Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#616 - Larry Gura

If you were a Yankee fan in the mid-Seventies you’s have thought this poor guy was a mixture of Satan and Liberace. Billy Martin hated Larry Gura for some reason and would on a regular basis question his toughness, which is a little bizarre because Larry never actually pitched in one regular season game for Billy. But Martin’s doghouse was a tough place from which to extricate oneself – ask Reggie – and Larry didn’t have Reggie’s leverage so when Billy said “begone” off he went. I remained an NY fan through all its Billy and non-Billy incarnations but I always thought Larry was unfairly dissed so – outside of playoff time – I have to admit I was pretty happy when he beat the Bombers, which he did a lot. But that was years away and in ’73 Larry was a struggling pitcher having a nasty time as a spot guy in the NL and  not much of a better one in Triple A. But things changed for the better after the trade indicated here though he never threw one regular season game for Texas. By the time ’74 spring training was over Larry was in NY, pitching for the Yankees for whom he did a pretty good job, actually. His regular card shows him in a home uniform in what must be spring training while his Traded card features a not-too-bad airbrush job in Candlestick. It would be in KC, though, where the lights came on for Larry.

Larry Gura grew up in Joliet, Illinois where he was a pitching star and once threw two successive no-hitters in an American Legion tournament. He then went to Arizona State where as a sophomore he won a game in relief during the CWS championship season of ’67 and then as a senior in ’69 went 19-2 while pitching in four of the team’s six CWS games as ASU won it all again. He was then drafted by the Cubs that spring in the second round. At first he would work fast through the minors, beginning his career that year in Triple A before throwing great ball in the Instructional League that fall. He began ’70 in the minors also but was called up at the end of April where he got into one game in a month before returning to do some work in Triple A. He was back in Chicago by late June but was barely used the rest of the way, though he did record his first win in his first start, a complete game. In ’71 he did the back and forth though his time was nearly all in Triple A. ’72 was looking to be a repeat of the past when he asked the team to just keep him at the lower level so he could get in more games. Then in ’73 he stayed up top until August when he went down for the last month of the minor league season. To punctuate his frustrating time in Chicago his best effort in ’73 in a start was cancelled because of darkness. For the trade illustrated here Larry went to Texas as the player to be named later when the Cubbies got Mike Paul.

Gura had a '74 training camp that didn’t make Texas manager Billy Martin too happy and Larry spent the first month of the season in Triple A, where he went 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA in four starts before a May trade to the Yankees for catcher Duke Sims.  He remained at that level for NY and in his 17 games – 16 starts – he went 7-7 with a 2.14 ERA and a save. Larry was a control guy and when he was on a roll did a great job brushing the corners. NY liked his Triple A work and called him up in late August and for the stretch run he was the team’s hottest pitcher, going 5-1 with two shutouts and a 2.41 ERA in his eight starts. ’75 would be tougher, though, as both Larry’s and the team’s performance was uneven, his appearances would be irregular, and his role was best described as a spot guy. Still, his numbers weren’t too bad at 7-8 with a 3.55 ERA. Then along came Billy again and Larry got minimal time in spring training ball and none at the top of the regular season before an early trade sent him to Kansas City for catcher Fran Healy.

Gura’s initial experience in KC wasn’t exactly a panacea for his career to date. He had some rough outings in May, wasn’t used at all in June, and then righted his ship a bit in July, all his games in relief to that point. In August he pitched well in a loss to Chicago but his best effort of the year would be his eight innings of one-hit relief vs. Billy Martin’s Yankees his next game. From there it was nearly all good, culminating in an important shutout win against Oakland in late September. Larry went 4-0 on the year with a 2.30 ERA and a save. He pitched not too badly in the AL playoffs and came back in ’77 to be a swing guy as he went 8-5 with a 3.13 ERA and ten saves in his 52 games. He really hit his stride in ’78 when he finally joined the rotation full-time mid-year and went 16-4 with a 2.72 ERA. In ’79 he went 13-12 as his ERA fattened a bit but he got things right again in ‘80 when he was 18-10/2.95, was the AL All-Star starting pitcher, and had an excellent post-season. In ’81 he was 11-8/2.72 despite a late season hand injury and in ’82 he won 18 again. Things shifted pretty radically the next couple seasons as his ERA spiraled up and he went a combined 23-27. In ’85 he returned to the Cubs where he finished out his career, unfortunately missing out on the KC Series run. Larry finished with a record of 126-97 with a 3.76 ERA, 71 complete games, 16 shutouts, 14 saves, and only 600 walks in his over 2,000 innings, not bad for a guy Billy Martin once said couldn’t find the plate. He was 2-3 with a 3.89 ERA in his nine postseason outings.

Gura had settled into an off-season life in Arizona while playing and it was to there he returned professionally after playing. For the past bunch of years he has taken over running a family organic farm there that was started by his in-laws. He will sign pretty much anything for a small fee that goes to cover farm expenses.

Larry has about the cleanest signature I’ve seen to date and gets star bullets that could have easily been exceeded by some college info. He was admitted into the ASU hall of fame in ’78 and his local Joliet one a couple years later. Two things I remember about him in relation to his Yankees days. One is recounted in “The Bronx Zoo” when during ’75 spring training Billy Martin spotted Larry and Rich Coggins playing tennis. According to Sparky Lyle Martin thought tennis was “a pussy game” and it was one of the reasons he wasn’t a Gura fan. Another was that I always had the impression Larry bulked up after he left NY. His neck looked a lot thicker and his guns a lot bigger on his KC cards than on his earlier ones. It’s tough to tell from his card backs though. Here he’s listed as 185. On his ’80 card he’s 178 and on his ’81 card he’s 195.

Topps doesn’t give us too much trade-specific info here. As noted above Larry went to to the Rangers in November for Mike Paul, who’d gone from Texas to the Cubs back in August. Ironically Larry played the bulk of his career under Whitey Herzog, another guy displaced by Billy Martin.

In Watergate news, we are up to April of ’73:

4/3/73 – G. Gordon Liddy had been testifying in front of the Grand Jury and gave them absolutely nothing which infuriated Judge John Sirica who already wasn’t a fan. Sirica imposed an additional eight to 18 months on Liddy’s sentence for contempt of court. Around now H.R. Haldeman’s name was being leaked from testimony as another co-conspirator in the bugging and other “dirty tricks.” Haldeman was Nixon’s Chief of Staff.

4/5/73 – Nixon withdraws his nomination of Patrick Gray as permanent FBI director. Gray, who’d been the acting director after J. Edgar Hoover’s death in ’72 hadn’t won any fans in Congress when he revealed he turned over FBI documents regarding Watergate to White House counsel John Dean.

4/17/73 – The White House announces that a new internal investigation had been initiated in late March because of “serious charges.” The announcement is made by Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler who earlier had written off the Watergate affair as “a third-rate burglary attempt.” When asked by the press to define the current status of the White House’s understanding of the Watergate affair Ziegler indicated that statement made this day was “operative.” When further asked what that meant he replied that all past statements were “inoperative.” This instance and one other sort of immortalized Ziegler’s involvement in the scandal.

These two were both in Chicago uniforms in ’73 but things can’t be that easy:

1. Gura and Ed Herrmann ’75 Yankees;
2. Herrmann and Johnny Jeter ’73 White Sox.

Or maybe they can.

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