Saturday, November 3, 2018

Book Review: 'Gator - My Life in Pinstripes' by Ron Guidry

Ron Guidry cemented his place in the hearts of Yankees fans when he spun an almost perfect 25-3 season in 1978; however, just two years earlier he was ready to throw it all away. In 1976, Guidry sat idle for 47 days in a row in pinstripes while Billy Martin leaned heavily on his relief tandem of Sparky Lyle and Dick Tidrow. Martin tagged Yankees pitching coach Bob Lemon with the responsibility of telling Guidry he was going back to the minor leagues. That’s when he snapped.

“I had made up my mind. I wasn’t going back to Syracuse.” Guidry said in his 2018 autobiography, “Gator: My Life in Pinstripes.”

“I had proven everything I needed to prove in the minor leagues. I was going to turn left on Interstate 80 —quit the New York Yankees and professional baseball.”

Gator - Crown Archetype
After his wife Bonnie talked him off the ledge, Guidry decided against making that left turn and forged ahead with his baseball career. In “Gator,” Guidry exposes the wild ride of his 14 seasons on the hill with the New York Yankees by pulling back the curtain on the Bronx Zoo, George Steinbrenner's impossible expectations, and his kinship with Yogi Berra.

As Guidry leaned on the guidance from his aforementioned bullpen mentors to develop his devastating slider, he still had another hurdle to overcome — his manager. After Martin left Guidry in the freezer during the 1976 season, he was determined to earn the trust of both his ornery manager and owner. On May 17, 1977, Martin reached for Guidry after Catfish Hunter complained of shoulder soreness. This was his chance to prove his worth.

After holding the dangerous Kansas City Royals to a shutout after eight innings, Martin made his way to the mound. When Thurman Munson saw Martin leaving the dugout, he pushed Guidry to stand his ground. When Martin arrived, he asked, “Well, what do you think?” Guidry seized the opportunity to stand up to his manager.

“I think you oughtta get your a** off my mound so I can finish my damn game,” he said.

Now with his manager's confidence confirmed, Guidry blossomed. He quickly became the ace of the Yankees pitching staff and dominated the American League in 1978 en route to both the American League Cy Young Award and a repeat World Series victory. For over the next decade, Guidry proved to be a stable force in the Yankees rotation.

Even though he reaped the benefits of his veteran status, there were many obstacles for Guidry to navigate. Fresh off his magical 1978 season, he anticipated even greater success in 1979; however, fate would soon intervene. On August 2, 1979, while enjoying his day off, Steinbrenner called to inform him that his beloved catcher died in a plane crash. "Gator" devotes an entire chapter to explaining how deeply Munson's death affected both him and the franchise for years to come.

As Guidry worked himself up to recover from his devastating loss, Steinbrenner rewarded his loyalty throughout the turbulent times by serving up a four-year contract in 1981 for $3.95 million. Guidry was now on the path to financial freedom, or so he thought. By the end of 1983; however, Guidry was almost bankrupt.

A series of failed investments by his agent done without his knowledge sent the creditors swarming for Guidry's checkbook. He opens up about how the ordeal took a tremendous toll on his family and how Steinbrenner’s guidance helped him to make good on his debts.

After arm troubles forced him to retire in 1989, Guidry remained a franchise fixture as a spring training instructor and a coach. In 2003, the Yankees retired his number 49, placing him among the legends in Monument Park.

Closing out “Gator,” he dedicated the final chapter to his relationship with Yogi Berra. In heartwarming fashion, he reveals a lesser-known side of the Hall of Fame catcher that grew from their relationship of Gator serving as Berra’s spring training “chauffeur” in the late 2000s.

The often-reserved Guidry has peeled back a hidden layer by revealing the intimate details of his playing career. “Gator” serves readers with honest storytelling that strays from the typical play-by-play details that hinder most baseball stories by focusing on the relationships he built away from the watchful eyes of those in the crowd.





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