Lightning strike

Guidry blazed across baseball landscape for Yankees

November 22, 2010
Ron Guidry won 170 games in 14 seasons with the Yankees.

Watch a video on the Expansion Era Ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – More than 30 years later, Ron Guidry's 1978 season still looks like a typo in the record book.

Twenty-five wins and only three losses. A 1.74 earned-run average. Nine shutouts and 248 strikeouts.

And while Guidry never again matched those numbers, his 14-year career with the New York Yankees demonstrates that he was far from a one-year wonder. Now, he stands on the edge of Cooperstown.

Guidry, who pitched his entire career with the Bronx Bombers, is one of 12 finalists on this year's Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 5 at baseball's Winter Meetings in Orlando, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 6.

The 12 candidates on the ballot are: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Pat Gillick, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, Rusty Staub, George Steinbrenner and Guidry. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2011.

The committee consists of Hall of Fame members Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and veteran media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated).

Born Aug. 28, 1950 in Lafayette, La., the little lefty who became known as Louisiana Lightning honed his skills in American Legion ball because his high school had no baseball team. But he earned a scholarship at the University of Southwest Louisiana, and the Yankees made Guidry their No. 3 selection in the June 1971 draft.

Five years later, Guidry had pitched in only a handful of games for the big league team and was on the verge of quitting – only to be talked out of it by his wife. Finally in 1977, Guidry won a spot in the Yankees' rotation and went 16-7 with a 2.82 ERA, finishing seventh in the American League Cy Young Award vote. He won one game in the ALCS and another in the World Series, helping the Yankees capture their first Fall Classic title since 1962.

The next season, Guidry was virtually unhittable even as the Yankees struggled deep into the summer months. But New York caught fire down the stretch, overcoming a 14-and-a-half game deficit to Boston as Guidry prevented any kind of losing skid. By the end of the season, the Yankees had won a one-game playoff against the Red Sox en route to their second straight World Series title. This time – with the Yankees down 2-games-to-0 – Guidry threw an eight-hitter to win Game 3 and stood ready to pitch Game 7 if needed. But the Yankees won four straight to make Guidry's last start unnecessary.

"You don't put those numbers on the board by accident," said teammate Reggie Jackson of Guidry's 1978 season. "You don't buy them in the supermarket."

Guidry was a unanimous pick as the AL Cy Young Award winner that year. In the Most Valuable Player race, he finished second to Boston's Jim Rice – the first AL player in four decades with 400 total bases. But Guidry did take home the Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award.

The next year, Guidry – still sporting a 96 mile-per-hour fastball and snappy slider, went 18-8 and again led the AL in ERA with a 2.78 mark. He finished third in the Cy Young Award voting that year and was named to his second All-Star team.

Guidry led the Yankees back to the World Series in 1981 with an 11-5 record, won 21 games (with a league-high 21 complete games) in 1983 and was 22-6 in 1985, finishing second in the Cy Young Award race. He won five straight Gold Glove Awards for his fielding skill from 1982-86, and took home the Roberto Clemente Award for citizenship in 1984. He was named to a total of four All-Star teams.

"He's as good a fielding pitcher as I've ever seen," said former Yankees manager and coach Gene Michael. "He helps himself in so many ways."

He retired after the 1988 season with a 170-91 record, a 3.29 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.81-to-1. In 10 postseason starts, Guidry was 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum