Lyle (left) shaking hands with Gerald Ford in 1976
|Born: July 22, 1944|
|July 4, 1967, for the Boston Red Sox|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 27, 1982, for the Chicago White Sox|
|Earned run average||2.88|
|Career highlights and awards|
Albert Walter "Sparky" Lyle (born July 22, 1944) is an American former left-handed relief pitcher who spent sixteen seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1967 through 1982. He was a relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Chicago White Sox.
A three-time All-Star, he won the American League (AL) Cy Young Award in 1977. He led the American League (AL) in saves in 1972 and 1976. With the Yankees, Lyle was a member of the World Series champions in 1977 and 1978, both over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lyle co-authored, with Peter Golenbock, The Bronx Zoo, a 1979 tell-all book which chronicled the dissension within the Yankees in its World Series Championship seasons of 1977 and 1978. From 1998–2012, Lyle served as manager of the Somerset Patriots, a minor league baseball team of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
Early life and career
Lyle was born in DuBois, Pennsylvania on July 22, 1944, but grew up in nearby Reynoldsville. His father was a carpenter and general contractor, and his mother a seamstress at a coffin factory. He attended Reynoldsville High School where he played varsity football and basketball. During the spring of his junior year, he began playing American Legion baseball for the DuBois team because neither his high school nor Reynoldsville fielded an organized baseball squad.
He once struck out 31 batters while pitching 14 of 17 innings in a state tournament game for DuBois. At the time, his pitching repertoire consisted of a fastball, curveball and changeup. He was brought in for a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates alongside Bruce Dal Canton. The Pirates only signed the latter after seeing that the speed of Lyle's pitches was no match for Dal Canton's. Lyle did succeed in catching the attention of George Staller who was a scout for the Baltimore Orioles at the time. Lyle signed with the ballclub as an amateur free agent on June 17, 1964.
He spent the opening half of his first professional campaign in 1964 with the Bluefield Orioles. He appeared in seven games, three out of the bullpen. It was the first time he was used as a reliever, an idea which he suggested to manager Jim Frey. Later that season, he would earn a promotion to the Fox Cities Foxes, where he was used exclusively as a starting pitcher in six matches for the eventual Midwest League champions.
Boston Red Sox
Lyle was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the first-year draft on November 30, 1964. He progressed up the Red Sox farm system as a relief pitcher, with stops in Winston-Salem in 1965, Pittsfield in 1966 and Toronto in the first half of 1967. It was during his time at Pittsfield that he picked up the slider, a pitch that was introduced to him by Ted Williams at spring training prior to that season. Lyle recalled, "He told me it was the best pitch in baseball because it was the only pitch he couldn't hit even when he knew it was coming." The slider became the most successful pitch in his repertoire.
He was called up to Boston after Dennis Bennett was sold to the New York Mets on June 24, 1967. Lyle pitched two scoreless innings to close out a 4–3 Red Sox loss to the California Angels in his major-league debut at Anaheim Stadium on July 4. He recorded his first career save twelve days later on July 16 in Boston's 9–5 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park. His first win in the majors came on July 27 in the Red Sox's ten-inning 6–5 triumph at home over the Angels. He ended his rookie campaign with 27 mound appearances, a 1–2 record, five saves and a 2.28 earned run average (ERA). He was left off Boston's World Series roster due to a sore arm.
New York Yankees
During spring training prior to the 1972 season on March 22, Lyle was traded to the New York Yankees for Danny Cater and a player to be named later (Mario Guerrero). The transaction eventually proved to be one-sided as Lyle became the Yankees' bullpen ace, establishing himself as one of the best relief pitchers of the 1970s. He played a major role in the Yankees capturing three straight pennants from 1976 to 1978 and winning the World Series in the last two of those years. In 1972, he saved 35 games, an American League record at the time, and a major league record for left-handers; Ron Perranoski had set both marks in 1970, but John Hiller would surpass Lyle's total with 38 in 1973. In 1972, Lyle also became the first southpaw to collect 100 saves in the American League. He also finished 3rd in the 1972 MVP voting.
He again led the league in saves in 1976, and in 1977 became the first AL reliever ever to win the Cy Young Award. He was named an American League All-Star in 1973, 1976 and 1977. In 1976, he broke Hoyt Wilhelm's American League record of 154 career saves, and the following year eclipsed Perranoski's major league mark for left-handers of 179 career saves. Through 1977, Lyle had compiled 201 career saves, and was within range of Wilhelm's career big-league record of 227. Lyle was associated with a trademark song to herald his entry into games, Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D.
