Ron Guidry

March 25, 2008
When I was a boy I was afraid to bicycle past a Doberman pinscher who was, according to the kid who owned him, so fierce that it often chewed through its chain and went on bloodthirsty rampages. I was afraid of the night terrors that tore me from sleep and sent me screaming through the house. I was afraid of ending up in a situation where I would be forced to eat fruit. I was afraid of death. I was afraid of bullies. I was afraid of girls. I was afraid of our basement. After I saw The Shining I was afraid of our bathtub. I was afraid of the three-note Duracell ditty that ended with the sectioned battery slamming together. I was afraid of nuclear bombs. You could be sitting there on the floor of your room, sorting your newest baseball cards into their respective teams, and it could all vanish in one bright flash. I was afraid of everything ending. In light of all those fears, I can’t really say that I was afraid of Ron Guidry. I mean, I wasn’t afraid Ron Guidry was going to leap out from behind a snowbank and bash me with a rock. I wasn’t afraid Ron Guidry was going to force me to touch my tongue to a frozen metal pole. I wasn’t afraid Ron Guidry was going to burn our house down. And yet, when I hold this 1979 Ron Guidry card in my hand, even thirty years after he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERAnumbers so astounding they seem inhuman, merciless, obsidian, obsceneto lead the 100-win Yankees past my team, the 99-win Red Sox, it’s as if I’m holding a small box made of thin, fragile glass, a scorpion inside.


  1. 1.  Beautiful, just beautiful.

    That Yankee team also vanquished mine, second year in a row, and cast an indelible imprint of Yankee hatred on my heart. Even 1981 didn’t erase the pain.

    I might have been different had Guidry been 24-4…

  2. 2.  Of course, that was Guidry’s best year, by 33% if you use WARP3. Astonishing.

  3. 3.  Our next-door neighbor had a Doberman that once got loose and chased me to my own porch, barking a cruel and merciless bark all the while. How I hated that dog.

  4. 4.  Which pitcher has had the greatest single season ever?

    I think Guidry’s 1978 season deserves to be in the argument. A Baseball Analysts article from 2005 (http://tinyurl.com/2ow4b6) doesn’t come to that conclusion, but I think Guidry deserves points for authoring his masterpiece season during a white-hot pennant race between two outstanding teams.

  5. 5.  Don’t know how it stacks up all-time but best I ever saw was 1985 Dwight Gooden: 24-4, 1.53 (228 ERA+), 268 K, 0.96 WHiP. And he just blew guys away.

  6. 6.  5 : That one also came during a ferocious pennant race between two great teams (though of course unlike Guidry’s team the Mets fell just short). I recall hearing that the Mets often ran off the field after innings openly laughing at how easily Gooden was mowing down the opposition.

  7. 7.  Here’s some stuff I looked up, using BP’s WARP3. Not comprehensive, just whomever I thought of:

    Walter Johnson, 1913: 18.3 WARP3
    Roger Clemens, 1997: 15.3
    Bob Feller, 1946: 14.7
    Dwight Gooden, 1985: 13.7
    Bob Gibson, 1968: 13.5
    Pedro Martinez, 1999: 13.0
    Ron Guidry, 1978: 12.4
    Randy Johnson, 2002: 12.2
    Sandy Koufax, 1966: 12.0
    Curt Schilling, 2002: 10.6

    Just to add some color: Walter Johnson in 1913 had a 1.14 ERA, 36-7 record, started 36 games and appeared in 12 more in relief en route to 346 innings. He saved 2 games, completed 29 of his 36 starts, and pitched 11 shutouts.

  8. 8.  7 : The Big Train’s 1913 season is the one I most often see at the top of various lists, and I see it tops the WARP3 list you’ve gathered here.

    I also really, really like Lefty Grove’s 1931 season, an incredible piece of work in light of the fact that in the early ’30s everyone and his grandmother was hammering the ball all over creation. Pete Alexander’s 1915 season is another one that gets a lot of consideration in discussions like these.

