Ron Guidry, the unanimous winner of the 1978 American League Cy Young Award and the man I the New York Yankees couldn't have won the world championship without, was born and raised in Acadiana, as the southwestern part of Louisiana is known. He is a Cajun, a man of French heritage. There is a Cajun word, canaille, the definition of which has evolved in a roundabout way from the original French meaning of riffraff to the contemporary Cajun one of composed, crafty, street smart. When a Cajun says that Guidry is canaille, he also means that Guidry has faith in himself.
It is a wonder Guidry has been able to keep the faith, considering the rockiness of his road to stardom. It took him six years to make the majors permanently, and when he did so in 1977 at age 26, he brought with him an undistinguished minor league record of 24-22. He had been blasted off the mound by the archrival Red Sox; he had been accused by the Yankee owner of lacking guts; he had been ignored and left to agonize in the bullpen for 46 straight games without throwing a single pitch to an opposing batter; and then he had been sent back down to the minors. When he rejoined the Yankees for good in spring training the next year, he had an exhibition-season ERA of 10.24; was saved from being traded by a man who was intractable in his certainty that Guidry possessed extraordinary gifts; and finally was given a chance to start only when the Yankees found themselves without a starter and had to scrape the bottom of the barrel.
It takes an awful lot of faith to survive all that. It also took heart to walk onto the mound under such circumstances and calmly pitch 8‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® shutout innings, which is what Guidry did. In fact, through all his trials—and now through all his triumphs—Guidry has been so calm as to appear blasè, a demeanor that has become his trademark. "People show emotion in different ways," he says. "Even though I do some spectacular things, I just shrug my shoulders and say to myself, 'Well, I guess I got away with something.' "
If Guidry were to write a book about the things he has gotten away with as a Yankee, it might be titled Two Close Calls. The first close call came on the night the Red Sox shelled him; in one-third of an inning of relief he gave up four hits and four earned runs, two of them scoring on a home run by Carl Yastrzemski. Guidry would like to forget the evening entirely—to be sure, he plays it down today—but it was a memorable, if miserable, one. It was May 20, 1976, a night on which the Yankees and Red Sox emptied their benches and brawled in Yankee Stadium. Shortly after Guidry's hapless performance, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, who for some time had been harboring grave doubts about Guidry's fortitude, told associates that Guidry's pitching that night showed that he "didn't have any guts" and that he needed to get some, presumably outside of Yankee Stadium. "After Yastrzemski hit that homer, they treated me as if I had done something wrong," says Guidry. After he served his 46-game penance in the bullpen, Manager Billy Martin told him the Yankees were sending him back to Syracuse because he wasn't pitching enough.
January 22, 1979
Guidry wasn't overjoyed at going down to Triple A, having already spent half a season there. "I'm getting too old to be shuffled around like that," he said to himself. "I can't keep on being yanked up and down like a yo-yo. If this is what the Yankees think I'm worth, I might as well go back home and get a job. I'm 25. Life is flying by. I can't afford to wait until I'm 30 to begin making a living for my family," which at the time consisted of a wife and a child on the way.
Guidry packed his car and, with his wife Bonnie, set out for Louisiana. They were about 100 miles west of New York, just into Pennsylvania, when Bonnie said. "Are you sure you want to give up on everything you've been working toward for the last 10 years? You've never quit at anything you thought you could do in your life. Don't quit on your own. Let the Yankees tell you you're no good before you think of quitting."
Guidry never really wanted to hang it up—"I was frustrated, but I wasn't fed up with baseball," he says—and it was easy for Bonnie to persuade him to reverse course on Interstate 80. Guidry reported to Syracuse on time; the Yankees didn't find out for two years how close he had come to quitting.
In his first appearance with Syracuse, Guidry came in with one out in the eighth inning, the bases loaded and the tying run on third. He struck out the next two batters and then struck out the side in the ninth. "Not bad for a kid with no guts." someone said to Steinbrenner the next morning.
