Even around the Yankees, where the unexpected is expected, Ron Guidry's offer last week to go to the aid of New York's stricken bullpen was stunning. Owner George Steinbrenner, who often grouses about the selfishness of some of his players, was euphoric, saying, "For Guidry, the Cy Young winner, the guy who went 27-3 for us last year, to say, 'I want to go to the bullpen if it will help the club,' shows you what kind of class guy he is. First he's for the Yankees, second he's for Guidry. Would that every Yankee act like him."
So few have that, as startling as Guidry's decision was, it may have been even more surprising that no one could find a devious motive for it. Could it be that team spirit is rearing its noble head in the Bronx zoo?
Apparently so. "There are no reservations in my mind," said Guidry after it was announced that he'd drop out of the starting rotation. "I'm grateful that I had one real good season. I've had more than my share of glory and trophies, and what a lot of people forget is that I wouldn't have gotten any of them if it hadn't been for my teammates. Now I'll just pitch when they need me."
The idea of shifting to the bullpen first occurred to Guidry during the Yankees' horrible 2-6 West Coast swing that concluded last week with New York in fourth place in the American League East, four games behind division-leading Boston. "I didn't like sitting there and not being able to help," said Guidry. "I got to thinking about what I might do."
What he might do, of course, is save two or three games a week, rather than win one on his own. But when Guidry first asked Pitching Coach Tom Morgan about the move, he was turned down. Later he suggested that he relieve between starts, something Manager Bob Lemon did occasionally during his pitching days. "That can really screw you up," said Morgan. But toward the end of the week, as it became clear that the New York bullpen was reeling, the Yankee brass began to reconsider Guidry's offer.
Still, there must be something in it for Guidry, right? "Well, it might mean I'll throw 150 innings instead of 300," he said, "and that might add a year at the end of my career. And when I go in for one inning, the hitters will know I'm not holding anything back. So what's a batter going to think? I'll also be strong later in the year for starting again."
Guidry has been mildly bothered that while he earned his way to the big leagues in 1975 as a reliever, he was never a major league success at the job. On April 14 of this year Lemon called on Guidry at the end of a game against the Chicago White Sox; he faced one batter and got a game-saving double play. "I forgot how much fun that could be. I think I'll go back to the bullpen," Guidry said facetiously that day. Lemon ignored him then, but now says, "It's a really unselfish move on his part."
That Guidry is making such a dramatic change is evidence enough that things have gone sour for the defending world champions. Certainly the Yankee management seems to think so. Last Friday President Al Rosen blasted his team for complacency. The next day Steinbrenner summoned Lemon and the Yankee coaches to his office and tore into them for not maintaining tight discipline, a favorite Steinbrenner theme.
Perhaps lackadaisical play has been a factor in New York's shaky start; the Yanks had an 11-13 record as of Friday. More distressing has been New York's weak hitting—the team average of .254 is 13 points lower than it was for 1978. And worst of all has been the pitching.
Last year New York's staff was easily the best in baseball, with Guidry, Ed Figueroa (20-11) and Catfish Hunter (13-7). Then there was Reliever Rich Gossage, who made 68 appearances, saved 28 games and won 12.