Sunday, June 17, 2018, marks the 40th anniversary of Ron Guidry’s record-breaking 18 strikeout performance for the New York Yankees.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the New York Yankees historic 1978 championship season.
Down 14.5 games to the Boston Red Sox in July, the team was in turmoil as the Billy Martin–Reggie Jackson feud boiled over on July 24 when the slugger ignored Martin’s signs and bunted, resulting in George Steinbrenner begrudgingly suspending Reggie for five games.
Billy then subsequently showcased one of his more famous quotes to a reporter (no doubt from a stool at a hotel bar) about Reggie and The Boss: “The two of them deserve each other. One’s a born liar and the other’s convicted,” quipped Martin.
The next day, Martin resigned in tears followed by Bob Lemon taking over as manager—followed by the “Boston Massacre,” Bucky “Fu#%ing” Dent and finally coming back from down 2-0 to L.A in the World Series.
Amid the chaos, Ron Guidry, a.k.a. Louisiana Lightning, a.k.a. Gator, had one of the best seasons of all time by a pitcher going 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA, 248 Ks, nine shutouts and a .946 WHIP, winning the Cy Young award unanimously.
He also narrowly missed grabbing the MVP, finishing second to Boston’s Jim Rice. Guidry (who else) started the infamous one-game playoff win against the Sox.
But the signature night for him and perhaps the season was on June 17 against the California Angels. Gator whiffed 18 Halos with an electric fastball that seemed to jump as it crossed home plate and a devastating slider that “fell off the table.” He and Thurman Munson were in complete synch that night.
Munson put the fingers down, Guidry exhaled and fired.
This night gave birth to the now standard Yankee Stadium “two-strike clap.” This game (and season) has remained seared in many Yankee fans minds—one can almost hear the fans clapping followed by that infamous, piercing “Holy Cow!” as Gator racked up the Ks.
Striking out 18 batters in 1978 was a much bigger deal than it is today with most players focused on launch angle, unconcerned with striking out or just putting the ball in play.
Mix in the fact that most pitchers nowadays do not “pitch to contact” and seem to throw in the mid to upper 90s. In 1978 there were 20,058 strikeouts in MLB. In 2017, a ridiculous 40,104 piled up, breaking the record for the 10th consecutive season.
Who knows, maybe in 2018 on a cool June night in The Bronx, Louisiana Lightning would’ve struck 24 or 25 times.