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It was pointed out to him that in pro football one has to actually knock the other players over, and some of them are pretty big and don't particularly like being knocked over. "I could do it," he said with the same small grin that crosses his face when he says he doesn't use a duck call for duck hunting because he wants to give the ducks a chance and when he says he doesn't need a good pickoff move because nobody ever gets on base when he pitches anyhow.
Guidry can get away with that sort of statement despite the fact that his manner suggests he pretty much believes what he says. Listeners don't get the feeling he's conceited. It's all in the delivery, Guidry's specialty.
Of course, he has no need to hide his light under a bushel when it comes to his fastball. "Elston Howard and Yogi Berra said the last guy they saw who was my size and threw as hard as me was Lefty Gomez," Guidry says. He goes on to tell matter-of-factly about the time he split a wooden milk bottle at a carnival pitching booth and was asked not to return, and about the time he broke a batter's collarbone in two or three places when the batter missed a bunt, and about the time he was playing pitch-and-catch and a fastball slipped off the other guy's glove and broke two ribs.
"Ninety miles an hour is usually as fast as I like to throw," he says. "That's fast enough. You don't have to overpower hitters all the time. I could throw 93 or 94 miles an hour with good control for nine innings, but if a batter can hit a fastball at 90 miles an hour, he can hit one at 94 miles an hour. I'm not afraid to challenge any hitter, but I figure a good hitter is going to get to you once in a while anyhow."
Guidry's fastball has drawn the most notice, but he feels his shoe-top slider has made him a winner—and he hints that next year he might be adding a changeup to his repertoire, although he doesn't feel "trickery." as he calls it, is a very stylish way to pitch. "If I was struggling with the fastball, I could always get the slider over," he says. "What makes my slider so devastating is I throw it as hard as I can. Hitters see it coming at them at 90 miles an hour and think it's a fastball, and then it dives all of a sudden, just three or four feet in front of the plate. It's so effective because it doesn't break till so late. A lot of pitchers throw a hard slider, but it starts to break too early. Unless a hitter is waiting for my slider, he's not going to hit it.
"Sparky Lyle, who has the best slider I've ever seen, showed me how to throw it. He doesn't take any credit, he doesn't like it called the Sparky Lyle slider, but I know he's the guy who's helped me more than anyone else. And he knows it. Sparky was the guy who watched me more than anyone else. Every time I pitched, I'd look over and see him leaning on the bullpen fence. Even though he didn't pitch much last year, he was one of the happiest guys to see me win. Every game I won, he was the first to come over and shake my hand, embrace me.
"When they didn't use me for those 46 games back in '76, I pitched every day on the sidelines. I learned everything I needed to know during that period. I asked the other guys for help. I had so much potential that they said, 'Here's a guy with a lot of talent, but there's a lot he just doesn't know.' I still have a lot to learn; I still need a lot of polishing; I still don't put myself in the same league as Palmer or Seaver or Hunter.
"It wasn't just Lyle who helped. Dick Tidrow taught me pitching sense, how to set a batter up," something at which Guidry is considered remarkably subtle, considering he has only two seasons in the majors. "The guys didn't have to help me, but they did, out of friendship, generosity. I absorbed everything. I used their help. They can feel proud that they had something to do with my success now."
If Lyle got vicarious satisfaction watching his pupil throw the slider to such great effect. Guidry felt downright vindicated, because he pitched himself into a position where he could thumb his nose at Steinbrenner for having so little faith in him. Guidry doesn't specifically refer to the moment that he heard Steinbrenner was going around saying he lacked guts, but he was sorely upset about it at the time. And he hasn't forgotten it.
"I had never really had a good opportunity to prove myself, and I kept saying to myself, 'When you get the chance, put it to good use.' I was determined to show New York what they were missing by not using me. People can laugh at the Yankees now and say, 'Look, George, this is the guy you said couldn't pitch.' Three years ago they wouldn't put me in a game. Now they won't give me a rest. Three years ago they wouldn't ask me about my arm. Now they ask me, 'Ron, how's your arm?' and 'Ron. how's your family?' Three years ago they didn't care how my family was. Three years ago I didn't have the right to talk to George. Now that I'm the one who came along and saved the ball club, George doesn't talk to me. There's nothing he can say."