  9. 9.  For what it’s worth, below are the top fifteen seasons in terms of adjusted ERA, from baseball-reference.com (http://tinyurl.com/8pu62). There are a lot of entries from the dead-ball era, and a lot of entries from the steroid era, which makes me tempted to slightly discount both, thinking that there were factors in both eras that enhanced the adjusted ERA of elite pitchers. The only two seasons from neither of those two eras are Bob Gibson’s 1968 season, which of course came in the deadballesque Year of the Pitcher, and Doc Gooden’s 1985 season. Maybe for one year Gooden really did do it better than any pitcher’s ever done.

    1. Tim Keefe+ (23) 294 1880 R
    2. Pedro Martinez (28) 291 2000 R
    3. Dutch Leonard* (22) 279 1914 L
    4. Greg Maddux (28) 271 1994 R
    5. Greg Maddux (29) 262 1995 R
    6. Walter Johnson+ (25) 259 1913 R
    7. Bob Gibson+ (32) 258 1968 R
    8. Mordecai Brown+ (29) 253 1906 R
    9. Pedro Martinez (27) 243 1999 R
    10. Walter Johnson+ (24) 242 1912 R
    11. Christy Mathewson+ (24) 230 1905 R
    12. Dwight Gooden (20) 228 1985 R
    13. Roger Clemens (42) 226 2005 R
    14. Pete Alexander+ (28) 225 1915 R
    15. Christy Mathewson+ (28) 222 1909 R

  10. 10.  I don’t know about greatest ever, but in 1986 Roger Clemens went 24-2 when he wasn’t facing Jose DeLeon.

  11. 11.  As long as there have been screen names I’ve been JL25and3, which gives you some idea where Guidry stands in my personal Pantheon.

    No. You’re right on target, which makes Pantheon the wrong word. Guidry’s pitching was godlike, but he wasn’t; he wasn’t an imposing figure. He was about my size at the time: 5’11”, 165. (I’m still 5’11”. 165 is a fond memory.) Guidry just looked like…a guy.

    Or, at least he did until I saw a picture of him with his shirt off. Then he looked like just a guy, but a guy whose left arm was bulging, rippling, muscular out of proportion to anything else.

    He also became rather less godlike to me when I first heard him speak. Since then I’ve tried to not to hear him again. It’s tough to hear your heroes struggle with basic English sentences.

    Two little-known facts about that 1978 season:

    1. All three of Guidry’s losses were to left-handed pitchers named Mike.

    2. The practice of clapping when a pitcher gets two strikes on a batter didn’t exist before Ron Guidry. It began on June 17, 1978, when Guidry struck out 18 Angels. He roared through the middle innings – 11 Ks in innings 3-6, 14 total at that point. Somewhere in there it became clear that the record (still 19) was within reach, and the fans really got into it. I was watching on TV, and every time there was a grounder or a popup, we were screaming for the fielder to drop it. Oh yeah, and the people at the game started standing and clapping every time he got to strike 2.

  12. 12.  I always refer to Dobermans as “Doberman pinch yer nuts off.”

    As for Guidry, I was at the peak of my baseball fandom in 1978, an 11 year old with no other interests. Guidry was throwing the ball like he was scraping it with a rusty nail before each pitch, they moved so viciously away from the hitter. An earlier comment was right about the timing of this season: in 1978, the Yankees needed someone to go 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA. The team was in turmoil and other than Ed Figueroa, there was really no other reliable starter. Ronnie also pitched on short days’ rest to win the one-game playoff against Boston, muddling through 6.1 innings and giving up 3 runs, maybe his shakiest outing of the season. But that game got the Yankees to the post-season. That game breaks the tie between Guidry in 1978 and Gooden in 1985.

    Another connection between 1978 and 1985: as an earlier commentator noted, the hysterical clapping at 2 strikes began with Guidry that year. The K-Corner celebrating the starting pitcher’s strikeout totals during the game began with Gooden.

