Wednesday, November 27, 2013

1977 TOPPS SPARKY LYLE


SQUASHED RALLIES, CAKES WITH APLOMB.




THESE NUMBERS DON'T TELL THE WHOLE STORY.



THE FRONT PAGE

  • When Sparky Lyle wasn't saving games as one of baseball's preeminent firemen of the 1970s, he played the role as master clubhouse prankster. Possessing a signature slider, Lyle saved 238 games during his 16-year career, coaxing grounders at opportune times. Possessing a tawdry mind, Lyle sat naked on an untold number of teammates' birthday cakes, coaxing clubhouse howls every time. The '77 AL Cy Young winner bridged a time when the reliever's role was changing from a multi-inning fireman to a one-inning closer. He still holds the AL record for career saves as a left-hander with 238.

THE BACK PAGE

  • I just love the '77 backs: bold, readable, with a cartoon. 
  • Thankfully, there's a blurb about his saves because it took many years before Topps included the stat in the tabulated chart.

PHOTO PLAY

  • Always consider this an iconic Yankees card from their '77-'78 dynasty.  

EXTRA, EXTRA

  • Despite never starting a game, Lyle pitched 100-plus innings six times and 90-plus twice, winning 99 games.
  • He pitched the second-most innings (1,390.1) and faced the second-most batters (5,794) in relief. Only Kent Tekulve (1,436.2/6,001) pitched or faced more.
  • He won an AL-record 87 games in relief. 
  • In his five years with the Red Sox, Lyle saved 69 games, won 22 and posted a 2.85 ERA.
  • While with the Sox, he was encouraged by Ted Williams to learn the slider because Williams said that was the one pitch he had trouble hitting. 
  • The Yankees traded for Lyle in March 1972 because he routinely killed them. He had 13 saves, three wins and a 2.25 ERA against the Bombers. The Yankees, in a classic '70s pinstriped rape job, gave up Danny Cater and Mario Guerrero.
  • Had his breakout season right away in New York, saving a career-high 35 games, won nine times and had a career-low 1.92 ERA.
  • In his seven years with the Yankees, Lyle saved 141 games, won 57 and posted a 2.41 ERA.
  • The Cy Young Award came after New York's first World Series championship in 15 years. Lyle appeared in a league-high 72 games, finishing a league-high 60, saving 26 and winning 13. He had a 2.17 ERA in 137 innings.
  • You'd think Lyle's job would've been safe coming off such a season, yes? No. With owner George Steinbrenner bent on total world domination, Rich Gossage was signed in the off-season. The Goose was coming off his own 26-save season with the Pirates. Third baseman Graig Nettles had the line of the year: "From Cy Young to Sayonara.''
  • Bumped from the fireman's job, Lyle still had a decent '78 season, saving nine, winning nine and posting a 3.47 ERA in 111.2 innings. Gossage, meanwhile, led the AL in saves with 27 and finished 55 games. With a  top-notch back-end of the bullpen, the Yankees won their second consecutive title. 
  • The Boss, what a genius!
  • The Yankees officially said goodbye to Lyle in '79, dealing him to the Rangers in the Dave Righetti deal. Lyle saved 13 games that season.
  • Saved a total of 28 games in his final three years for two teams.
  • In six postseason series covering 21.1 innings, Lyle posted a 3-0 record with one save, finished 10 games and had a 1.69 ERA.
  • Authored The Bronx Zoo with Peter Golenbock in '79, chronicling his Yankee years. It was the first athlete tell-all I ever read and the first book to make me laugh out loud, generating bewildering stares from my mom while lounging on the couch that summer.
  • Two anecdotes from the book that always stuck with me: Coach Yogi Berra continually borrowing Lyle's toothpaste and how he put a stop to it by stuffing liniment inside the tube. And teammate Ron Swoboda getting even with Lyle by taking a dump on a cake and having it delivered to him for his birthday.

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