During the 1970s, the Yankees made a great run of trades to help build a powerhouse that won 5 division titles, 4 pennants, and 2 World Championships in the six year span from 1976-81. Among their best deals:
- 1972: John Ellis, Jerry Kinney and Charlie Spikes for Graig Nettles
- 1972: Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle
- 1973: Lindy McDaniel for Lou Piniella
- 1974: Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline, and Fritz Peterson for Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow
- 1975: Bobby Bonds for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa
- 1975: Doc Medich for Willie Randolph and Dock Ellis
One trade not quite as celebrated happened on May 16, 1976, when the Yanks, looking for a catcher to back up Thurman Munson, acquired Kansas City’s veteran backstop Fran Healy in exchange for pitcher Larry Gura. In ’74 Healy had enjoyed his only season as a regular, hitting .252 and setting career highs in home runs (9) and RBI (53). But he lost his starting job to Buck Martinez the following year, and was expendable by 1976.
Gura was a capable young starter in ’74-’75, going a combined 12-9. He was no favorite of new manager Billy Martin, however. Martin, who had come aboard at the end of 1975, reportedly did not like Gura’s ‘junkballing’, pitch-to-contact style, dating back to when the two had briefly been together in Texas. Sparky Lyle claimed in The Bronx Zoo that Gura really sealed his fate with the Yankee skipper by playing tennis one morning during 1976 spring training while in the midst of a slump on the mound. Martin was not happy seeing him in his ‘tennis-whites’; he called the game a p**** sport, and ordered Gura banished. While the lefty still made the team out of camp, he went completely unused by Billy – no appearances for five weeks – before mercifully being dealt.
Healy was a solid contributor in pinstripes in 1976, hitting .267, then sputtered to .224 over 27 games in 1977, and was released in 1978 after one at-bat. Healy never hit a homerun in any of his time in the Bronx. He was on the Yankee roster for both the 1976 and 1977 World Series, but did not play.
Meanwhile, Gura became a key member of the Kansas City pitching staff during their run of three straight American League West division titles. Pitching mostly out of the bullpen, he went 4-0 with a 2.30 ERA in ’76, and 8-5 with a 3.13 mark in ’77. Then in 1978 he moved into the starting rotation and responded with a 16-4 record and 2.72 ERA, finishing 7th in Cy Young Award voting. It was the first of 7 consecutive years that Gura won in double figures, including two 18-win seasons, and three seasons finishing within the Top 10 in Cy Young voting.
The best of those years came in 1980, when he made the American League All-Star team, going 18-10 while helping Kansas City to their first pennant. The Royals swept the Bronx Bombers in the American League Championship Series, with Gura topping Ron Guidry on a 7-2 complete game victory in Game 1. He also went 6-0 during regular season play against New York in ’79-’80, and posted a lifetime 12-6 mark against his former team. Overall Gura was 111-78 over 10 years in a Kansas City uniform, and is regarded as one of the best pitchers in the club’s history.
None of which could have been possible without Billy’s keen eye for pitching talent, and his disdain for tennis whites.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: