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Ron Guidry went from unwanted underdog to Yankees’ ace

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Ron Guidry overcame obstacles early in his career to become the best Yankees pitcher of his generation.

New York Yankees

One of the best pitchers of the 1970’s and 80’s received little attention and no coddling on his rise to the major leagues. The positive words of a minor league manager were enough to get him to the majors, but fell on deaf ears when read by and ignored by his major league superior. Ron Guidry was forced to over come the obstacles placed on him by a manager who did not want him on the team during his first two seasons. Guidry emerged as an underdog, and cemented himself in the Yankees record books over his exceptional career.

Ron Guidry was not a complete unknown out of the gate, as the Yankees used a third round draft pick on him as he was coming out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1971. Once in the Yankees system, his path to the major leagues was slow and arduous. With only one pitch at his disposal and playing on bad teams, Guidry was far from a sure thing.

The Yankees apparently shared this view on Guidry, as they asked him to become a reliever in 1974. This was in part because he was not considered one of the five best options in the Double-A West Haven Yankees rotation. Must of had some great arms you say? Only three other pitchers from that team reached the majors, and none of them produced a positive WAR.

Showing a life long trait, Guidry attempted to make the most of his opportunity in bullpen. The results were less than stellar, as he recorded a 6.2 BB/9 on his way to a 5.61 ERA. Despite those results, Guidry states that “I never would have become a star starting pitcher had I not toiled away in the bullpen.”

1975 became a major year in the career of Guidry, as the Yankees promoted him to Triple-A Syracuse where he played for former Yankees infielder Bobby Cox — who would go on to his own great managing career. Cox made Guidry the closer, and he was able to learn from players like Tippy Martinez and Dave Pagan who had already been to the major leagues.

Bobby Cox loved what he saw as Guidry began to harness his elite fastball and developed into a pitcher rather than a thrower. The big league club was given report after report from Cox stating that Guidry was ready for the majors. That opportunity came during the 1975 season.

Guidry’s promotion to the major leagues was shortly followed by the re-hiring of a man in Billy Martin that would test the pitcher’s resolve. The legendary manager was no fan of untested rookies and that is exactly what the young left hander was during the 1975 season.

Guidry did not pitch in a single game that the Yankees won, only coming in when the team was down. The next season Martin had Guidry get off the team bus full of players heading to the start of regular season to tell him that he was heading back to Triple-A.

Called back up in late May, Guidry pitched his first day back with the Yankees before sitting unused in the bullpen for forty-six straight games. While this was happening, Billy Martin was in the ear of George Steinbrenner trying to influence the temperamental owner to trade Guidry. Only a firm stance from General Manager Gabe Paul kept the future ace in the Yankees organization.

Sitting for forty-six straight games would have broken the will of most young pitchers. Guidry admits that when the team sent him back to the minors after that stretch he paused on his drive to Triple-A Syracuse, and contemplated taking I-81 south home to Louisiana.

The stretch of inactivity almost broke Guidry, but he was still actively working to become a better pitcher. Sitting next to Sparky Lyle and Dick Tidrow provided Guidry with a masters level class in the art of pitching. Lyle taught Guidry the slider, and pointed out pitchers like Oakland’s Vida Blue who a young hard throwing lefty could learn a lot from.

The next season it was off to the races for Guidry, as he locked down a starting role in the Yankees rotation and started a three year run where he produced a 161 ERA+, while winning the Cy Young, and finishing second for the MVP award in 1978.

Guidry was not a prize prospect identified from day one and marched through the system with high expectations. He emerged from the pack as an underdog, and produced one of the greatest pitching seasons ever in 1978. He capitalized on the knowledge around him to improve himself, and carved out a tremendous Yankees career.