At first glance, looking at Ron Guidry envokes only one thought…nice 'stache. Look into the numbers and you come up with something COMPLETELY different.
He was better than Sandy Koufax.
What? Better than Koufax…THE Sandy Koufax?!? You better believe it, bitch…and I'll tell ya why.
Koufax's Hall of Fame career was based on four GREAT years and potential. He left the league at the age of 30…and never looked back. Had he played ten more years and had an eight year span of greatness versus four…he'd be the best ever. No argument.
But he didn't…he left the game. So, take his numbers and stack them up against "Louisiana Lightning" and riddle me this…why is one one of the greatest lefties EVER and the other merely a footnote in Yankees history?
Let's start with the case AGAINST Koufax.
At first glance, Sandy finished his 12 year career with a 165-87 (.655 win percentage)…Guidry was 170-91 (.651). Sandy has 3 Cy Young Awards and 1 MVP Award, whereas Guidry has only one Cy Young. Arguably…Guidry never really had a chance to win an MVP award while playing for the Yankees. In 1978…EIGHT Yankees received MVP votes and "Gator" finished second overall to Jim Rice.
Here's the biggie…from 1955-1962 (yes, Koufax's first 8 seasons), Sandy was MEDIOCRE. Guidry never DIDN'T bring it.
Koufax's numbers 1955-1962: 68-60 (.531 percentage), 3.71 ERA and an average of 146 Ks per year. 1963-1966: 97-27 (.782), 1.86 ERA and an average of 307 Ks per year. I know the pitching mound was LOWERED in 1969 to give batters a better look at the ball (and thusly, more home runs and higher attendance)…but was it RAISED from 1963 to 1966?!? The 6'2" Koufax was a witch on the bump for four seasons. For you modern day guys…he was like Pedro Martinez at his absolute best. The rest of his career…he looked like Pedro's brother Ramon sans Jheri Curl.
Alright enough about Koufax…Guidry is the topic here, right? Right.
Guidry's 1978 season has been called by some the "most dominant year ever by a pitcher". He was 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA…not too shabby for 1978. His 248 Ks ranked him second in the AL behind Nolan Ryan's 260. Third on the list that year…Dennis Leonard with 183. Guidry led the league in ERA, Wins, Winning Percentage (.893) and Shutouts. On June 17, he struck out a Yankee-record 18 batters. This performance is usually cited as the launching pad of the Yankee Stadium tradition of fans standing and clapping for a strikeout with two strikes on the opposing batter.
And he led the Bronx Bombers to the World Series. Not bad for a guy who after three years in the bigs, finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter.
Guidry won 20 or more three times…the same as Koufax. Guidry also garnered five straight (1982-1986) Gold Gloves…Koufax had none. Four times Guidry was in the top five for Cy Young voting (he received votes in seven of his 14 years)…Koufax finished in the top five only four times (1963-1966 not surprisingly).
"Gator" was a big game pitcher too. In a day when Curt Schilling's (more on him later) bloody sock gets him mentioned in the same breath as some other great performances and virtually ushered into the Hall, Guidry beat those same Red Sox at Fenway Park in a one game playoff in 1978 to send his team to the playoffs. Oh…that victory also happened to be his 25th of the season. Eventual league MVP Jim Rice was 1 for 4 versus Ron that afternoon.
So there you have it…Guidry versus Koufax. I could've easily compared him to Jim Bunning or Don Drysdale…but the scales would be tipped COMPLETELY in Ron's favor. I wanted to make this a tough one and take on an icon.
Don't worry Drysdale and Bunning fans…your guys will get their comeuppance soon!