Catching Up With Lousiana Lightning

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Yankees legend Ron Guidry was at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night to throw out the first pitch on his bobblehead night.

This also was a celebration of the 40th anniversary of when he struck out 18 California Angels on June 17, 1978.

Guidry spoke to the media afterwards and talked about the current Yankees team, what made his championship teams special and The Boss, George Steinbrenner.

What similarities do you see in this current Yankees team to your championship teams in 1977 and 1978?

Guidry: Well, you have an old and a young mix, and you always have to have that to make it gel. The young guys bring the fire and the vinegar and the desire to play. You see them run and you see them doing things, whereas the older guy, he takes his time, he’s refined, he does this, but at the same time, when the young kids, when they start to act a little too much like kids, then the old guys can bring them back and it’s a good mix, and that’s what you need because the season is so long you got to have a little fun, but you’ve got to be serious about the game.

They’re a lot like us because we had those types of guys. You know, we had the Mickey Rivers, who was the comical joker, (Lou) Piniella,  his antics were just legendary, and then you had the guy like (Thurman) Munson and you had Catfish (Hunter), you know, the guys who were respected and admired and loved. So, when those guys would talk, you know everyone would listen, and then when Mickey would start joking, we’d all laugh. It’s a good mix, and they’re having fun.

When you watch them, it’s like they think that they’re never out of a game. No matter how many runs they’re down, they think they can come back and win. They’ve done it, scored three four runs here and there, seventh, eighth, ninth. So, that’s what you need to have a championship club.

How much did you enjoy being back on the mound again for your first pitch?

Guidry: It’s fun, I mean, hey look, you can’t do what you used to do (he said while laughing). I kept saying, I got no problem, I know I’m going to throw a strike, I’ve got no problem doing that, but my concern is, is it still gonna stay on when I throw it, that’s the thing because people don’t realize, when you don’t use it anymore, your muscles just cease to exist. I guess if you took an MRI, my muscle might be that long today, you know, 40 years ago, it was that long (gesturing with his hands), you could get out there. It’s fun, like for Old Timers’ game, it’s gonna be fun to go out there and throw.

How did you like the bobblehead?

Guidry? The bobblehead was great. Anytime they think enough of you to do something, that’s quite a complement. I just thank the Yankees for thinking of me. What else can you say?

At what point during the 1978 season, in which you went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA, did you realize it could be a special season for you?

Guidry: I don’t know if I ever once looked at it like that. You have to remember, if you go back and you look, how many of you guys were actually there? When you go back and look, our team didn’t start out great, I mean, we scuffled, as far as July, we were 14 games behind the Red Sox at one time. So, there’s a lot of holes in there, there’s something not gelling in there, and what I’m looking at is, every time that I go out, the team is looking at me to stop a losing streak or to continue to win because as much as you guys have made this 25-3 season seem like it was so spectacular, if I’d had won 24 games and lost four, you would have said it’s a good season, but we wouldn’t have won.

What was more important to me was that we needed to win the games. I came out with a great season, yeah, but it’s only because you do your job and then the guys that are behind you do theirs. If they don’t score, they don’t make the plays, I can only do so much as a pitcher. I might not give up many runs, and I didn’t, but yet, they still have to score, they still have to make the plays, and they played hard because they knew how important every one of my starts were.

Once everything started to gel, I’m still doing the same thing, but I’m gonna take a lot of pressure off the other pitchers so, all of a sudden after the All-Star break, everything just kind of…(he hit the table to signal how it fell into place) We just go out there and do the best job that we could and the guys started to do what these guys (2018 Yankees) would. We’d be two runs down, three runs down, you know, boom, boom, boom. It got to be a joke, like Rivers – it got to be a habit, I would walk in from the bullpen and I’d sit down on the bench and I’d always take a couple of breaths, take off the jacket, and then stand up, and when I would stand up and put my hat on, I was  getting ready to go out, and Mickey would always lean over, and he would go, ‘Gator,’ and I’d go, ‘what?’ and he’d say, ‘how many runs you think you gonna need tonight?’ and I’d say ‘give me two!’ and he’d go, ‘I got that in my back pocket’ because he was such a great leadoff hitter. He would bunt, base hit, walk, and in two pitches he’d be on second, Willie (Randolph) bunt, Munson ground ball, one cheap run.

You manufacture runs, and that might be all I need, and that’s how we played. The whole team started to play like that, and that’s why we won because we played that kind of baseball.

Is there a moment from the 18-strikeout game against the Angels that still stands out?

Guidry: I said it in the book (‘Gator,’ published this past April) and I say it all the time, I started the game, I didn’t think I had anything when I left the bullpen. I even asked Sparky Lyle when the earliest he had been in a game. I just felt like I wasn’t throwing the ball well in the sense that I couldn’t get the ball in the strike zone. Everything I kept throwing was up in the strike zone.

Sometimes, you just have to go battle until everything starts to fall into place. So, when the game started, I can remember, Bobby Grich led off with a double, a guy tried to bunt, the next guy almost took my head off with a line drive that I threw out at first base, and then I struck out the fourth guy. So, you get two strikeouts, but with everything happening, you don’t really look at it. It’s not like I just went out and struck out three guys in a row – I did that before. I went out, started a game with three strikeouts, but I wound up with five or six (for the whole game). This game here, I walked three or four guys and I gave up three or four hits. I didn’t allow any runs, but it was like a game that wasn’t really overpowering until about the third inning.