After finishing the 1976 season at Syracuse with a 5-1 record and an astounding 0.68 earned-run average—he had allowed only 16 hits while striking out 50 in 40 innings—Guidry was invited to spring training in 1977, in the hope that he would develop into a reliable backup for relief ace Sparky Lyle. In six exhibition appearances, Guidry had a horrendous 10.24 ERA, which occasioned the second close call. Steinbrenner, Martin and Gabe Paul, then the Yankee general manager, were making plans for the upcoming season. Steinbrenner strongly suggested they trade Guidry. Martin said nothing. "Over my dead body," said Paul. "You're about to make a very big mistake." Then he got specific.
"O.K., George," Paul said. "If you want to trade Guidry, I'll agree to it under one condition: that you issue a press release saying that I, Gabe Paul, unalterably oppose the trade and that you, George Steinbrenner, insist on it, and that when—not if, but when—Ron Guidry becomes an outstanding major league pitcher for another team, you take the blame." The point was made, and the subject of a trade was dropped.
Guidry was lucky that there was a man like Paul around to protect him, because he hadn't done much to protect himself. During spring training his faith in himself was so strong it was blind. Today he admits he could have done better if he had wanted to.
"It seems to me the reason you have spring training is to get in shape," he says. "The way I get in shape is by just throwing fastballs, fastballs, fastballs, right down the middle. Let them hit it, I don't care. I'm the guy who knows my arm better than anyone else, and I'm not going to change my style to suit coaches. In spring training nothing counts. In 1976 I had a good spring training, but I still ended up in the minors that season. I figured, 'What are they going to do if I have a bad spring training—send me to the minors?' " At that point Guidry had the attitude of a convict about to break a prison regulation who says, "What are they going to do, put me in jail?"
A month after spring training, Guidry got his break and pitched his 8‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® shutout innings in the second major league game he had ever started. He went on to finish the 1977 season with a 16-7 record and then won a playoff and a World Series game. "They told me a lot about the kid, but they never told me he always has lousy springs," Martin was to say.
"When you see a fellow perform the way Guidry did in Syracuse, see the native talent, the strength of his arm, his ability to get out of a jam, his attitude, you have to pay attention to a pitcher like that," says Gabe Paul, who is now the president of the Cleveland Indians. "The kid was always outstanding. In my dealings with other clubs, his name always came up. If George had offered him up for a trade, they'd have stood in line for him."
Today the lines would be around the block and out of sight, but the Yankees wouldn't part with Guidry for a million dollars. Last year he won 25 games and lost but three—the Yankees scored one run or less in each of his losses—and had the best winning percentage (.893) of any 20-game winner in history. He had an ERA of 1.74, the lowest in the majors for a lefthander since Sandy Koufax was in his prime and the lowest for an American League lefty since 1914. He had nine shutouts, the most by an American League lefthander since 1916, when Babe Ruth had nine. And he pitched 16 complete games, 11 of them five-hitters or better. Since the 1977 All-Star break, Guidry has won 39 games, including a World Series and a playoff victory in each of the last two years, and lost five. No pitcher has ever had a more successful season and a half.
One of the remarkable things about Guidry—and possibly the main reason the Yankees were so late in recognizing his talents—is that he doesn't appear overpowering, that he doesn't look at all like the 95-mph pitcher he is. At 5'11" and 160 pounds, Guidry is lean. But he is not, as he is so often described, skinny. It's just that his muscles are very long. He is sinewy.
No one, not even Guidry, seems to know for sure where all that speed comes from, although his pitching motion probably has a lot to do with it. It is economical and takes complete advantage of his physique. He gets an unusually strong drive off his left leg when he throws and, before whipping his left arm around, fiercely propels his right shoulder toward the plate, In the last instant before he releases the ball, Guidry jerks that shoulder down, which snaps his upper body toward the plate and, in essence, turns his left arm into a catapult.
