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Guidry was lucky that there was a man like Paul around to protect him, because he hadn't done much to protect himself. During spring training his faith in himself was so strong it was blind. Today he admits he could have done better if he had wanted to.
"It seems to me the reason you have spring training is to get in shape," he says. "The way I get in shape is by just throwing fastballs, fastballs, fastballs, right down the middle. Let them hit it, I don't care. I'm the guy who knows my arm better than anyone else, and I'm not going to change my style to suit coaches. In spring training nothing counts. In 1976 I had a good spring training, but I still ended up in the minors that season. I figured, 'What are they going to do if I have a bad spring training—send me to the minors?' " At that point Guidry had the attitude of a convict about to break a prison regulation who says, "What are they going to do, put me in jail?"
A month after spring training, Guidry got his break and pitched his 8⅓ shutout innings in the second major league game he had ever started. He went on to finish the 1977 season with a 16-7 record and then won a playoff and a World Series game. "They told me a lot about the kid, but they never told me he always has lousy springs," Martin was to say.
"When you see a fellow perform the way Guidry did in Syracuse, see the native talent, the strength of his arm, his ability to get out of a jam, his attitude, you have to pay attention to a pitcher like that," says Gabe Paul, who is now the president of the Cleveland Indians. "The kid was always outstanding. In my dealings with other clubs, his name always came up. If George had offered him up for a trade, they'd have stood in line for him."
Today the lines would be around the block and out of sight, but the Yankees wouldn't part with Guidry for a million dollars. Last year he won 25 games and lost but three—the Yankees scored one run or less in each of his losses—and had the best winning percentage (.893) of any 20-game winner in history. He had an ERA of 1.74, the lowest in the majors for a lefthander since Sandy Koufax was in his prime and the lowest for an American League lefty since 1914. He had nine shutouts, the most by an American League lefthander since 1916, when Babe Ruth had nine. And he pitched 16 complete games, 11 of them five-hitters or better. Since the 1977 All-Star break, Guidry has won 39 games, including a World Series and a playoff victory in each of the last two years, and lost five. No pitcher has ever had a more successful season and a half.
One of the remarkable things about Guidry—and possibly the main reason the Yankees were so late in recognizing his talents—is that he doesn't appear overpowering, that he doesn't look at all like the 95-mph pitcher he is. At 5'11" and 160 pounds, Guidry is lean. But he is not, as he is so often described, skinny. It's just that his muscles are very long. He is sinewy.
No one, not even Guidry, seems to know for sure where all that speed comes from, although his pitching motion probably has a lot to do with it. It is economical and takes complete advantage of his physique. He gets an unusually strong drive off his left leg when he throws and, before whipping his left arm around, fiercely propels his right shoulder toward the plate, In the last instant before he releases the ball, Guidry jerks that shoulder down, which snaps his upper body toward the plate and, in essence, turns his left arm into a catapult.
He also works rapidly. Between pitches he wastes no time psyching himself or attempting to psych out the batter. This creates an impression of total self-assurance; the batter gets the feeling that Guidry knows exactly what pitch he wants to throw and that it will go exactly where he wants it to. After each pitch he stands bowlegged, calm and still—except for the munching motion of his jaw as he chews a wad of tobacco—until the catcher returns the ball. If it was a good pitch, there will be no sign of emotion; if the pitch was bad, he might mutter. "Pas bon."
Although they certainly savored each of Guidry's wins last season and celebrated his shutouts, New York's passionate fans seemed to revel most in his strikeouts. For all the Yankees' brilliant pitching over the years, they have not had an abundance of strikeout artists. Until Guidry came along—he set the club season strikeout record with 248 in '78—New York had not had a strikeout ace among its starters since Bob Turley in the late '50s. New Yorkers grew to anticipate each of Guidry's whiffs, cheering loudly whenever he got two strikes on a batter. And when Guidry delivered a third strike, as he so often did, Yankee Stadium would shake with a fulminating roar of delight. This vociferous appreciation of his 139 strikeouts at Yankee Stadium remains a particularly memorable part of last season for Guidry. "It was nice to have that closeness with the fans," he says. "I liked it when they started screaming, because it affected the batters. They would swing at a lot of pitches that were too high or too low. I got away with a lot because the fans were behind me so much."
But the roaring throng was hardly Guidry's only weapon; after all, he did strike out 109 on the road. Much more important to his success is the fact that he is a natural: