Sparky Lyle, RP, #28 (1967-1971)
260 G, 22-17, 69 Saves, 2.85 ERA
Albert Walter “Sparky” Lyle was born July 22, 1944 in DuBois, Pennsylvania.
A left-hander with a prominent handlebar mustache, Lyle used the slider to become one of the most dominant relief pitchers of his era during a 16-year career that included tours of duty with the Red Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Chicago White Sox. He pitched 1,390 innings during his career, recording 238 saves, 99 wins, and making 899 consecutive relief appearances. 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 was first signed as an amateur free agent by the Baltimore Orioles on June 17, 1964; however, he never played a game for the Orioles. On November 30 of the same year, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox from the Orioles.
Hall of Famer Ted Williams, the last major leaguer to hit .400 in a single season, was at the Boston Red Sox Winter Haven, Florida spring training site when Lyle first pitched.
“Ted Williams told me that I’d never make the big leagues unless I came up with a slider,” Lyle recalled. “I had a pretty good curve, but I couldn’t throw a fastball over the plate.
“Ted Williams told me the slider was the one pitch he couldn’t hit,” Lyle said. “Ted Williams knew a lot about baseball, and when you hear something from a guy like that, you’re going to try to do something about it.”
Lyle worked on developing the slider for the next two years, and became proficient enough with the pitch that the Red Sox summoned him to the major leagues in 1967.
“About two months after I perfected the slider in 1967, I was called up to the major leagues,” Lyle said. “I threw the pitch so it would come straight at the batter until it got to within three feet of the plate. Then it would break down. It was an excellent pitch for double plays. I was a ground-ball pitcher, and that’s how I got batters to hit ground balls.”
He first joined the Red Sox as a player on July 4, 1967, during the “Impossible Dream” season. He was at first assigned uniform number 15 by the Red Sox, but during the middle of the 1967 season was given number 28, which he retained through nearly all his major-league career. By the 1969 season he would emerge as the Red Sox’ top reliever.
In 1968 he began to emerge as the Sox 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 for first baseman Danny Cater, one of the worst trades in Red Sox history.
Lyle became the Yankees’ bullpen ace, and established himself as one of the best relief pitchers of the 1970s, helping the Yankees to three straight pennants from 1976-78 and winning the World Series the last two years. In 1972 he saved 35 games, an American League record at the time, and a major-league record for left-handers. In 1972 Lyle also became the first southpaw to collect 100 saves in the AL. 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 AL All-Star in 1973, ’76 and ’77. In 1976 he broke Hoyt Wilhelm’s AL 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.
Despite the fact Lyle had won the 1977 Cy Young Award, the Yankees signed Goose Gossage as a free agent during the ’77 off-season. On November 10, 1978, Lyle was part of a major trade that sent him, along with four other players and cash, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Juan Beníquez and four other players, including a young Dave Righetti. During the ’78 season, Yankees teammate Graig Nettles famously quipped that Lyle went “from Cy Young to sayonara.”
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 the record beyond 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. He was first assigned number 39 with the Phillies, but for the 1981 season resumed the uniform number 28 which had been his trademark since 1967.
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 1998, he became the manager of the Somerset Patriots, a minor league team based in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where he resumed wearing number 28. He managed the team to Atlantic League pennants in 2001, 2003 and 2005. He remains the only manager in club history.
Player Biography written by Karen.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Sparky Lyle, RP, #28 (1967-1971)