Over the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage (and their time together as Yankees).
It’s probably because I just was in Cooperstown and they have a ton of stuff up there, now, on Gossage – this being the year that he got into the Hall of Fame, etc.
In 1977, Sparky Lyle, who was then 32-years old, had the best season of his career. In fact, you could say, that season, Lyle had one of the best seasons ever by a left-handed relief pitcher – right up there with John Hiller in 1973 and Willie Hernandez in 1984.
And, on October 26, 1977, Lyle was rewarded for his excellent season when he won the A.L. Cy Young Award – becoming the first relief pitcher in A.L. history to win it.
However, less than a month later, on November 22, 1977, the Yankees went out and signed Rich “Goose” Gossage as a free agent.
At first, this signing was explained as the Yankees wanting Lyle and Gossage to be “co-closers.” However, just as a quarterback controversy is a bad thing in the NFL, the “co-closer” thing doesn’t work in baseball – and it soon became obvious that Gossage was the man in New York. And, Lyle, despite all his efforts and greatness the season prior, was soon to be out of Yankeeland.
Now, was this a heartless and shifty thing for the Yankees to do (to Lyle)?
Well, think of it this way…
Suppose you had a relationship with a particular pizza parlor…because the pizza was quality stuff. However, it was not a perfect relationship, from your angle, because the pizza parlor was not geographically convenient in terms of being close to you. Further, while the pizza there was high quality, this parlor was a one-man shop – which meant that you couldn’t get this pizza unless he was there (when you wanted it).
Now, let’s also suppose that another pizzeria – which was right around the corner from you – suddenly became available in the sense that they started selling pizza to the general public instead of dealing exclusively with local school cafeterias. And, while their pizza was not as “top notch” as your pizza guy, their pies were pretty good too. Further, this pizzeria was manned by several guys – which meant that there was never an issue with them not being around because someone was on vacation, etc. Lastly, on top of all this, this “other” pizzeria could deliver sixteen slices of pizza for the same price as one pie from that the pizza parlor (with whom you had a relationship).
This all said, if you started using this other pizzeria – despite having a relationship with a particular pizza parlor – could anyone question the move? The “new” place – which became available – simply meets more of your needs, etc. And, it would not make sense for you to pass on the pizzeria that was now out there.
The whole Lyle-Gossage situation was no different than this “particular pizza parlor” and “another pizzeria” scenario. And, just as a switch in pizza joints in our little comparison was more a reflection of the new place becoming an option than it was one on the old place, the move to acquire Gossage was not because of something related to Lyle. More so, it was just a matter of being able to pick up Goose when the opportunity presented itself.
But, I’m not sure that many Yankees fans – especially those under the age of thirty-five – realize that Gossage coming to the Yankees was not a bad reflection on Lyle. And, that’s a shame – because Sparky had a lot to offer a team…and he was one darn great relief pitcher in his own right.