  13. 13.  I’m still mad that Ron Guidry got jobbed out of the MVP in 1978 by Jim Rice. At the time they said the award should go to a position player and that it didn’t matter that Guidry was the best player on a division winning team. Imagine my bitterness when these arguments were reversed in 1986 and Roger Clemens stole what rightly should have been Don Mattingly’s second consecutive MVP trophy. Damn Red Sox.

  14. 14.  He was one Yankee I always liked. Little Lefty could deal.

  15. 15.  5 Looking back at that year, it may be the only time a pitcher was 19-3, 2.03 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 170 ERA+ and finished third in CY voting with only 17 points and no first place votes. That was Hershiser’s best year and he wasn’t even close to Gooden.

  16. 16.  Once at my request Keith Woolner looked up pitchers whose seasons were the best in terms of standard deviations after adjusting for park, league and era effects.

    Walter Johnson’s was top. Pedro’s two seasons were two and three.

  17. 17.  9 The amazing thing on that list is Greg Maddux having two years in a row where he pitched like that. That guy was a freaking magician and my favorite pitcher to watch work. His movement on pitches seems literally magical to me. TBS used to broadcast several Braves games a week, so I would watch a lot of his games. I loved his brief tenure with the Dodgers, I was bummed when they didn’t resign him.

  18. 18.  11 : I sorta knew that Guidry started the 2-strike clap thing; thanks for filling in the partial blank on that for me, JL25and3 (I hadn’t made that connection between your screen name and the record, which proves my denseness, since the record is burned into my memory).

    13 : Ah, it all evens out. Joe Gordon in ’42 and Joe Dimaggio in ’47 didn’t deserve the MVP over Ted Williams, who won THE FREAKING TRIPLE CROWN both years. Plus, didn’t George King leave Pedro off his MVP ballot in ’00 out of sheer spite? Classy. But yeah, even I have to admit that, monstrous as my man Jim Rice’s ’78 campaign was, Guidry’s ’78 efforts were even better. I’m not so sure that Mattingly deserved the ’86 award over Clemens, however.

    17 : I love watching Maddux, too. He’s the closest to Seaver I’ve ever seen in terms of exuding an unmatched, unshakable, confident calm.

  19. 19.  18 : Check that, King’s Pedroless ballot came in ’99, the year after he’d included two pitchers on his ballot, David Wells and Danny Helling. What a douche.

  20. 20.  19 : I mean Rick Helling. I’ll be shutting up now.

  21. 21.  9 18 And I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux never used steroids or enhancers during that period. One would think the dorky accountant look would have disappeared if he was, and it just never did.

  22. 22.  Speaking of all the psychological damage wrought by Duracell commercials, it was the theme to “A Current Affair” that most terrified me. Brief and Bonechilling. I mean that clanking off-key note that separates the segments on “Law and Order” doesn’t even come close.

    And the opening sequence to the otherwise poorly written syndicated show “Tales From the Darkside” used to absolutely scare the shit out me.

    And when I was really little, of course, there was the sound of that fucking ‘Land of Make-believe’ trolley, which, undoubtedly, always meant that I would be horribly frightened by hideous puppets in just a few moments.

  23. 23.  When I was a youngster (born in 1969) walking home from elementary school, I had to pass through my own self-proclaimed ‘dog street’. Three houses within one block with hellhounds born only to harass a frightened 9 year old trying to reach the safety of home. The silver lining is that the alternate path home led me past a 7-11 style store that began my heroin-like addiction to Topps Baseball cards. Guidry! You have to respect his 1978 season, but at what a cost to my KC Royals……

  24. 24.  22. BTW..The opening to ‘Tales from the Darkside’ still makes me shit my pants….

  25. 25.  Two things…

    1. Maddux and Guidry are the only modern pitchers mentioned that weren’t power pitchers. In every case except for those two, the pitcher in question threw really freaking hard even if, like Pedro in 99/00 or Seaver, there was great skill in the way that the power repetoire was used.

    2. I’ve been trying to think of the best season not mentioned, either in the list or the posts. So here are three:

    (1) Dizzy Dean, 1934.
    (2) Randy Johnson, 1995.

