Yesterday I ran into one of the great players in Yankee history, Sparky Lyle . I hugged him as hard as I could because I love him. With all due respect to the great Mariano Rivera and hall of Famer Goose Gossage, the most important relief pitcher in the Steinbrenner era was without question Albert Sparky Lyle.
When The Boss bought the team in 1973 the guy that was driven in from the bullpen in the Toyota Corolla in the 7th 8th or 9th inning was Sparky Lyle. For those six years you never worried about that part of the game. If you knew anything about movies than Sparky was Errol Flynn. He was just the most fearless guy ever to come out of the bullpen and during that whole period Sparky was the one guy that the Boss or Billy never worried about.
Sparky was also extremely protective of his teammates. If a Yankee got hit by a pitch and Sparky got into the game than all bets were off and the opposition was going to get clocked.
I remember one game when Infielder Fred Stanley got hit pretty good in the ribs. When Billy brought Sparky in the game, Sparky said you don’t have to tell me I know what I have to do. The first pitch to the next hitter was very solid, right where the sun don’t shine. I remember the same thing happening a year later and the first hitter up for the Other team was Billy Sample and Goose refused to hit him. That didn’t sit well with Billy and they never had a strong relationship.
Sparky put it all on the line in the playoff game against the Royals in 1977. Sparky threw 4 and a third innings. He knew and Billy knew that if Sparky didn’t do this there would be no World Series. For me that was our World Series. If Sparky doesn’t do what he did then Reggie doesn’t hit 3 home runs in one World Series game. For me Sparky will always be our 1977 post season hero. He also won the Cy Young Award that season. I think the only Yankee reliever ever to do so.
After that season Sparky would never be the same great reliever, and it’s no coincidence that the Boss would sign free agent reliever Rich Goose Gossage. Sparky would get traded after the 1978 season for another up and coming reliever by the name of Dave Righetti, who would go on to pitch a no hitter on July 4th of 1982 vs the Boston Red Sox.
For me the thing that really made Sparky great in Yankee history was the fact that he was actually the person that thought The great Ron Guidry the cutter or the Slider. Guidry in term taught it to Righetti and it would be thought to Mariano Rivera.
To know Sparky is to love Sparky. He was a beloved teammate. One of the greatest pranksters of all time. He was one of the guys that made you want to spend as much time in the clubhouse because it was as entertaining there as it was on the field. Mr Steinbrenner would never admit it but a big reason that he spent as much time in the clubhouse in that era was because it was the greatest show on earth.
When ever it was a players birthday the Boss would send a cake to the clubhouse. When he found out that Sparky would take off his cloths and sit on the cake he had the cake made a little wider because it would be funnier. At the end of the day the Boss did appreciate the importance of Sparky Lyle, after all wasn’t he one of the animals in the Bronx Zoo !
Long time Yankee Vice President Howard Grosswirth is recovering comfortably after an illness. As we all know, nothing is going to break this mans stride. He has always been some sort of a Superman in the Stienbrenner’s Yankee arsenal. Get well soon my brother. It’s never the same without you.
Much respect to former Yankees Batboy Luis Castillo and his sons who stay by his wife Margaritas side at the hospital as she recovers from surgery. Luis, let’s not forget our special code for special blessings…….