I recently read Harvey Araton’s 2012 book, Driving Mr. Yogi. While the book focuses primarily on the friendship between New York Yankee greats Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry, it stirred up a question for me on why Guidry is not in the Hall of Fame. In the book, Berra (who was enshrined in 1972) offers that perhaps Guidry did not play long enough to receive serious consideration, though he certainly played a very high level during his career. In my opinion, Guidry’s more than earned his place in Cooperstown.
Guidry’s Hall of Fame merits have been the subject of discussion at this website before. I’d like to take another, longer look and offer a number of reasons auguring for Guidry’s enshrinement.
Here are several things that make him worthy:
- For nine seasons, 1977 through 1985, Guidry was the leading winner in all of baseball with 154 wins and registering a 0.694 winning percentage. Overall, his career win total of 170 generated a 0.654 winning percentage.
- These numbers are even more impressive because Guidry’s winning percentages exceeded those of his team by a factor of +0.115 during 1977-85 and +0.088 over his entire career. In other words, despite playing for baseball’s most victorious team, Guidry’s winning percentage was significantly greater which infers that he was truly adding value to his team. Many of Guidry’s peers from that same era, as well as others in the Hall of Fame, have peak-and-career winning percentages that are either in line or below their team average.
- Guidry’s dominance was also reflected by leading the American League in major pitching categories on nine different occasions: wins (2), shutouts (1), earned run average (2), complete games (2) and winning percentage (2).
- Guidry won 20 or more games three times, and this number might have been higher had he not played in the era where five and six-man rotations were the order of the day for Yankee teams. Not only did Guidry end up starting five-six fewer games per year due to the rotation, but he also gave up multiple starts because he did relief duty to help his team remain rested for the pennant stretch drives and/or postseason play. Given his very high winning percentage, one can infer that the cumulative effect of fewer starts may have prevented Guidry from not only exceeding the 20-win threshold more, but also may have kept his career wins below the vaunted 200-game level.
- Guidry achieved a pitching milestone by twice recording seasons where his total bases allowed (hits + walks) were less than innings pitched.
- Guidry’s peak and career earned run averages, respectively, were 3.19 and 3.29, and this was all during the era of the designated hitter. Bill James has noted that the designated hitter factor would account for about 0.50 earned run average points, which imply that Guidry’s numbers would be less than the 3.00 level typically regarded as the threshold between excellence and dominance.
Ultimately, Guidry’s career, like so many who have worn the Yankee pinstripes, was defined by winning the biggest games when they counted most.
- His overall World Series win-loss record in three Fall Classics was 3-1 as he helped lead the Yankees to back-to-back WS Championships in 1977-78. Of note is that all those World Series were against the hated Dodgers, and Guidry’s average runs allowed in those four games was exactly 2.00.
- In 1978, he won his 25th game of the season with a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park despite starting on only two-days of rest; that was the 163rd game of the regular season as an extra game was necessitated by a 1st place tie between New York and Boston.
- Earlier that year he struck out 18 Angels, a game that marked the beginning of a tradition where fans begin to clap once a pitcher gets a 2-strike count on the batter.
- In addition to being a 2-time World Series Champion, Guidry was a Yankee team captain (1986-88), Cy Young Award Winner (1978), 5-time Gold Glove Winner, 4-time All Star, Roberto Clemente Award Winner (1984) and had his jersey number (#49) retired by the Yankees.
As a final note, Guidry possessed a sense of strength and quiet confidence associated with the best Yankees, regardless of era. When Guidry pitched, there was no doubt of who was in charge, even when the opposition had the seeming advantage. The prime example occurred in the aforementioned 163rd game of the 1978 season in which the Boston Red Sox would host the Yankees in the winner-take-all game for the American League East Division. Despite coming in on an eight-game winning streak and possessing home field advantage, the Red Sox wryly noted that the Yankees had Guidry. When asked if he thought it fair that an entire season come down to a single contest, Guidry reportedly said that it was because he could only pitch one game.
The ultimate compliment from a historic peer may have been during the 1981 World Series when retired Hall of Fame Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax exchanged signed baseball caps with his fellow southpaw. Reportedly this was initiated by Koufax himself who had expressed admiration for Guidry’s pitching excellence.