Discovering Ron Guidry in the New York Yankee locker room is like stumbling over a monk in a cat house.
What is this man doing there? And how long can he keep his vows?
Guidry stands for everything the Yankees don't. His story is the hidden moral kernel in the vain bluster of the Yankee saga.
Imagine, if it can be done, a player amid these New Yorkers who has the innate confidence of an only child, the proud self-containment of a L'usiana Cajun and the strong silences of a small-town boy raised on hawk hunting and walking the railroad tracks.
Imagine also, for it is the truth, that this silent, skinny southpow did more to bring the Yanks their world title last year, and has done more to keep them from disintegrating this season, than any other player.
In less than 12 months, since the last All-Star break, Guidry's total record is 23-2 - irrefutably the most impressive sustained hurling streak since Sandy Koufax was in his prime.
Counting Guidry's three-hitter in the playoffs and his four-hitter in the World Series, he has won 21 of his last 22 decisions, going into last night's game at Detroit. His record this year is 11-0 with a 1:45 ERA. In his last game, Guidry struck out 18.
If this 152-pounder with the 96-mile-per-hour heater resembled his flamboyant mates, he would be the most famous player in baseball today. He does not.
Irony, not Ames, should be Guidry's middle name.
Owner George Steinbrenner, who has spent more than $10 million on free agents, and Manager Billy Martin, debate which should get more credit for New York's championship. Both wanted Guidry kept in the minors or traded. Only temperate Gabe Paul, driven to Cleveland by the Yankee backroom warring, pled Guidry's case and won.
Among the Bronx millionaires, Guidry made $35,000 last year and never asked for a raise. Last winter after his 16-7 season he signed for three years at $200,000 per, still leaving him lower paid than at least 10 Yankees.
"I don't want to be rich," Guidry said yesterday, still at 27 the boy who helped his father build their house in Lafayette, La. "I want to be comfortable. A good home, not grand."
Guidry's rise has been greeted with reserve and disbelief. "Hey, kid," teases catcher Thurman Munson, uttering the words in every mind, "how come you throw so hard ."
The reason is too simple for credibility. Guidry has more muscles in his broad-shouldered 5-foot-11 body than most flabby pitchers will ever dream of. Guidry is all athlete.
The first time he picked up a baseball at age 8, "I threw a seed," Guidry said with a chuckle.
Whether Guidry is running the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds, which he did in high school, or playing tackle football without pads, he has a native knack for fluidity, leverage and total, fearless effort.
"Sometimes I dream that I cut one loose and I see my whole arm flying off." Guidry said, "and then they're coming for me with a stretcher.
"Anyone who has seen him pitch is familiar with that allusion. Guidry throws only two pitches - a sailing exploding fast ball and a darting slider - and both arrive at full force and under uncanny control.
"I'm working a change-up," Guidry said, "but so far I've only gotten it down to 86 miles per hour. That isn't enough contrast."
Many pitchers will never throw an 86-mph fast ball.
"Speed is natural to me." said Guidry, who came from a high school with no baseball team and never pitched more than 101 innings in any year until last season.
"When I run, it's pleasure, not work. When I throw, my fluid is so nice and easy. I don't have to rely on a fast delivery. When you're nice and easy,everything falls into place." And you throw seeds.
In all things, Guidry is nice and easy. No star player is so invisible on his own team, whether loping across the outfield or lounging in the dugout.
A becoming fatalism hangs about Guidry. Two years ago - ordered back to the minors - he packed his stuff and skipped the Yankee team, heading back home on Rte. 80 South toward Lafayette. No one in New York cared if he ever came back. His minor league record, five seasons worth, was 19-21.
But Guidry's wife Bonnie - after 100 miles of silence - said, "Don't do something you'll regret the rest of your life."
"If you can take Syracuse again," Guidry said to his wife, "I'll give it one more try." Now, in his days of ascendency, Guidry blends that knowledge of having been a washed-up bush leaguer at age 25 with a bedrock athletic confidence that he has never lost.
Of his 18-strikeout effort against the California Angel, Guidry says, "It might never happen again. At least I can say I experienced it . . . It's just physical proof that what I did last year is no joke.
"You know, in two weeks people can forget who you are."
That knowledge haunts other athletes. Guidry - now that he has "proved I could do what I always said I could, if they gave me a chance" - seems unshakable in the face of any possible baseball future.
Guidry would rather talk about the old days in Lafayette than any current hoopla. "Frankly," he said, "I've never liked any big town, and I never will. They say New York is the best place to play, so . . .
So what's the difference? Baltimore would be 10 times too big for Guidry. He likes to talk about American Legion in Lafayette, the time he ran down one of his own teammates on the bases, and slid between the other runner's legs across home plate.
"I was one of three outfielders who were so fast that we'd all talk between pitches. Then one of us would yell. 'There's a fly ball. Go get it."
And, at least in his secure, nurturing version of his own youth, he always would.
Among the conspicous Yankees, only Guidry, and perhaps Graig Nettles and Chris Chambliss, have maintained a humorous, happy speech. None covets credit.
"I don't worry about anything. Nothing has changed me . . . I make more money than Jimmy Carter, but less than Billy," Guidry said, a smile showing through under his wispy mustache.
"The only thing I worry about on the mound is line drives," he said, continuing his grin. "I just want to pitch respectable the whole time I'm out there."
What about the glamor of New York City, the turmoil of the Yankees, the pressure of pennant races?
"I don't really notice it too much," Guidry stands fill up. "That's just the sort of person I've alway been.