But despite the fact Lyle had won the 1977 Cy Young Award, the Yankees signed Goose Gossage as a free agent during the 1977 off-season, and Gossage followed with an outstanding 1978 season which made Lyle expendable. During the 1978 season, Yankees teammate Graig Nettles quipped that Lyle went "from Cy Young to sayonara." On November 10, 1978, Lyle was part of a major trade that sent him, along with Mike Heath, Larry McCall, Dave Rajsich, Domingo Ramos and $400,000, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Juan Beníquez, Mike Griffin, Paul Mirabella, Dave Righetti, and Greg Jemison.
In his late 30s, Lyle was unable to duplicate the great success he had previously enjoyed (perhaps due to the strain of pitching over 100 innings six times from 1969–78), and saved only 21 games for the Rangers in 1979–80. Rollie Fingers moved ahead of Lyle in career saves in early 1980, breaking Wilhelm's record just weeks before Lyle reached the mark, and Fingers eventually pushed his record beyond Lyle's reach.
On September 13, 1980, Lyle was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later (Kevin Saucier). Although the Phillies won their first World Series title in 1980, Lyle did not appear in the postseason, having been acquired by too late to qualify for playoff rosters.
On August 21, 1982, he was purchased by the Chicago White Sox from the Phillies. His last game was played on September 27 of that season for the White Sox, who released him on October 12. Lyle finished his 16-year career with 238 saves, a 2.88 ERA, and a record of 99–76 in 899 games pitched — all in relief. In 1985, Fingers broke his American League record for career saves; and in 1991 Righetti surpassed Lyle's major-league record for career saves by a left-hander, though Lyle still holds the AL mark of 232.
In 1998, he became the first manager of the Somerset Patriots, an independent baseball league team based in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He managed the team to Atlantic League pennants in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009, and was the Patriots' manager until November 27, 2012 when he became manager emeritus. His number 28 that he wore with the Patriots was retired on June 14, 2014.
A noted clubhouse prankster in his playing days, Lyle was known for sneaking into the locker room during games to sit naked on birthday cakes prepared for teammates, leaving the imprint of his posterior on the frosting. In his autobiography, Lyle noted that teammate Ron Swoboda turned the tables on him by defecating on a cake which was then delivered to Lyle; Lyle said the reason why he eventually stopped his cake sitting was because of the notoriety he gained from doing it, thinking that someone might try to "put a needle in the cake" to hurt him.
As a world class practical joker, Lyle engaged in creative pranks like filling a tube of toothpaste with Vaseline, putting goldfish in the dugout water cooler and ordering pizzas to be delivered to the other team's bullpen. He also loved giving "hotfoots", a time-honored baseball trick where a player will sneak up on another player or reporter while they are giving an interview in the dugout. The unsuspecting victim then has a match or two placed gently in the back or side of their shoe, with the head facing out. When the moment is right, the prankster lights the match head and slinks away to watch from a distance. As soon as the flame from the slowly burning head reaches the victim’s shoe, it’s hot enough to be felt. Lyle enjoyed the final result, usually a startled yelp in the middle of a serious conversation.
- Lyle, Sparky; Golenbock, Peter (1979). The Bronx Zoo. Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-53726-5.
- Lyle, Sparky; Fisher, David (1990). The Year I Owned the Yankees: A Baseball Fantasy. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-05750-2.
- List of Major League Baseball annual saves leaders
- List of Major League Baseball all-time saves leaders
- MacLennan, Diane "Sparky Lyle", Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
- Weber, Bruce. "Sparky Lyle: Extra Innings" The New York Times, Sunday, May 30, 2010
- Sparky Lyle (minor league statistics & history) – Baseball-Reference.com.
- 1964 Midwest League – Baseball-Reference.com.
- California Angels 4, Boston Red Sox 3; Tuesday, July 4, 1967 (D) at Anaheim Stadium – Retrosheet.
- Boston Red Sox 9, Detroit Tigers 5; Sunday, July 16, 1967 (D) at Fenway Park – Retrosheet.
- Boston Red Sox 6, California Angels 5 (10 innings); Thursday, July 27, 1967 (D) at Fenway Park – Retrosheet.
- Sparky Lyle (statistics & history) – Baseball-Reference.com.
- Henkin, Kevin. "Red Sox Spring Training Trades", New England Baseball Journal, Tuesday, February 23, 2010
- Fimrite, Ron "Red Man To The Rescue" Sports Illustrated, August 21, 1972
- Lyle, Sparky; Peter Golenbock (1979). The Bronx Zoo (first ed.). New York: Crown Publishers. p. 222. ISBN 0-517-53726-5. OCLC 4664652.
- Lyle, Sparky; Peter Golenbock (1979). The Bronx Zoo (first ed.). New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 47–48. ISBN 0-517-53726-5. OCLC 4664652.
- Lyle, Sparky; Peter Golenbock (1979). The Bronx Zoo (first ed.). New York: Crown Publishers. p. 48. ISBN 0-517-53726-5. OCLC 4664652.