    In both cases, they were incredible down the stretch in really tight pennant races. Dean threw two shutouts in three days to clinch the pennant, came back on two days rest to win game 1 of the WS, then threw another shutout in game 7.

    (3) Not to seriously compare Pedro to the guys that threw underhand and wore jerseys with frilly collars…but…as long as Tim Keefe’s name is up there, why not Old Hoss Radbourn?

  26. 26.  22 : I totally agree about the Current Affair sound.

    23 : The place where I bought baseball cards was in the opposite direction of the Doberman house. Probably no accident.

    25 : Good calls on Diz and The Big Unit. As for Guidry being a non-power pitcher, like Maddux: I never thought of his ’78 season that way, I guess because he racked up so many K’s that year. He might not have been a power pitcher that year, but he wasn’t what we usually think of as a soft-tossing “crafty lefty” (a la Bill Lee, Jimmy Key, Jamie Moyer, etc.) either.

    I like Old Hoss Radbourn being part of the discussion. Might I also add Jack Chesbro and his 40 wins that one year near the turn of the century.

  27. 27.  Yeah, Chesbro’s a good call. Right after I posted, I was thinking about the deadball pitchers and I kicked myself for not mentioning Smokey Joe Wood, 1912…then I had to kick myself even harder for not mentioning Rube Waddell.

    While I don’t think you can hold up a guy from 100 years ago as being comparably dominant to a pitcher like Randy Johnson…

    Waddell doesn’t get credit because he was such an odd man. When we think of him, we remember all those stories of him acting crazy…I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody describe him simply as a pitcher. But look at those strikeouts. I don’t know if there’s one season in particular but he’s always WAY in front of everybody else in his league in K/9. He was striking out hitters almost twice as often as anybody else. I’ve always wondered about that anomaly but anytime Waddell’s name comes up it means tales of him chasing fire engines.

  28. 28.  22 26 I feel you on the Current Affair thing. I’ll nominate Unsolved Mysteries. Mike Epps did a hilarious Robert Stack in his HBO special.

  29. 29.  I know what it says about me that I actually loved to imitate the Duracell jingle, along as whistling the ending crescendo of the Hanna-Barbera “Superfriends” theme, just to piss off my sister’s toy poodle and send him into neurotic spasms. (BTW, I think standard poodles are meaner and scarier than dobies, from my experience)

    One of my neighbors was a corrections officer with a doberman named Guy. He was a mean SOB even on the chain/rope/teflon or whatever they tried to use to restrain him, but invariably he got loose and he’d jog around the neighborhood with the restraint dangling around his neck, chasing anyone who moved (which would be anyone if they were smart). His favorite target was this girl who lived next door; whenever the kids saw him loose, we all ran to get on top of the nearest car, but he caught up and bit her at least three times. My Mom, no shrinking violet, tried to kill him on several occasions, but the owner would grab him and pull him inside before SHE caught Guy. Funny how nobody ever called the cops on the owner for letting his dog get loose and bite children, unless hey, being a corrections officer did have it’s perks…

    But one day Guy got loose, and the next thing you know he got hit by (irony!) a kindergarten school bus. Every neighbor who lived on our street gathered together and celebrated in front of the owner’s house. I remember playing a game of stickball with every kid in the neighborhood in front of our house that day. A year later the owner and his family moved out.

    Like Mom said, karma’s a b-word… >;)

  30. 30.  29 As Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly would say, “Oh! Sweet Irony!”

  31. 31.  11 I remember the 18-strikeout game quite well. I attended Gator’s next home start, a 14-inning thriller against Boston. The crowd gave Gator a standing ovation as he walked in from the bullpen before the game. The most amazing thing about that game (in retrospect, from a 21st century viewpoint) was Billy’s use of his bullpen. Gossage relieved Guidry with bases loaded none out in the 7th, and then remained in the game through the 11th. Sparky then pitched the 11th through 14th for the win.

  32. I judge pitchers by their fully (self) adjusted strat-o-matic cards (for era pitched, dead ball, live ball, yearly league average, steroid era, post season). On that basis, Pedro Martinez had the best year ever, with Walter Johnson 2nd, and Mike Maddux 3rd. There are too many to name that are “right there”.