He also works rapidly. Between pitches he wastes no time psyching himself or attempting to psych out the batter. This creates an impression of total self-assurance; the batter gets the feeling that Guidry knows exactly what pitch he wants to throw and that it will go exactly where he wants it to. After each pitch he stands bowlegged, calm and still—except for the munching motion of his jaw as he chews a wad of tobacco—until the catcher returns the ball. If it was a good pitch, there will be no sign of emotion; if the pitch was bad, he might mutter. "Pas bon."
Although they certainly savored each of Guidry's wins last season and celebrated his shutouts, New York's passionate fans seemed to revel most in his strikeouts. For all the Yankees' brilliant pitching over the years, they have not had an abundance of strikeout artists. Until Guidry came along—he set the club season strikeout record with 248 in '78—New York had not had a strikeout ace among its starters since Bob Turley in the late '50s. New Yorkers grew to anticipate each of Guidry's whiffs, cheering loudly whenever he got two strikes on a batter. And when Guidry delivered a third strike, as he so often did, Yankee Stadium would shake with a fulminating roar of delight. This vociferous appreciation of his 139 strikeouts at Yankee Stadium remains a particularly memorable part of last season for Guidry. "It was nice to have that closeness with the fans," he says. "I liked it when they started screaming, because it affected the batters. They would swing at a lot of pitches that were too high or too low. I got away with a lot because the fans were behind me so much."
But the roaring throng was hardly Guidry's only weapon; after all, he did strike out 109 on the road. Much more important to his success is the fact that he is a natural:
•When he was eight, little Ronnie Guidry, whose mother didn't like him leaving the block, "decided it was time I played with other kids instead of by myself." So he told her he was going to grandma's house, but instead walked three blocks to a park, where some boys were playing baseball. The ball rolled his way, and he picked it up and threw it back. A man saw the incipient Guidry fastball—"He came running so fast I thought I had done something wrong," Guidry says—and signed Ronnie up for Little League. A star was born.
•In high school Guidry ran a 9.8 100, a 49-flat 440 and triple-jumped 45 feet. Playing Teener League touch football while in secondary school, he quarterbacked his team to two undefeated seasons. In his final game, for the city championship. Guidry passed and ran for every one of his team's seven touchdowns.
•Guidry is an avid user of the Nautilus machine in the gymnasium adjacent to the Yankee locker room. "I probably work out more than anybody else," he says. "I do a lot of arm curls, usually with about 75 to 100 pounds. Once Catfish Hunter and Don Gullett came in after me to work out, and the bar was set at about 75 pounds for curls. Catfish couldn't budge it. 'Goddam!' he said. 'Who's been working out on this?' "
•On a team with some fast runners, notably Mickey Rivers and Willie Randolph, Guidry is the fastest, a talent that is rarely put on display, since American League pitchers don't bat and, thus, never reach base. "I'm strongest in my legs." Guidry says. "A few times I pinch-ran, but as the season progressed they wouldn't let me do it anymore. I'd love to steal, but they never let me."
•"It's nice when someone tells me I'm a good pitcher," Guidry says, "but in some ways I value the compliment more when someone tells me that I'm a good fielder." Which people do. often. In fact, many players consider Guidry the best fielding pitcher in baseball. "I've always been quick," he says. In his eight pro seasons, he has been hit by a batted ball only once, on the knee, and that blow wasn't a serious one.
•Guidry's friends, particularly those who play Ping-Pong with him, talk about his quickness more than anything else. And if frogs could talk, they would attest to it, too. There is a technique to frog hunting, a popular bayou pastime for which Guidry has shown a considerable talent: you sneak up on a frog in your pirogue, shine a light in its eyes and grab it before it has time to spring away. A good frog doesn't need much time. If Guidry is the hunter, the frog hasn't got a prayer, or so say Guidry's frog-hunting buddies.
