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Dream season: Louisiana Lightning conquers Big Apple; see photos

Ron Guidry’s 1978 campaign one of baseball’s best ever 

Kevin Foote • kfoote@theadvertiser.com • July 15, 2008   

Ron Guidry’s 1978 Game-by-Game breakdown

Athletic Network footnote: For more information on Ron Guidry click http://www.athleticnetwork.net/site.php?pageID=55&profID=181  and  http://www.athleticnetwork.net/site.php?pageID=37&newsID=6383

Photo Galleries: http://www.theadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=DG&Dato=20080715&Kategori=SPORTS&Lopenr=807150801&Ref=PH&Profile=1006

Talk to Ron Guidry 30 years after that fact and he’ll spend some time trying to downplay the accomplishment of his 1978 Cy Young campaign for the New York Yankees. 

Spend any amount of time looking at the numbers from that season, however, and it won’t take very long to understand how futile an attempt it really is.

Guidry’s 1978 season was far more than just a Cy Young Award season. It was one of the best seasons ever pitched in the Major Leagues.

The former Northside High and USL standout who was a third-round selection in the 1971 draft by the Yankees was 25-3 that season with a 1.74 ERA.

In case those numbers aren’t enough to floor you, consider the fact that only two pitchers have won as many as 25 games since 1978.

The first one was Baltimore’s Steve Stone with 25 wins and a 3.23 ERA in 1980.

Then there was Oakland’s Bob Welch with 27 wins and a 2.95 ERA in 1990.

Those two ERAs clearly indicate that those seasons don’t belong in the same discussion as Guidry’s 1978 campaign.

Furthermore, Guidry’s 1.74 ERA is only the 11th ERA better than 1.75 since World War II and only the 12th since Carl Hubbell did it in 1933.

One of those was Nolan Ryan during the strike season of 1981 and another was Spud Chandler’s 1945 season against depleted league rosters due to the war.

His 1.74 is the second-lowest by an American League left-hander in history, only trailing Dutch Leonard’s 1.01 in 1914.

As impressive as those numbers are, they don’t faze Guidry much. He’ll even claim that he actually pitched better during his 22-win season in 1985.

"I don’t think about it much,” said Guidry, who has been attending All-Star Game festivities in New York all weekend. "I’ve really got no reason to think about it. It’s always been something I’m proud of, but it wouldn’t have meant anything if we didn’t win the World Series.

"The thing about it is that I didn’t do it by myself. The team had to play defense behind me and score runs.”

The truth is that adding in the context of the team only elevates the value of Guidry’s season. The Yankees’ remarkable comeback of 1978 is one of the great story lines in baseball history.

On July 18 that year, the Yankees were 14 games back and in fourth place. At the time, Guidry was 13-1.

The Yankees ended up winning the AL East in a one-game playoff at Boston on Oct. 2. Guidry would finish the season 25-3 and the Yankees were 30-5 in the games he started.

Without Guidry being spectacular, there was no 1978 comeback. A really good Cy Young season wouldn’t have done it. It took the great Cy Young season that Guidry delivered to do it.

"At the beginning, I was winning and nobody else was winning,” Guidry said. "I can remember games when I’d be going to the hill and one of my teammates would say, ‘We need this one, Gator,’ but that’s kind of how that team was.

"There were a lot of great players on that ’78 team, but also good people. There were guys you enjoyed playing with.”

Sure, it’s a team game. But at times, Guidry must have felt like a one-man team that year. Fifteen of his 25 wins in the regular season followed a Yankee loss and he added a 16th in the postseason.

In the five games New York lost that he started that year, the Yankees scored seven runs.

In fact, Guidry remembers fun-loving centerfielder Mickey Rivers making the point in his own unique way one day in early June against Oakland.

"He said, ‘How many you think you need today?’ and I said, ‘Two’, because I knew he was making a joke and so I just picked a number,” Guidry said. "So we scored two and we won 2-0. That went on for the rest of the season.

"I never asked for more than two or three runs.”

The Yankees rarely needed much more. Guidry only yielded more than three runs in a game five times in 35 starts.

"I’d talk to guys five, six or seven years later who I played against in that ’78 season, who were now teammates, and they would tell me what it was like facing me that year,” Guidry said.

"They said their gameplan was to try to score a run early, because if they got down one or two runs and were down 2-0 in the fifth, it was over. They just basically quit. It felt good to hear the respect you had around the game.”

Guidry’s impact ranged much farther than just at Yankee Stadium. Back home in Lafayette, baseball fever was hitting an all-time high.

For the first time, Yankee games were being aired locally on KPEL-AM radio every time Guidry pitched. While there have always been Yankee fans nationwide, many new ones were born in Cajun Country in 1978.

"When I got drafted by the Yankees in 1971, there might have been 50 or 60,000 people in Lafayette,” Guidry said. "There weren’t very many Yankee fans. I can remember this little old lady coming up to me and telling me, ‘I’m not pulling for the Yankees.’ I didn’t have any control over who drafted me.”

That sentiment began to change for most locals in the summer of 1978 as Guidry began mowing down the American League at a record pace, highlighted by the 18-strikeout game against California’s Angels on June 17 that lowered his ERA to 1.45.