    I adored Ron Guidry my early life. It was very strange how he pitched so well EVERY OTHER YEAR. It was very strange how Pettitte came onto the scene just as Guidry left.

    I am finishing my 3rd all-time greatest strat-o-matic (adjusted) seasons. In the first year, Walter Johnson just beat out Grover Alexander for the top-pitcher award. In the second, Hal Newhouser just beat out Dazzy Vance for the top-pitcher award. In the third, it is coming down to the wire between Fernando Valenzuela and Don Sutton (with no-one really close to those two). However I assure you Guidry has been ‘right there’ all three years, probably the steadiest of all!

  33. I stumbled onto this article today. This morning, I was in the hospital, flipping through the channels. I stumbled upon the YES channel. They were running “Yankee Classics”, and the game was the June 17, 1978 gem from Rapid Ron. My brother and I went to that game. And if this was the beginning of the “hysterical clapping at two strikes”, then we should get credit. I had told my brother that we needed to go and see Guidry. I said: “He’s hot. He’s going to set a record.” We bought tickets and began drinking early on the day of the game. I remember that we had a pass for the parking garage. We drove down from Connecticut, and we were already tanked when we got to the stadium. In fact, we were so loaded, we mistakenly got there way ahead of the starting time. We were actually alone in the parking garage. I remember because we drank another six pack while we were parked, trying to kill time. I had a bottle of 100 Proof Smirnoffs Vodka. We smuggled it in to the stadium. We had seats in the first row of the upper deck, on the first base side above the Yankee dugout. Before the game started, we bought three giant sodas. We drank part of each soda, and placed the three cups side by side on top of the railing wall. We took the tops off. We poured the vodka back and forth over the three open cups, “Three Stooges” style. By the time the game began, we were really gone. We were yelling and screaming like maniacs right from the first pitch. Everyone around us was talking about getting us tossed out. But then Guidry started striking out everybody. After a couple of innings, more and more people started screaming with us. Soon the entire Stadium was caught up in it. Guidry’s slider was tailing away. He’d aim directly at right handers and it would break back over the plate. Or he’d work them low and away and it might end up in the dirt after it broke. He wasted pitches that were way high. But then he’d come down the pipe with that letter-high fastball. He’d start it high but it just kept rising. Nobody could hit it. It got so bad after a while that we didn’t want the Yankees to bat their turn. Just leave Ron out there and let him kill those guys. Joe Rudi wiffed four times. We started calling “Joe Beauty” at his second at bat. I swear he was ready to come up into the stands and start a fight. Nettles was out there playing third and this little smirk kept coming out on his face. We all knew we were seeing an historic moment. As for the Red Sox fans, in July the year before we were in a bar in Bethel, CT when the Yankees were 14 and a half games behind the Sox. We bet the local Culligan water guy a hundred dollars that the Yankees would win the pennant. The day of the one game playoff comes, and we are back in the bar. Guess who walks in? The Culligan guy. I let keep the hundred bucks. I was too happy. The only thing better than that was the great Series games the Yankees had with the Dodgers those years. Remember Joe Garagiola? “Oh, the Dodgers are sending the Yankees a message…” Sure they were. We had Nettles, the only living vacuum, making those diving stops, and then popping up and calmly counting the seams on the ball before he’d throw the runner out. And the injured Thurman, when he couldn’t even lift his right arm to the level of his shoulder, and the Dodgers all trying to steal. And he kept throwing everybody out UNDERHANDED. When they interviewed him, they asked: “Thurman, how did you throw all of those runners out underhanded?” He said: “Because I wanted to.” And then of course Reggie, who sent his own message. Three coffin nails into the seats in the last game. Those guys were gods. So here’s to the “Gator” – Louisiana Lightning, and the great Yankee teams he played with.

  34. jonnie7:
    Thanks for that story. It reminds me of a Yankee fan friend telling me about how, back in the ’70s, he and his buddies used to be able to bring coolers full of vodka into the games.

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