How Playing Tennis Got Larry Gura Traded From The Yankees To Kansas City in 1976
Earlier this year I did a Biofile with Peter Golenbock, who co-authored “The Bronx Zoo” with Sparky Lyle about the New York Yankees 1978 World Series Championship season. This summer I decided to re-read Peter’s classic book after about twenty years – and found a surprise anecdote about tennis in the book.
On July 16, the Bronx Bombers were playing the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium. Lyle’s diary entry on that date mentioned how pitcher Larry Gura, at the time, 7-2 for the Royals, was a former Yankee but made the mistake of aggravating manager Billy Martin during their Fort Lauderdale spring training in 1975 when the hot-headed skipper spied Gura going to play tennis with a teammate.
Martin wasn’t very fond of the sport of tennis, according to Lyle. “…One morning last spring Billy saw (Gura) and Rich Coggins in their whites going to play tennis. Billy, who calls tennis a pussy game, went right up a tree. You have to understand, Billy was seeing this guy who hadn’t been pitching well going out to play tennis. Billy said to himself, ‘What the hell is he playing tennis for when he isn’t pitching worth a crap? Swinging that racquet can’t be doing his pitching any good. No wonder he’s horse****.’ Gura, on the other hand, is thinking, ‘I’m keeping in shape playing tennis.’ They’re looking at it from different standpoints. But the manager, of course, is going to win out. Billy said, ‘I’ll get rid of them *******.’ And that’s just what he did.”
After a mediocre 7-8 record with a 3.51 ERA, Gura was traded after the 1975 season to Western Division rival Kansas City in exchange for journeyman catcher Fran Healy. While Healy never made an impact for the Yanks, Gura prospered in Kansas City. As a starter, he won 18 games twice, and also 16, 13, 11, 12, 11. He qualified for the All-Star Game in 1980.
Who knows, maybe the tennis cross-training contributed in some way to Gura’s successful Major League career which lasted from 1970-1985. Gura’s final stats were a 126-97 record with 24 saves, a 3.76 ERA and 801 stikeouts.
Gura also was very successful against his former team the Yankees, amassing an 11-6 mark against them, including some key post-season wins.
Who would have ever thought playing tennis could get a Major Leaguer traded, but according to Sparky Lyle, this is part of the reason why Larry Gura was shipped from New York to Kansas City.