•Back home in Louisiana after the World Series, after the parades and celebrations and welcomings, after the American League Most Valuable Player award was announced—Boston slugger Jim Rice edged Guidry, a case of an apple winning over an orange—Guidry finally found time to do some of his favorite things. One of them is playing touch football in the park on Sunday afternoons. One day the game was played in a torrent that flooded the field with three inches of water in three hours. The rain might have daunted the other players' spirits had it not been for the fact that they were playing with a World Series hero who wasn't about to let circumstances as inconsequential as a downpour and ankle-deep mud ruin his game.
Guidry's team won 60-0. The score was actually 30-30, but when it had reached 30-0, Guidry switched sides and quarterbacked the other team to five touchdowns. As might be expected, Guidry not only can throw the bomb, but he has touch on his passes, too. He threw one perfect spiral after another, only half of which were dropped. When he wasn't throwing, he was running, quickly and all but untouchably. In the midst of one of his darting, graceful jaunts, one of the defenders, realizing there was slim chance he could nab Guidry, stopped on the field and muttered, "He's so good I'd rather just watch him run anyhow."
After the game Guidry approached those players he didn't already know to introduce himself formally and to thank them for the game. A few of them were local high school football players, and they couldn't believe what had happened to them that afternoon: not only did they get to see Guidry and to play football with him. but he also went out of his way to shake their hands.
"I think I'll switch from baseball to football," said Guidry, tugging at the waistband of his sodden sweat pants. "I could be a good defensive back."
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."
Guidry is rarely so outspoken: though these words came out calmly, they reflected more resentment than he allowed himself to show during the season. He apparently felt that having spent the summer putting his arm where his mouth is, it was now time to get something off his chest that has been weighing heavily there for more than two years.
During the Yankees' two stormy championship seasons, Guidry was remarkably adept at avoiding—though hardly indifferent to—the personality conflicts that racked the team. To pull this off while being the center of attention at least every fourth or fifth day was no simple accomplishment, and it's an indication of Guidry's personality. He didn't stay clean by being diplomatic or politic, but by being quiet—and canaille.
"As long as you keep your mouth shut, nobody can say anything about you, because they don't know what you think." he says. "I'm not saying that's the way to handle it, but it is the way to stay out of it. I'm out there to pitch, and that's all I want to do."
During the worst of the Yankee battles, Guidry found a more creative way to express himself than by bickering. "You know what I used to do?" he asks, with a mischievous expression. "When Martin was still manager and I was in the dugout during a game, sometimes he'd get up to holler at an umpire or talk to somebody. He'd stand in front of the dugout, so that his feet were just about eye level. I'd spit tobacco juice on his socks—right on the back of his ankles, where he couldn't see. Everybody in the dugout would be laughing, and Martin's white socks would have a big wet brown stripe down the back.
After enough shots, they'd get soggy and begin to droop, and he'd reach down to pull them up and get tobacco juice on his fingers."
There are 15 pitchers on the Yankee roster; seven of them are paid more than Guidry, some a lot more. Tommy John, for example, who had a 17-10 record with the Dodgers last season, signed with the Yankees in November and will be paid $1,375 million, over three years. Technically, Guidry's salary in 1978 was $38,000. In December of 1977, Guidry's lawyer and boyhood friend, John Schneider, negotiated a three-year contract—1979 through '81—for Guidry. The deal is worth $562,000, of which $90,000 was advanced in 1978. Thus, in essence, Guidry has a four-season $600,000 contract.
If Guidry pitches anywhere near as well as he did last year, he will probably remain the biggest bargain in baseball for the next three years. Schneider would like to renegotiate Guidry's contract, but legally—and ethically—he hasn't got much of an argument. Schneider has approached the Yankees regarding a better contract for Guidry but Steinbrenner is a tough businessman. So far, Schneider's entreaties have been in vain.
Faced with such circumstances, another player might attempt to make up the difference by hustling endorsements as hard and as fast as he can. Schneider and an assistant operate the newly formed Ron Guidry Enterprises, which was set up to take advantage of Guidry's new earning power. However, because of Guidry's reluctance to jump in with both feet, their efforts so far haven't gone much beyond distributing T shirts, sending out autographed posters and baseballs, and answering fan mail. Certainly a player in Guidry's position could earn big bucks from off-field endeavors, but he seems above the shill game. Schneider claims—the integrity of it all making him somewhat incredulous—that in the first month after the World Series Guidry turned down more than $100,000 in endorsements: a soft drink, because Guidry only drinks another brand of pop and a lot of strong Louisiana coffee; chewing tobacco, because although Guidry chews—there is a small brass spittoon discreetly tucked next to his living-room sofa—he doesn't believe he should encourage kids to do so. Two deals have been worked on. One. the endorsement of a line of guns and ammunition, which Guidry uses and likes—he pretty much restricts his hunting to ducks and rabbits—is still being negotiated. The other, a proposal to market a Cajun hot sauce that might be named Louisiana Lightning, which is what Guidry's fast-ball is often called, could also pan out. "He could be a natural for that, the way he eats," Bonnie said the other day. "The last time we went out to dinner he had a bowl of crawfish bisque, a fried catfish dinner, a fried crawfish dinner and crawfish ètouffèe," which is a thick stew-like dish highly seasoned with cayenne pepper.
Guidry is no more awed by his newfound wealth than he is by his newfound fame or the newfound pressure of pitching a World Series game in Yankee Stadium when his team is down two games to none. He used his 1978 advance to build a new house, which he designed himself, having taken architecture courses at Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, his hometown, for two years before the Yankees drafted him. The cedar house is situated at the end of a dead-end street at the edge of what looks like a jungle, in a neighborhood a few miles outside Lafayette. He hasn't forgotten that just five years ago he and Bonnie were sleeping on the floor and dressing in dark corners of an apartment without drapes or furniture. At the time, it was all they could afford two-thirds of. The other third of the rent was paid by a minor league teammate, whom they needed as a roommate to help foot the bills.
"Ron has a great amount of inner strength," says a family friend, "and it comes from Bonnie. The two of them operate as a whole. She's an extrovert and he's an introvert, and they complement each other."
Indoors, maybe. As outdoor partners, they might need some work. "I laugh when I read stories about Ron that say he's patient," says Bonnie. "I don't think he has any patience at all. I once wanted to go hunting with him—it was a few years ago, right after we were married. He didn't really want me to go along, but he took me. I think he wanted to show me how rough it was. It was a warm day, but he made me wear this wool cap for camouflage. My hair was all the way down my back then, and I had to tuck it up under the hat. He made me wear a sweater and an old pair of his camouflage fatigues—he was in the National Guard then—and two pairs of boots. We were hunting rabbits, or something like that. It was so boring, I was so hot, and I could barely walk because I had so many clothes on. Then I got stuck in the mud in this swamp. I couldn't move my feet. Ronnie didn't want to pull me out. I think he was glad I got stuck so he could say, 'I told you this hunting was rough.' "
Bonnie's experience aside, when Guidry is hunting—and he does so at every opportunity—his patience really does show. He can sit for hours in a duck blind, still, waiting; if anyone is in the blind with him, they had better be as patient as Guidry. And hunting isn't something he does simply as an escape. When he is waiting for game, he isn't daydreaming, he is intent on the endeavor. He has hunted ever since he was a boy, having learned many of his outdoor skills, including trapping, from his grandfather Gus. He is an excellent shot, as one might expect, his shooting eye and timing sharpened by pitching—or maybe it's the other way around.
