Devastating slider Lyle's trademark
Former closer gets second chance on Vets' ballot
The elections to the Hall of Fame of Bruce Sutter in 2006 and Dennis Eckersley in 2004 drew long-awaited attention to the specialist role of the closer, so maybe it's not too late for Sparky Lyle.
Lyle, 62, whose real first name is Albert, was one of the pioneers of a bullpen role that came into vogue in the Major Leagues in the 1970s and has been considered a vital asset for success ever since. The left-hander first made a name of himself with the Red Sox, but it was in his seven seasons with the Yankees that Lyle established himself as one of the top practitioners of saving games.
It was also during that time that Lyle was part of a headline-grabbing team, which he described in an aptly titled memoir, "The Bronx Zoo," written with Peter Golenbock in 1979. These were the Yankees in the early days of George Steinbrenner's ownership, when they ended a pennant drought of 12 seasons to reach the World Series three years in a row and win two championships.
Two of Lyle's teammates from those days, Jim "Catfish" Hunter and Reggie Jackson, made their way to Cooperstown. Another, Thurman Munson, is along with Lyle among 27 former players who are candidates for the Veterans Committee election, the results of which will be announced on Feb. 27. Living Hall of Famers, Ford Frick Award and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners make up the Veterans Committee electorate.
This is Lyle's second appearance on the Veterans Committee ballot, which is voted on every two years for players and every four years for executives/managers/umpires. In 2005, Lyle received seven votes among the 80 ballots cast, or 8.8 percent. A 75-percent plurality is required for election.
Five years after his career ended, Lyle went on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot and was part of four elections. His best finish was in 1988, when he was named on 13 percent of the ballots submitted. Lyle came off the ballot after the 1991 election when he did not garner the necessary five percent of the vote to remain in contention.
The March 22, 1972 trade that sent Lyle to New York from Boston for journeyman first baseman Danny Cater was a deal that worked out exceedingly well for the Yankees. Sporting a handle-bar moustache and while the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" played over the sound system at Yankee Stadium, Lyle would emerge from a pinstriped painted car and head for the mound preparing to finish off another Yankees victory.
Lyle, utilizing a devastating slider that he learned while with the Red Sox at the urging of Hall of Famer Ted Williams, paid immediate dividends in his first Yankees season. He had a 9-5 record with 35 saves and a 1.92 ERA in 59 games totaling 107 2/3 innings and finished third in that year's American League Most Valuable Player Award balloting. He was annoyed that he finished a distant seventh in the AL Cy Young Award voting. Five years later, Lyle became the first AL reliever to win a Cy Young Award for a 1977 campaign that included a 13-5 record, 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA in 137 innings over 72 games.
August Busch Jr.
"If there's anything I look back on, I always felt I definitely should have won two Cy Youngs," Lyle said in a 2004 interview. "I've been a little [ticked] off about that my whole life, and I probably always will be because they just didn't give it to relievers. I still feel I should have had two of them, '72 I should have won it then, no question."
Despite the Cy Young Award season, Lyle's time as the Yankees' closer ended in 1978 when the New York signed Goose Gossage as a free agent. In the famous comment by Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles, Lyle "went from Cy Young to sayonara."
After the '78 season, Lyle was involved in a nine-player trade that sent him to the Rangers. He went to the Phillies in 1980 and finished his career with the White Sox in 1982.
All 899 of his appearances in a career that spanned 16 seasons (1967-82) were in relief. Lyle topped 100 innings six times and finished with a career total of 1,390, during which he posted 238 saves and a 2.88 ERA. Lyle's winning percentage of .566 (based on a 99-76 career record) is superior to the other relievers in the Hall of Fame -- Hoyt Wilhelm (.540), Eckersley (.535), Rollie Fingers (.491) and Sutter (.489).
Lyle was also among the game's great characters and delighted teammates with his habit of sitting ("and sometimes worse," wrote Steve Jacobson) on birthday cakes in the clubhouse. Since 1998, Lyle has been manager of the independent Somerset Patriots in Bridgewater, N.J., and has won three Atlantic League pennants. His view of the closer's job expresses precisely the attitude a player with in that role must have.
"I never felt pressure," Lyle said. "I always felt the pressure was on the hitter. He had to produce. I can't say that my temperament is good for everybody, but I kept things on an even keel. I took the wins the same way I took the losses. I figured I was going to be out there every day anyway."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.