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When Guidry signed with the Yankees in 1971 after 2� years at the University of Southwest Louisiana, he wanted to be an outfielder. He says he still wonders how well he might have done. "The scouts told me my future was as a pitcher," he says, "so I guess I'll never find out."
Oddly, the man who signed Guidry, Atley Donald, is the coholder of the Yankee record for consecutive wins that Guidry is threatening to break. Donald won his 12 straight as a rookie in 1939 to tie Tom Zachary, who was 12-0 in 1929.
In the first three years after he signed, Guidry showed so little promise as a starter that he agreed to become a reliever in 1974. After a difficult year of transition he was considered a major league prospect. The Yankees shuttled him back and forth between Syracuse and New York in 1975 and '76, until the frustration of being returned to the minors in June 1976 made Guidry pack up his car and point it toward the bayous. Reason prevailed an hour out of New York when his wife Bonnie asked, "Are you sure you want to do this? You've never been a quitter before." One exit later Guidry was heading back to Syracuse, where he had an outstanding season: 5-1, 0.68 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 40 innings.
After that, the Yankee front office began to view Guidry as a successor to relief ace Sparky Lyle, which, in a way, was appropriate because Lyle had helped him develop a slider. But in the 1977 exhibition season Guidry was more a liability than a Lyle, with a 10.24 ERA in six appearances. Nonetheless, Martin decided to keep him. " Gabe Paul [then the Yankee general manager] was high on Ron and so were his minor league managers," Martin says. "I took their word." In the process, he rejected the opinion of owner George Steinbrenner, who felt Guidry needed more seasoning.
Guidry got a chance to prove his owner wrong when Mike Torrez was late reporting after being traded to New York from Oakland. With Torrez unavailable for an April 29 game against Seattle, Martin had to find a fill-in. His choices were Ed Ricks, another youngster, and Guidry, who had already defeated Kansas City in relief. Martin picked Guidry, who went out and beat the Mariners 3-0. Three weeks later, when Hunter missed a turn because of an injury, Guidry came through again, pitching 8? strong innings in a 5-2, 15-inning victory over Oakland. Guidry had found a place in the starting rotation, and the Yankees had found a skinny savior.
Guidry says that to make his rapid transition from minor league reliever to Yankee fill-in to major league stopper, "I had to learn that I couldn't just throw smoke. I've never had a good curve, and in the minors my slider was never better than Triple-A quality. When the slider finally developed, I had something to offset the fastball."
That Guidry had a fastball to begin with is amazing considering his physique. Even he can't account for his speed. "It's more a gift than anything else," he says.
Whatever, Guidry shows no sign of letting up. When it was suggested to Martin last week that, of course, his ace could not stay unbeaten all season, Billy said, "Oh, yeah. How do you know?"