Jul/11

27

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.

5 comments

  • Dan Markowitz · July 28, 2011 at 2:15 am

    That’s classic, Scoop. Great story. I remember Larry Gura, I think he came to the Yanks from the Reds, and of course, I remember Lyle and Billy Martin. Man, if a pitcher won 18 games twice in today’s game, and 16 games another year, he’d get like $20 mil a year. But that was the perception of tennis by a lot of people back in the 70’s, not only macho guys like Martin.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Gura was big time in the playoffs too, he had a long career but most of it was far away from major cities so he didn’t get the media hype. True, his #s would equate to big money today. Gura came to the Yanks from the Cubs. Wonder where he played that day in Lauderdale, maybe at Evert’s Holiday Park. The funny thing is, Martin seems like the kind of guy who would have made a very good tennis player, small, scrappy and super intense. Too bad, Martin probably never played tennis. Martin vs. Reggie Jackson would have been a nice set to watch : )

  • Roger Cox · November 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    More proof of what a completely brutish oaf Martin really was.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 21, 2011 at 12:20 am

    Is this THE one and only ROGER COX?!? Thanks for your comment Roger and welcome to this site. How is everything, hope you are doing great!

  • R. Rangel · December 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    If you are an older person who is considering taking up tennis or have played for fun but want to get a bit more serious about it then this book is your bible. It covers all aspects of the game though there are entire books written about the topics of each of its chapters. Its not complete but it is broad in coverage.

    The segments on health, strategy and tactical consideration for older players was good and so was the dynamics and psychology of doubles and singles play. You’re not going to get all those topics in just any other book.

    There are a lot of tennis books out there but what really allows this book to stand out is that it is well written, easy to understand, and nicely illustrated. All this adds up to a book that can convey its knowledge well.

    For less than the price of a private lesson this is a winner.

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