Mancuso: Guidry And The Strikeouts

Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Sunday and Ron Guidry got on the mound again.  Perhaps the best Yankees starting pitcher, next in line to Whitey Ford, was in the Bronx prior to this annual and traditional day that celebrates Yankees history and the tradition,

Guidry was with teammates from that 1978 championship team of 40 years ago prior to the Yankees-Tampa Rays game. The late Thurman Munson was his catcher then, the captain. June 17,1978, and Ron Guidry went to work and in the Yankees history books.

That career high 18-strikeout game, still a Yankees club record. Thurman was the catcher and Guidry did the work. He smiles and reflects and is not shy to relive the moment at Yankee Stadium when he was in total control of the California Angels.  

“I started the game thinking I didn’t have anything when Ileft the bullpen,” said Guidry. “Felt I wasn’t throwing the ball well. Could not get the ball in the strike zone  Sometimes you go to battle til everything falls in place.”

And everything fell in place. Two strikes and Guidry lived up to his name as “Louisiana Lightning.” Some have come close on these Yankees teams over the years. Some in baseball have their 16 or 17 strikeout games, but the game has changed and rarely will a starter see length to get the 18, or the 19 strikeouts accomplished by Tom Seaver of the cross-town Mets in 1970.

Guidry, though, is not much about the records. He wanted to win the ballgame and go the route, nine innings and a complete game which has also become a rarity in this new era of baseball. However, 1978 was that career year and it always comes up when Ron Guidry is in town.

Cy Young Award, second in MVP voting, 25-3, among the top 10 for winning percentage in baseball history, ERA of 1.74, 9 shutouts, 248 strikeouts, 6.15 hits allowed per 9 innings pitched, batters held to a .193 average, .249 on base percentage, and .279 slugging percentage.

He said: “If I would have won 24 games and lost 4 you would have said it was a great season. What was more important to me, was we had to win.”

“He was the one that made the team go,” said Ray Negron a columnist for and at the time the bat boy in the Yankees dugout. “The late Paul Blair, a teammate ,said Guidry should have won the American League MVP that year.”

Guidry said the team behind him was instrumental with the success. “They played hard because they knew how important every one of my stats was.”

Mickey Rivers was that teammate in 1978, of course Munson was instrumental with the mentality. But Rivers, who knew how to produce runs on the bases would ask Guidry how many runs he needed.

“He was such a great leadoff hitter,” Guidry said. “He could hit, bunt, run. You manufactured it. That’s how we played. The whole team and that’s how we won.”

And those words from Munson, as Guidry was closing in on that historic strikeout. Ron Guidry says the words from his captain made him throw strikes against hitters that he knew would swing. It worked and as Guidry smiled and took a moment he said, “Munson was competitive.”

“He wanted to win. We would sit and talk about the hitters coming up for next inning. He and I would look up at the board and he said you have 15, Next thing he said the Major League record is 19. You got to go for it.”

And then Guidry contemplated more as to what Munson said. That mentality of the Yankees Captain went another step as Ron Guidry was more concerned about winning the game as that was more important than the record.

“I said, we need to win this game. He (Munson) said, I will give you the eighth inning but if you are coasting the ninth you are going for the record or I will break your legs.”  That was Thurman Munson talking and Ron Guidry listened and did the work.

Guidry said he did not envision 18 strikeouts. And in baseball today, again getting that point with pitch counts and analytics, it has become more difficult, Managers want to win because the front office wants the wins.  Back then, and not too long ago, it was the nine guys on the field who wanted to win, and the stats were meaningless because the player contracts lacked those incentives of an award if you struck out 18 batters in a game.

“It’s a game that don’t come often a lot of swings and misses,” Guidry said.”It was a fun night. It  got to be fun because the crowd got into it. The guys got involved in that game too. It was a game where everybody is having fun playing.”

And for some reason the game no longer seems to be fun. But Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson ,and that entire 1978 Yankees team made it fun.

Comment Rich Mancuso: [email protected]  Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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