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Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1972 Sparky Lyle August 16, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Ah, the final card of Sparky on the Red Sox leapt out at me just now as I took a random tour of the early ’70s shoebox assortment.

He’d been traded before the start of the 1972 season to the New York Yankees, in one of the more lopsided trades in modern times. Topps clearly went to press with the first half of the ’72 set before spring training, so Lyle gets a Red Sox card for the ’72 season. The Sox got Danny Cater and eventually Mario Guerrero, and the Yanks got a premier closer who’d be a reliable lights-out from the bullpen a few years down the line, after Steinbrenner bought the team and then bought every player in sight and Lyle became a major star of the pennant winning teams of 1976 & 1977.

He also won the Cy Young in 1977, rare for a reliever. Other than Therman Munson and Roy White, he’s pretty much the only member of the 1972 Yankees to be around for those late ’70s World Series runs.

He slowed down after ’77, and Steinbrenner being Steinbrenner got nervous and overcompensated in ’78 by obtaining both Rich Gossage and Rawly Eastwick as potential closers. Gossage eventually got the job, and Lyle would be traded after the ’78 season to the Texas Rangers for mostly a bunch of journeymen, but included in the package for the Yankees was the then-minor league pitcher Dave Righetti, who’d eventually become the Yankee closer in the mid to late ’80s after a run as a starter. I still remember listening to him via radio broadcast  no-hit the Sox on July 4, 1983 at my Sox-fan-friend’s swimming pool. It was the first Yankee no hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game in 1956.

The ’72 Red Sox are often forgotten in the lore of the lovable-loser-Sox that existed prior to their karmic revenge of 2004. BoSox fans would lament Aaron Boone’s homer in 2003 that sank them, or Bucky Dent’s in ’78, or Bill Buckner’s error in ’86 (although I’d lay the blame squarely on manager John McNamara for blowing the ’86 series with a bunch of really stupid decisions, especially in Game 6), or Game 7 in 1975… but somehow, the 1972 disappointment gets lost in the shuffle.

In addition to the horrible Lyle trade, they also dealt Jim Lonborg & George Scott (and others) to Milwaukee for Tommy Harper & Marty Pattin (among others) and came out on the short end. And then a players’ strike shortened the season by its first week, prompting Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to wipe those games out, leaving an uneven schedule where teams didn’t all play the same number of games. So what happened? The Red Sox lost their division by 1/2 to the Tigers by playing in one less game.

I can still hear my dad’s voice in my head whenever I think about these kinds of things: “Those Red Sox STINK!

Maybe. But not as much as a birthday cake after Sparky Lyle got through with it. Talk about a weird fetish. As a fan of the game, I miss guys like Lyle who’d be dependable for clubhouse pranksterism, but I don’t think I’d want to be on the same team with a guy who insisted on sneaking into the cubhouse & sitting bare-assed on the birthday cakes prepared for other players, or who one one occasion whipped out his schvantz and ran it down a table of cold cuts. Want more? Read his memoir, The Bronx Zoo.

Maybe THAT’S what the Red Sox needed! It was only 1/2 game, fer Chrissakes!

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