Sparky Lyle

Lyle was one of the AL’s best relievers for over a decade with the Red Sox and Yankees, leading the league in saves in 1972 and 1976, and in 1977 he became the first reliever ever to win the AL Cy Young Award. A wisecracking lefthander with a sizable paunch visible beneath his uniform, Lyle relied on a crackling slider almost exclusively in his heyday but also possessed a good fastball and a capable curve. He never started a ML game.

Lyle pitched briefly for the Red Sox as a rookie in 1967, but not at all in the WS, and in 1968 he began to emerge as their bullpen ace, finishing 6-1 with 11 saves and a 2.74 ERA. He saved 17 games in 1969 (third in the AL), 20 in 1970, and 16 in 1971, but before the 1972 season he was traded to the rival Yankees even-up for first baseman Danny Cater, one of the worst trades in Red Sox history. Lyle immediately led the AL with 35 saves for the Yankees in 1972 while recording a 1.91 ERA, and he added 27 saves in 1973, a career-low 1.66 ERA in 1974, and an AL-best 23 saves in 1976 as the Yankees won the AL championship. In 1977 Lyle was even better, winning 13 games and saving 26 (second in the AL), then adding a win in the WS as the Yankees beat the Dodgers in six games and Lyle captured the AL Cy Young Award.

By the spring of 1978, however, Lyle was feuding with Yankee management, irked over owner George Steinbrenner’s decision to sign relief aces Rich Gossage and Rawley Eastwick as free agents despite the presence of Lyle in the club’s bullpen. Gossage became the club’s closer, and after the season Lyle was traded to Texas in a 10-player-deal that brought Dave Righetti to the Bronx. By 1980, Lyle’s slider had lost its snap, and he saved only 15 games in three final seasons with the Rangers, Phillies, and White Sox. He made his feelings about playing for the Yankees known in The Bronx Zoo, a book he wrote with Pete Golenbock in 1979.