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For about a decade, there was no more magical pitcher in baseball than Ron Guidry. And, for the most part, his baseball cards did a great job of capturing his mound-bound majesty.

Guidry first pushed his way onto the national scene in 1977, crafting a 16-7 record with a 2.82 ERA and 176 strikeouts as a rookie for the New York Yankees. “Gator” entered the 1978 season as a quiet ace ready to bloom, and his 1978 Topps card captured the power of his delivery:

1978 Topps Ron Guidry

The reason that Guidry’s ascendance was somewhat muted was manifold:

  • The Yankees had won the World Series in 1977, and there was much bluster surrounding the team (how things change, huh?).
  • Reggie Jackson keyed the Yanks’ offensive attack and virtually demanded constant attention.
  • Catfish Hunter was the big name in the New York rotation after having signed as a free agent late in 1974.
  • Ed Figueroa was another veteran star capable of winning 20 games.
  • Billy Martin ran the whole show, at least on a temporary basis.
  • George Steinbrenner ran the whole show for real.
  • Mark Fidrych had snarled the entire nation in Bird Mania during his crazy 1976 rookie season, and much of that hangover persisted as The Bird tried to make his way back from injury.

While all of those factors may have dimmed Guidry’s potential celebrity as the 1978 season got underway, the man dubbed “Louisiana Lightning” for his 98-mile-per-hour fastball quickly got to work on making sure no one would forget him.

After struggling in his first start (against the Texas Rangers in Arlington), Guidry ran off 13 straight victories (along with a handful of no-decisions) through early July before losing against the Milwaukee Brewers at County Stadium on July 7. The second half would bring more of the same, and by the time the Yanks waltzed into October, Guidry stood at 25-3 with a ridiculous 1.74 ERA and 258 strikeouts.

That was good enough to snag Guidry the Cy Young award and a second-place finish — to Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice — in the AL MVP voting after the Yanks finished off their second consecutive world championship.

1979 Topps Ron Guidry Record Breaker

Guidry had hit his professional stride, and not a moment too soon. At 27, he was pretty, ahem, advanced for a breakout star, especially by today’s standards. After New York selected him in the third round of the 1971 MLB draft out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Guidry spent nearly six full seasons clawing his way to the Majors.

None of that really mattered, though. Like so many great Yankees teams, all the Bombers really cared about was winning, and a prime-time Guidry fit that bill quite well.

In fact, over the next seven seasons, Guidry racked up 113 wins against just 57 losses, courtesy of 1059 strikeouts, a 3.46 ERA, and tremendous run support from his bopping teammates. And, while Guidry could never be considered a workhorse, he did manage 200+ innings in all but two campaigns during that run, and one of those was the strike-shortened 1981 mess.

That durability was remarkable given a) his slight frame (5-11, 161 pounds) and b) the velocity of his pitches.

Just as remarkable was how fierce and elegant he looked at the same time on the front of his baseball cards. Here is his 1982 Topps In Action card as an example:

1982 Topps Ron Guidry In Action

It wasn’t just “special” mid-career cards. Check out Guidry’s 1987 Topps issue, when he was getting close to the end of the line:

1987 Topps Ron Guidry

And it wasn’t just Topps, either. After Donruss entered the cardboard fray in 1981 with a posed shot, they grabbed onto the Lightning bolt with both hands in 1982. BAM!

1982 Donruss Ron Guidry

Even latecomers Score and Upper Deck, who almost missed the Guidry phenomenon entirely, nailed their Gator offerings:

1988 Score Ron Guidry

 

1989 Upper Deck Ron Guidry

They were all awesome, awesome cards, full of motion and poise and fire and power. In fact, if we’re being completely honest, some of them maybe made Guidry look even better than he was.

For fans who lived through the late 1970s, it was hard to look at any picture of Gator and not feel the surge of excitement that he poured from the mound in the summer of 1978. But the truth is that Guidry kind of slid back to the pack as he entered his 30s.

The winning percentages were ridiculous, sure, but ERAs in the mid-threes and higher weren’t all that great in the pre-happy-ball era.

