the accolades, now it's time to get to know Ron Guidry.
Our Interview with Ron Guidry...
NYY Sports Talk: Growing up in Louisiana did you follow much of MLB? If so did you have a favorite team/players?
Ron Guidry: My favorite team was always the New York Yankees, it was the only team allowed on our TV. My idols growing up were Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra. Sandy Koufax was high on my list also.
NYYST: In 1977 you were called up to the Big Leagues and immediately went on to win a title. What was that like being a rookie and winning the World Series?
Guidry: Actually, I was called up in July of 1975 but 1977 was my first full year with the team. When I won Game 4 of the series I felt like I had reached my childhood dream.
NYYST: One of the most dominant pitching performances in Yankees' history occurred on June 17, 1978 when you struck out 18 Angels. Tell us what it felt like on the mound that day. Did you know you had overpowering stuff when you were in the bullpen before the game?
Guidry: No, I didn’t feel like I had ANYTHING in the bullpen. I actually asked Sparky Lyle what was the earliest he had ever been in a game. Thurman also said that I didn’t have crap. As the game went on my arm finally got into the game.
NYYST: That game is often credited as the start of when fans rose and cheered with two strikes anticipating a strike out. When (if you even did at all) notice the Stadium was a little louder than normal and is it “cool” (substitute any word/phrase you want) that a game you pitched started a now MLB wide tradition?
Guidry: I really didn’t notice what was happening with the clapping or how many strikeouts I had. Someone in the dugout pointed it out to Thurman and I. He said to me “we’re going for the record”. That’s when I noticed the roaring and clapping. The fans were always my inspiration. It was “magical”. The two strike clap is a great tradition to be a part of. It can be quite a motivator.
NYYST: You had a historic year in 1978 going 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA and an astonishing 9 shut outs. To top it off, the Yankees won their second consecutive World Series. Outside of the 18 strikeout game what are some memories that stand out from such an amazing season?
Guidry: My most memorable game of that year, besides the 18 strikeout game, has to be when we beat Boston 6 of 7 games in September. And of course, the playoff game with Boston.
NYYST: In March of 1986 you were named co-captain with Willie Randolph. Was that a call made from the owner or the manager? What was the feeling like when you were told you were going to be the captain of the New York Yankees?
Guidry: It was quite an honor to be the first pitcher to be named captain. This was Mr. Steinbrenner’s decision, of which I am very grateful.
NYYST: You’re commonly referred to as “Louisiana Lightning” and “Gator”. Do you remember the origins of those names and which do you prefer?
Guidry: “Gator” is my favorite because my teammates gave it to me. Phil Rizzuto gave me the name “Louisiana Lightning” during the 18 strikeout game.
NYYST: In 2006 you became the Yankees Pitching Coach under Joe Torre. What’s that adjustment like going from an elite player at your position to then having to coach the players of that time?
Guidry: I was grateful to Joe Torre for the opportunity. I have always admired him and it was quite an eye opening experience. It’s a lot tougher being a coach and being responsible for all the talent that the Yankee pitchers had.
NYYST: When Yankees fan and baseball fans in general reflect back upon Ron Guidry‘s career, what’s the one thing you want them to remember about you?
Guidry: I always tried to do my very best and make the the New York Yankees and the fans proud.
NYYST: Who was the person that most influenced you both personally and in your playing career? (Question submitted by Beth Wellington of our writing staff)
Guidry: My teammates were very influential. Sparky Lyle and Dick Tidrow taught me how to be a big league pitcher. Thurman Munson made me tough and smart on the mound. My coaches from college throughout the minors and Major Leagues. One of my favorite managers was Bobby Cox.
NYYST: This last question is one we ask all of our guests we interview for this column. NYY Sports Talk requested to feature you for this piece because we view you as someone who has truly been an influential figure in Yankees' history. In your opinion, what impact have you made on your fans, on Yankee fans, for all of us to consider "Ron Guidry" an influential name in Yankees’ history?
Guidry: I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity throughout my early career. I was on the trading block several times, went up and down several times, sat on the bench a lot of time. One thing kept me going...I loved the New York Yankees ever since I was a kid and it was the only uniform I wanted to wear. I would like the Yankee fans to know that you can achieve anything if you work hard and don’t give up on your dreams.
NYY Sports Talk would like to thank Mr. & Mrs. Guidry for taking the time out of their busy schedule to work with us on this piece. It was an honor to talk Yankees' baseball with one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history.
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