He goes after small game occasionally, but he much prefers duck hunting because of the challenge of shooting at a target that can fly almost as fast as his fastball and can dip like his slider. He once went deer hunting with Hunter, but has no real desire to do so again. "Catfish and I were separated, and I was just waiting for a deer by this tree," Guidry recalls. "I didn't really know whether I could kill one or not. Well, I turned around, and there was this deer, almost staring me in the face. We startled each other; I hadn't heard him, and he hadn't caught my scent. For a moment neither one of us knew what to do. I couldn't shoot him. So I just looked at him and said 'Boo!' and he ran away. I never did tell Catfish about it."
In the neighborhood where Guidry lives, which is not unlike the neighborhood where he grew up, it wouldn't be startling to see a boy strolling down the street barefoot, a pole slung over his shoulder with a catfish dangling from it. The boy might have been Guidry a few years ago.
"The first place Bonnie and I ever lived was this apartment behind my parents' house," he said recently. "I had helped my dad build the house a few years earlier, and I had gotten the idea then that it would be a good place for me to live—the area was away from things, and I could go hunting in the woods behind the house. So my dad and I simply built an apartment in the back for me. I lived there before Bonnie and I were married, when I was playing minor league ball. It was really nice. When I went to bed at night, all I could hear were the crickets, and I could walk out the door and go hunting whenever I felt like it, even if it was only for an hour or two.
"I used to go hunting just about every afternoon in the fall—mostly for rabbits, small game like that. One afternoon I saw this big red-tailed hawk, and I thought it was just about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. But about all I saw was his tail, because he saw me before I saw him, and by the time I caught a glimpse of him, he was flying away. I could see that tail for a mile.
"He didn't fly all the way away, though. He circled a couple times, watching me, keeping his distance. I don't think he saw many people out in that woods and was curious.
"The next afternoon I was hunting again, and there he was. He saw me before I saw him, and flew away, keeping his distance. That fall almost every day that I went hunting I saw him, but he never let me get very close. It went on like this for a long time—about three years—and every time I'd see him I'd sort of say hello.
"Finally, I guess he began to trust me. He'd come out of the air and perch up on a big limb of a cypress tree or something. He would even let me shoot my shotgun without flying away, which was really a sign of trust, because hawks are smart enough to know that shooting means killing, sometimes even them.
"Then one day I saw him on a limb and he let me get real close. That was the last time I saw him for a long time. The next thing I knew there were two little hawks. I think what I thought was a he was really a she, and the afternoon she let me get close to her she was saying goodby."
The Guidrys were married in 1972, when Bonnie was 18. Two years earlier, a friend had suggested that Guidry ask Bonnie to a sports banquet, but when Ron called, he didn't really get to talk to her. He didn't get much farther than "Hi. this is Ronnie Guidry," when she said, "What?" There was a communication problem; Guidry's Cajun pronunciation of certain words made it difficult for Bonnie to understand him over the telephone. After the friend took the phone to act as a translator, the date was made, and the courtship continued, interrupted by two minor league baseball seasons, until they were married. They now have a 2-year-old daughter, Jamie.
"After Ron and Bonnie got home in October, it took a while for Ron to simmer down," says a family friend. "Bonnie was unfazed by any of it, but Ron needed time. After a week or two, you could see him begin to relax. You could almost hear him sighing in relief each day: 'I'm finally home.' "
Guidry's immediate family includes his parents and parents-in-law. as well as Ron's grandmothers and his paternal grandfather Gus, a salty, spirited, sometimes French-speaking Cajun who often hunts with his famous grandson. Gumbo dinners with the family and old friends are common. Sometimes Bonnie cooks fresh duck gumbo, and the delicacy is excuse enough for a family gathering. Another recent get-together was Jamie's second birthday party, which was held the evening of the underwater football game. The rain continued into the night, and the storm knocked the electricity out for a couple of hours. The party continued, with Jamie thinking the power failure had been for her benefit and with Ron stumbling around in the jungle at his back door, wielding a flashlight and umbrella as he gathered wood for the big fireplace. Inside, the candlelight and familial warmth made the big cedar house with its twin cathedral ceilings glow.
