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Yankees great Guidry fanned batters early for JC in 1971

Tanner Cook • May 29, 2020 at 10:00 AM

When thinking of dominant baseball pitchers from the 1970s, names like Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue come to mind. 

New York Yankees great Ron Guidry can claim a spot in that crew, too, even though the “Bronx Bombers” were often turbulent during the first years under new owner George Steinbrenner. He would win World Series titles with New York in 1977 and 1978. 

The quiet and reserved Louisiana native had one of the best decades of any New York pitcher since the days of Whitey Ford and, even though his stint was short, got his start in Johnson City in 1971. 

‘LOUISIANA LIGHTNING’

Guidry had called Lafayette, La., home since birth and after a stellar high school career, he chose to attend Louisiana-Lafayette, which was basically down the street from his house. 

He was chosen in the third round of the June Amateur Draft as a 20-year-old as a crafty left-hander with a combined 12-5 record, 207 strikeouts and a 2.03 ERA over his last two years for the Ragin’ Cajuns. He was picked in the same draft as highly-touted prospect Terry Whitfield and Larry Murray. 

Guidry, along with most of the Yankees’ rookies, were sent to Johnson City to start their careers. 

The Appalachian League opening day in 1971 was June 23 and Guidry got his first start in the second game, the following day. 

The Yankees had dropped the first game to the Bluefield Orioles the night before and the second game went 16 scoreless inning before JC lost again, 2-1. 

Guidry and Bluefield starter Bob Sekel were in a pitchers duel, as Guidry had allowed only one run — in the fourth inning — while fanning eight and surrendering four hits. 

TWIRLING GEMS

In a July 1 game against the Bristol Tigers, Guidry took to the hill again, allowing one run in six strong innings. 

Then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland rallied his club with four runs in the bottom half of the seventh and Guidry left with two on and one out. 

Pat Cauley relieved Guidry and was immediately welcomed with a triple by Roberto Perez. Johnson City ended up losing the game 5-3 and four of the runs were charged to “Gator.”

Guidry got back on track, though, twirling a complete-game shutout (6-0) on July 8 over the Pulaski Phillies at Yankee Park. He fanned 10 batters while then-Yankees executive-vice president Lee MacPhail, Jr. was in town to watch. 

MacPhail, Jr. said after the game of Guidry, “I believe (then-Yankees manager) Jerry (Walker) is in pretty good shape. He’s got two hot pitching prospects here and I liked what I saw.”

In a July 28 game, again facing the Pulaski, Guidry mirrored his complete game effort and struck out 11 this time as JC won, 9-0.

Guidry did not stay much longer in the Appy League as he was called for a reserve military stint that was expected to last six months in the first week of August. He did not return to Johnson City and the Yankees finished the season with a woeful 24-44 record, which ended up being last in the Appy League.  

Guidry’s final stat line from his lone season in rookie ball read with a 2-2 record, 2.11 ERA while recording 61 strikeouts against 11 earned runs. 

UNDER THE BRIGHT LIGHTS

In his first full season in pinstripes, Guidry started in the bullpen. After a few injuries to Yankees starters, he was moved into the starting rotation and posted a 16-7 record with a 2.82 ERA in 1977. The Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games behind Reggie Jackson’s three-home run game in Game 6 that led him to garnering his “Mr. October” nickname.

Guidry was victorious on the road in Game 4, tossing a complete game while allowing two runs and striking out seven. 

The following year, he had his breakout season in the “Big Apple.”

Guidry became one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, posting a 25-3 record with a league-leading 1.74 ERA while recording nine shutouts. At one point, Guidry won 11 consecutive starts from July 21 to September 13, which is the 10th longest winning streak for a pitcher after 1904. 

He won the American League Cy Young that season, was runner-up in MVP voting (to Boston’s Jim Rice) and struck out a franchise record 248 batters. He was also named The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year.

In the postseason, he was even more dominant as he won Game 3 of the World Series and allowed just three runs throughout the postseason. The Bombers again beat the Dodgers in six games to win the Fall Classic. 

Oddly enough, Guidry’s 25th and final win of the regular season came in the one-game playoff (aka the “Bucky Dent” game) at Fenway Park against the Red Sox in which New York won 5-4.

After 14 seasons, all with New York, Guidry retired with a career record of 170-91 with a 3.29 ERA and 1,778 strikeouts. His No. 49 is retired and he also has a plaque in Monument Park inside Yankee Stadium. 

 

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