Sparky Lyle came to prominence while pitching for the New York Yankees and parlayed his diamond success with a book titled The Bronx Zoo. Lyle chronicled the exploits of his teammates in the book and it became a favorite among baseball fans. But Mr. Lyle was more than just a tell-all scribe: he was a terrific relief pitcher.
Sparky was originally brought up by the Red Sox in 1967. He appeared in 27 games, without making a start, and would go on to appear in 899 games (23rd all-time among pitchers) during his career… without making a start. He was Dick Williams’ most reliable relief arm in 1968 when he posted the bullpen’s best ERA and had a winning percentage of .857. He trimmed his ERA to 2.54 in 1969 and pitched over 100 innings of relief.
Lyle posted his first 20 save season in 1970. Just prior to the ’72 season Sparky was dealt to the Yankees for first baseman Danny Cater. Although a decent fireman in Boston, he became an elite fireman in New York. In his first year with the Yankees, Sparky led the American League with 35 saves. His ERA was below 2.00 and he finished third in MVP voting. In 1973, he finished second in the AL in the saves department while making his first All-Star squad. Although Sparky’s accuracy was spotty throughout his career, he had control in ’73; averaging just 0.220 walks per inning.
Sparky had his best year for ERA in 1974 when he posted an amazing 1.66 earned run average. He only saved 15 games but had a sharp record of 9-3. The Yankees of Bill Virdon didn’t have a conventional closer in 1974 and Sparky got a handful of saves in a pen with Tippy Martinez and Dick Tidrow. When Billy Martin took over the Yankees in 1976 save opportunities were presented to Lyle once again and he responded by leading the AL in saves. More importantly, Martin also brought the winning-way back to the Bronx and Sparky made his first postseason appearance. He saved Game 3 of the ALCS and worked in two World Series games in a Fall Classic loss to Cincinnati.
Sparky paced the American League in games pitched in 1977. He saved 26 games on a 2.17 ERA and fashioned a 13-5 worksheet. The left-handed fireman led the Yankees to a World Series title and was rewarded with the Cy Young Award. He won two games against the Royals in the ALCS and picked up a third October victory against the Dodgers in the World Series.
His numbers fell off in ’78 and he was replaced in the closer’s role by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage. Shortly after the close of the season he was involved in a large trade with the Rangers, joining catcher Mike Heath, infielder Domingo Ramos and a couple other players in exchange for utilityman Juan Beniquez and pitchers Dave Righetti, Paul Mirabella and Mike Griffin. Sparky got back on track in The Lone Star State, averaging just 0.821 hits per inning. It was his last good year.
The Phillies brought in Sparky late in the 1980 season and he ended his career with the White Sox in 1982. In 1988 he received 13% of the Hall of fame vote but steadily garnered less and less support the next few years before getting dumped from the ballot in 1991. Sparky has recently had success as a manager in the Independent Leagues with the Somerset Patriots.
W 99/L 76/PCT .566/SV 238/G 899/IP 1,391/H 1,292/BB 481/SO 873/ERA 2.88