Ron's family is not particularly large, although Guidry is a very common name in Lafayette, a town of 80,000; there are about 500 Guidrys in the phone book. Ron frequently receives fan mail from other Guidrys in the area who think they may be related to him. He replies politely, using a response that has become all but a form letter: "Dear so-and-so: I don't believe we are related, but we Cajuns are close knit, and who knows...." Ron's father was one of five siblings, his paternal grandfather one of 11. Even Bonnie's grandfather was a Guidry, so. indeed, who knows?
But Ron's father, a conductor on the Lafayette-Houston Amtrak line who speaks with the soft and lyrical Cajun accent, says. "Of all those Guidrys in the phone book, only two are relatives. They say three brothers from France settled in Lafayette 200 years ago and they had a lot of kids. Mama gets calls every day from Guidrys who think they're cousins. There's this one old guy who called early in the season and told her he was a fourth cousin. After Ron won 13 straight, he called and told her he was a third cousin. After Ron struck out 18 against the Angels, he called and told her he was a second cousin. After the Yankees won the World Series, he's a first cousin now."
Guidry jokes about the many people who now claim to be related to him, and he accepts this sort of thing good-naturedly, as befits his Cajun good manners. But, inside, he has a measure of disdain for the people he hardly knew last year who now approach him as long-lost buddies. He's wary of people he doesn't know well, and he can become uptight when there are too many of them around. He is as quick and as sharp with his eyes as he is with his left arm, and like the grounders and line drives that come his way on the mound, little occurs around him that he doesn't catch, although he doesn't comment on most of it. He tolerates the attention, but he isn't fooled by it.
Guidry is uncompromisingly protective of his unlisted phone number, so scores of invitations to go duck hunting, mostly from Louisiana folk, prominent and otherwise, pile up in Schneider's office. There are messages from Lafayette bankers, who could help him financially someday. There are invitations from petroleum companies—Lafayette is an oil town—which offer to pay Guidry to hunt with their executives. There are calls from politicians, each of whom would love nothing more than to be pictured in Louisiana newspapers with his hunting jacket on and with an arm around Guidry's shoulder. He has turned them all down. "It's not that he dislikes being with all those bankers and stuff." says Schneider. "It's just that he doesn't feel comfortable with them." It's a nice distinction.
When Guidry goes duck hunting, which he does as often as three times a week during the duck seasons, he usually goes with boyhood friends, former Little League teammates, people who liked him before he was a star. He also has friends who own a duck-hunting camp near the Gulf of Mexico, about a two-hour drive from Lafayette, and he sometimes goes with them, leaving Lafayette in his motor home late in the afternoon, sleeping in a room with as many as 10 men at the camp, rising at four in the morning to hunt and usually getting back home early the next day. Not all of the men know each other, but there is a remarkable rapport among them, especially considering that they range in age from their teens to their 50s.
After dinner at the camp, which always includes stuffed roasted wild duck prepared in the spicy Cajun style, Guidry likes to play a little cards—he just smiles when he is asked if he knows how to play bourre, a Cajun game—and drink a little beer. He listens to the other men's stories, giving his most rapt attention to the colorful and often hilarious alligator-hunting yarns, and tells his own tales about baseball in the big time, such as the one about spitting the tobacco juice on Martin's socks. To sit around a fireplace and swap stories with Guidry is what all those bankers and oil executives and politicians are dying to do, but they probably don't have many tales Guidry would care to hear, and he prefers to save his stories for people with whom he feels comfortable.
After the 1977 World Series, in which Guidry won the fourth game with a four-hitter, there was the usual noisy locker-room celebration. Even Martin, Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson were embracing each other. But possibly the most telling scene in the locker room was a tiny, easily overlooked one. There was Guidry, perched on top of a locker, his long legs dangling down, making him look like a little kid in a big chair, quietly watching the crazy emotional scene beneath him. He had a calm, canaille smile on his face.