And maybe that was Fleer’s problem.

Because make no mistake about it, Fleer bumbled their Guidry cardboard.

Here is their initial offering, in 1981:

1981 Fleer Ron Guidry

Now, this is a pretty decent card. Guidry looks intimidating even in this posed shot, the colors are good, and at least you can see his glove.

Next up, Fleer tried what you might call a candid. Here is that 1982 card:

1982 Fleer Ron Guidry

What the?

The first time I saw this card, I thought there was some sort of split-screen technology going on. Or maybe a miscut photo with another Yankee bleeding into Guidry’s space.

At the very best, this masterpiece turns Guidry into a Bobby Valentine caricature sneaking his way back into the dugout after some sort of blow-up.

Bad.

Less bad, but still boring, were the 1983 and 1984 Fleer Guidry cards, which were just full-on posed shots:

1983 Fleer Ron Guidry

 

1984 Fleer Ron Guidry

Then, in 1985, the unthinkable happened.

After a 10-11 finish in 1984, Guidry strutted into his age-34 season like a man with nothing to lose. As the Yankees started to warm up their contending muscles for the first time in a handful of years, they turned to the old man to anchor their rotation.

And in a year when Bret Saberhagen broke loose and Dwight Gooden morphed into Walter Paige or Satchel Johnson, Guidry more or less kept pace with the young guns. By season’s end, his record stood at 22-6, and his final ERA was a solid 3.27.

For most of that summer, it seemed like Guidry would win every time he stepped on the mound, and he nearly did. The fastball wasn’t what it had been seven years before, but a whole new generation of baseball fans was zapped by the magic of Louisiana Lightning.

And all along the way, we had some sweet cardboard to accompany our growing admiration for the “young” man from down south.

Donruss led the way with an absolutely blistering black beauty:

1985 Donruss Ron Guidry

Fleer even chimed in, with their best Guidry card to that point:

1985 Fleer Ron Guidry

It was like they knew Guidry was going to ascend Mound Olympus again and put forth some extra effort to capitalize on it. Topps, on the other hand, seemed to have forgotten to clean their crystal ball:

1985 Topps Ron Guidry

Have no fear, though, because Fleer apparently chalked up Guidry’s renaissance to a Yogi-Berra-to-Billy-Martin-inspired fluke. Here’s what they had to say in 1986:

1986 Fleer Ron Guidry

 

And in 1987:

1987 Fleer Ron Guidry

And, for goodness sake, in 1988:

1988 Fleer Ron Guidry

But as bland as all those cards were, at least they were there. Because Fleer took one look at Guidry’s 2-3, 4.18 line from 1988 and decided he was done.

Never mind that was actually true.

The point is that one of the greatest peak pitchers of the last 40 years should have been afforded a full run of baseball cards. He got close, thanks to capstone cards from Topps, Score, and Upper Deck, but both Donruss and Fleer left Gator on the cutting room floor.

At least Donruss gave us nearly a decade of exciting Guidry cardboard, though.

Fleer unleashed indignity after indignity that was punctuated by one middling offering that gave us all hope the times were a-changing.

They weren’t, and so we’re left with the mystery of how the card company who once dedicated an entire set to Ted Williams could relegate Ron Guidry to a series of bad senior pictures.

Hmmm.

Wasn’t Fleer based in Philadelphia?

Maybe Guidry was a victim of Lefty rivalry run amock? A conspiracy to make Steve Carlton look as good as possible?

Nah, couldn’t be.

1984 Fleer Steve Carlton

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

 

1979 Topps Ron Guidry card #500 NM/MT+

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2005 Topps Pristine Legends Ron Guidry U 112 New York Yankees

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1976 Topps Ron Guidry #599 Baseball Card PSA 7

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1980 Topps JR Richard/ Ron Guidry ERA Leaders #207 Baseball Card

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2005 Donruss Credible Ink RON GUIDRY RICH GOSSAGE LUIS TIANT Autos YANKEES

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