When I went out in the third inning, things started to kind of change. Everything started to go into the strike zone, and what happened after that, it’s like, as a pitcher, you know, you try to set up a guy, you try to throw a good pitch that he doesn’t swing at, okay. I just said, ‘here, hit this one.’ I would throw balls right down the middle of the plate and it was ironic, they’d take that one and then the next one that would be in the dirt, they’d swing at that one. Then, you throw another one in the dirt that they’d take for a ball, and then you throw one right over the plate that they’d swing and miss.

I just kept throwing pitches just to get them out, actually, that’s how it was. I went seven innings making pitches that I thought guys would make outs with, okay, because this is the funniest thing about the whole evening. You know the stories about Munson, you know how competitive he was, okay, you know how much he wanted to win. We’re sitting, we had sat side by side all game long, and we would talk about the hitters coming up next inning, okay. When I came in after the seventh inning, when him and I sat down, and the crowd started to clap, and we’re going, like, ‘what the hell could they be clapping for, what’s going on?’ and somebody said, look at the board.

I look up at the board, and on the board, they put that I had tied (Whitey) Ford and Jack Chesbro’s (Yankee) record of 15, and he (Munson) looks at me, and he goes ‘you have fifteen?!’ and I’m going, ‘I have fifteen?!’ and the first thing, the next thing he says is, ‘you know the Major League record is 19, we’re gonna go for it,’ and I told him, I said, ‘wait a minute, listen, you need to call pitches to get guys out because what’s most important is we need this game more than I need a strikeout record. We need to win this game. I don’t want to get caught thinking about that, then you make bad pitches. I’m having fun, you having fun, we’re getting outs, let’s do that.’

This is what he told me, he said, ‘okay, I tell you what I’ll do,’ he said, ‘I will give you the eighth inning,’ and then he goes, ‘but if you’re close in the ninth,’ he said, ‘you’re gonna go for that record, or so help me, I’m gonna break your left shoulder.’ I knew he was serious, and the guys in the ninth inning are the only guys that, when i stepped on the mound, I had the intention of trying to strike them out, and that’s it, that’s the honest to God truth.

You know, I wound up with the 18, but I never thought I was gonna get 18. I mean, when I got 11, I’m going like, ‘I’m in some uncharted territory here,’ you know, and all of a sudden, you get another one, you’re going like, ‘I’m throwing a lot of pitches in this game,’ but it was a game, too, where, they don’t come often, and it’s a lot of swing and misses. Every time you throw a pitch that they shouldn’t swing, you know, they swing, then, when they should swing, they might take those, and that’s how it was.

It was just a fun night. I just kept throwing. I’m going, like, ‘here, hit this one, hit this one, can’t hit it, here, hit this one.’ It was fun, it got to be fun because the crowd got into it. You know the story about the two-strike clap, okay, so you hear all of that, that gets fun, and you know, the guys get involved in that game, too. They’re going like, ‘we got a bet, no ball has come out there yet,’ okay, I got a bet with Roy (White) that none’s going to me, and Roy’s betting me that ‘yeah, one’s coming to you.’ So, they’re playing games and it just goes back and forth. It’s a game where everybody was just having fun playing.

One of the funniest stories in your book ‘Gator’ was how you hid from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner before the 1978 playoff game against the Red Sox in Boston.

Guidry: I used to always go in the training room and sit on the chest that (Yankees trainer) Gene (Monahan) had to carry all the supplies. He’d always line up the chests after he had unpacked them, and I’d always sit on the chest and I’m sitting there one day and I noticed that one table had a plywood bottom, but it was the only one that secured the four legs. Most of the time, all the tables that were wooden had a cross brace and one, you know, across to sturdy it. This one had a piece of plywood and it was secured to all four legs, and I’m going, ‘that would be a great place to take a nap one of these days,’ and when I got there (to Fenway Park) that morning, I rolled up a couple of towels and I told Gene, I said, ‘Gene, I’m gonna crawl underneath that table,’ I said, ‘wake me up about 12:30, I’m gonna take a little nap,’ I said, ‘if the President calls and he invites me for tea, tell him I’m gonna call him back later, I don’t want to be disturbed,’ and he said, ‘okay, Gator, you got it.’

About an hour later, you hear him (Steinbrenner) come in and he’s huffing and he’s ranting and raving, he wants to talk to me about a big game, we need this, blah blah blah, and Gene just calmly goes, ‘Mr. Steinbrenner, the last time that I saw Gator, he said he was going to walk down the right field line,’ and he took off and we never saw him again.

I told him the story years after, and he laughed, ‘I knew you were in there! I knew you were in there!’ and I said, ‘then why the hell didn’t you look under the table?’

It’s true, that’s exactly what happened, and Gene never told that story until maybe about five, six years ago. He retired and he told that story because Gene never said anything. He came out and he told that to somebody one day and it got around, but it’s true. That’s what happened.

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