BRONX ZOO – It was George Steinbrenner who believed in second chances. Sometimes it turned to third or even fourth and with manager Billy Martin, five. Through the years the Boss would sign players like Steve Howe, Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and even small caliber ones like Juan Bonilla. Two players who have disappeared from the Yankees family without even getting a chance are Graig Nettles and Sparky Lyle.
The third baseman and the lefty closer, who were instrumental in bringing a championship to the Bronx back in 1977-78 not only aren’t acknowledged in Monument Park, they aren’t even given invitations to Old Timers Day.
The Steinbrenner regime has had a hard-on for those two since they both authored tell- all books about their Bronx Zoo years. Lyle’s book, The Bronx Zoo and Nettles book, Balls took the reader behind the scenes of the soap opera teams from that era. They’ve been unofficially black-balled ever since.
The current fan base doesn’t know if these two are still alive or even what they accomplished while wearing pinstripes. After pitching multiple innings during the 1977 playoffs and winning the American League Cy Young Award, all as their closer, the Yankees rewarded Lyle by signing free- agent Goose Gossage. That led to Nettles one-liner of “Lyle went from Cy Young to Sayonara.”
Nettles was the defensive whiz at the hot corner who also was the A.L. homerun leader in 1976. They both arrived in New York through the best trades ever made in the Steinbrenner Era. A real General Manager named Gabe Paul orchestrated both deals.
Lyle was traded away because only one closer is allowed to close, and Nettles was dealt when he turned into an author. Ever since then it’s like they never existed. Another Yankee who penned a tell-all was Jim Bouton. His “Ball Four” book was the first of its kind and he also paid the price of being ignored. Eventually a forgiving George let Bouton participate at an Old Timers Day event and all was forgiven.
Over the summer I went to a Somerset Patriots game in New Jersey and what I saw outside the ballpark blew my mind. It was a statue of number 28, Albert Walter “Sparky” Lyle. It was standing side by side near Steve Kalafer, who owned the Patriots and brought Lyle to manage his team when it was in the independent Atlantic League.
The team is now the AA team of the New York Yankees. The geniuses, who are the brain trust of the current last place Major league team up in the Bronx, probably didn’t even know who the model of this bronze statue even was.
The time is now for the Son of Steinbrenner to forgive the two authors, who wrote two great books on those bad-ass teams, and give them a day at the stadium. Both of them deserve a plaque in Monument Park and an education to the current fan base on two players who were influential in the early Steinbrenner era.