"I think I had a big impact on this area,” Guidry said. "All the games were on the radio on KPEL that year and it really brought the game to the area. They started out just listening to my games and then started following all the games.

"I think it was special for them, because it was a local kid doing it.”

Lafayette’s Larry Aycock is a lifelong Yankee fan who vividly remembers that 1978 season.

"I can remember a game against Milwaukee that year when I was serving in a wedding,” Aycock said. "I brought a transistor radio inside my coat with a wire up my shirt at the rehearsal dinner. I wasn’t going to miss a game. That year, they were broadcasting Guidry’s games here on KPEL. I couldn’t wait for every fifth day.

"It didn’t matter what was going on. When the game was on, I was listening. My hat’s still off to KPEL for airing those games. We had never had Yankee games piped in here. It just allowed us to follow them so much more.”

Three decades later, Guidry’s greatness that season isn’t lost on Aycock.

"It was practically unheard of,” Aycock said. "How many guys my age had ever heard of an ERA below 2.00 besides Gibson and Koufax? You just didn’t see many that were that good.”

Few probably can remember the exact numbers, but the impact of that 1978 season still rings today far beyond his hometown of Lafayette.

Guidry may have only finished with 170 career wins, way behind all-time Yankee great southpaw Whitey Ford’s 236 wins. But "Gator” -as he’s affectionately known in New York -is revered in Yankee circles.

"He’s being humble,” longtime agent Reggie Ringuet said. "I’ve been with him in New York and he couldn’t even go into a video store without getting mobbed. He is an icon in New York.”

Despite always being an intensely private person on his farm in Carencro, Guidry said he’s enjoyed his relationship with the Yankee fans in the northeast.

"When you’re playing, it’s not a part of the job that you like,” he said. "But when it’s all said and done, it’s nice that they remember you.”

That loyalty goes both ways. When Guidry’s career was nearly its end, Ringuet spoke with other teams about trying to get more money on the free agent market.

"I told him (Ringuet) to talk to all the guys you want to, but at the end of the day, make sure I’m a Yankee,” Guidry said. "Why not stay and end it where you started?”

For Guidry, that Yankee pride may never have been as evident as it was during the 1977 and 1978 postseasons against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Guidry delivered a two-run, complete-game performance to beat the Dodgers in 1977 and a one-run, complete-game performance to beat the Dodgers in 1978.

"It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I hated the Dodgers,” Guidry said. "I just never really cared for the way they carried themselves. There was always a lot of hugging. They were always hugging each other. We never hugged each other like they did.

"What was with all of that hugging and kissing? I admired their abilities, but I didn’t like all of that other stuff. Plus, we felt like they were trying to be us. We were the Yankees, not them.”

Guidry credits much of his baseball values to catcher Thurman Munson.

"When I became an established pitcher, Munson told me, ‘Don’t ever play the game for money.’ He said the money would always be there, but always play for the love of the game and never get caught playing for the money,” Guidry said.

His relationship with Munson will likely be one of many memories in Guidry’s head tonight when the All-Star Game is played at Yankee Stadium for the last time.

"None of us want to see it torn down,” Guidry said. "All of our memories are there. It’s going to be nice to visit the new stadium, but I didn’t do anything there. The old stadium was like your home. Who wants to watch their home torn down?

"The new stadium will have to earn everything. None of that stuff happened there.”

And Guidry’s 1978 season was one of the brightest jewels the old stadium ever produced, even by Yankee standards.

Ron Guidry’s 1978 season superlatives


  • Led the Major Leagues that season in wins, ERA, winning percentage and shutouts.



  • His nine shutouts tied Babe Ruth’s American League record for most shutouts by a lefthander.



  • His 248 strikeouts broke an all-time Yankee record for strikeouts by a lefthander, set by Jack Chesbro in 1904.



  • His 18 strikeouts against the Angels on June 17 of that year set an American League record for strikeouts by a lefthander in a nine-inning game.



  • His 1.74 ERA was the lowest by a lefthander since Sandy Koufax’s 1.73 season in 1966 and is still the second lowest for a southpaw in American League history, behind Dutch Leonard’s 1.01 in 1914.



  • His .893 winning percentage is the highest in baseball history by a 20-game winner at the time and only nipped by Greg Maddux’s .904 in this 19-2 in 1995.



  • Name AL Player of the Month in June and September of that year.



  • Of his 25 wins, 15 followed Yankee losses and a 16th followed a Yankee loss in the postseason.



  • The Yankees were 30-5 in Guidry’s 35 regular-season starts and 32-5 counting the postseason.



  • Guidry won 12 of his last 14 regular-season starts, including seven shutouts as the Yankees chased the Red Sox, who he had back-to-back, two-hit shutouts against in mid-September.



  • Only Oakland’s Bob Welch has won more games than Guidry’s 25 since 1978.



  • Only 11 pitchers since 1933 have had lower than a 1.74 ERA, including Nolan Ryan’s 1.69 during the 1981 strike season and Spud Chandler’s 1.64 during a World War II season in 1945.