• Albert Walter Turns 68

    Posted by on July 26th, 2012 · Comments (7)

    Via the Star-Ledger two days ago -

    Sparky Lyle pulled off his Somerset Patriots cap, ran a hand through his long silver hair and eyed the lineup card.

    The everyday perks — microwavable cheese macaroni, a Milky Way bar and a pack of Winston cigarettes — are sprawled out in front of him like a hand of cards on his desk. A jug of Tito’s Vodka sits in the closet.

    Baseball great Sparky Lyle talks about managing the Somerset Patriots and nearing 1,000 wins Baseball great Sparky Lyle talks about managing the Somerset Patriots and nearing 1,000 wins Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle, the only manager the Somerset Patriots have ever known, is one win away from 1,000 victories in the Atlantic League, a dazzling accomplishment considering many teams — and nearly all players — don’t survive from year to year. His team faced the Sugar Land Skeeters Monday night but were defeated 5-4. Lyle and his team once again face the Skeeters, and will play a Tuesday double-header at their home ballpark in Bridgewater.

    What’s missing are arms. One of his pitchers retired, another fled to the Taiwanese league, a third was signed to a Major League farm team and a fourth broke his middle finger playing with his young niece.

    Life as a manager in the Atlantic League means making due, but enduring is Sparky Lyle’s strong suit. It has been more than 30 years since the days he played beside Munson and Reggie, and sparred with Steinbrenner. In 1977, he became the first American League reliever to win the Cy Young award. He had a salty look at a time when Yankee players could grow their hair long and go unshaven. He played in the majors for 16 years for five teams and has now managed the Patriots for nearly as long.

    Today, in his 15th season as the only manager in Somerset Patriots history, he will go for his 1,000th career victory — a stunning achievement in the Atlantic League, where players are limited to one-year contracts, and eight other franchises have disbanded or switched leagues since the independent Atlantic League was formed in 1998.

    Lyle has managed 401 players in Somerset, including the group that will take the field in his 1,881st game today. He has the most wins, the most league championships (five), the most playoff appearances (nine), the most single-season victories (86) and the most trips to the championship round (eight). He is the team’s identity, a constant through the years. His face is plastered all over TD Bank Stadium, and a massive, shaggy canine mascot named Sparkee mugs for photos with young fans and dances on the dugout.

    This daily grind, the art of piecing together a group of major league hopefuls and castaways, was never a part of the plan when he finished a 16-year career with the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Phillies and White Sox. Now, it seems to fuel him. Many managers might treat the Atlantic League as a bus stop on the way to a Double-A coaching job. Lyle presses for another win, another title.

    He looks like a manager, a life of baseball weathered in his skin and in his bones. He bristled as he tried to figure out how he would deal with a pitching staff depleted by injury and defections.

    “We’ve been trying to get a halfway decent lineup all year,” he said. Then, offering up a choice cuss word, with a resigned tone he asked a question to no one in particular. “Where are we right now?”

    The baseball man still drawn to the game’s inner workings lives alongside another part of Lyle. He would be just as happy, he said, on a fishing dock near his South Jersey home, 75 miles from the Bridgewater stadium.

    “I’m one of these guys that time off actually means that. I don’t have a problem just sittin’ around and doin’ nothing. I’m good at that,” he said.

    But there is a man inside the manager, someone who found the game growing up in in DuBois, Pa. He is the son of a carpenter and a seamstress who worked in a coffin factory. He regularly struck out 16 and 17 batters each Saturday at the Legion Post and was discovered by a Baltimore Orioles scout at 20 years old.

    After five years in Boston, he landed with the Yankees in 1972. His roots in New Jersey are now deep. He has three grown sons and five grandchildren. Two days ago, Lyle, still an outsized character, turned 68 years old.

    Gosh, I love this guy.

    Comments on Albert Walter Turns 68

    1. Evan3457
      July 26th, 2012 | 12:57 pm

      1977: Sparky wins the Cy Young, capped by a towering performance in the ALCS.

      For which Sparky was rewarded with Goose Gossage, and a trade to Texas the season after.

    2. 77yankees
      July 26th, 2012 | 7:09 pm

      I know he was not a great manager, but at least Ted Williams developed one Cy Young Award winner to his credit.

      Kind of wonder why Sparky doesn’t show up for Old-Timers Day anymore. Of course he’s managing the Patriots, but I’m sure he could take off one day a year.

    3. July 28th, 2012 | 2:00 pm

      Second greatest Yankee relief pitcher of all time (next to Mo of course).

      I think the reason Sparky doesn’t come back is the fawning that goes on over Goose (I almost blew the 78 playoff game with Boston) Gossage. What Lyle did for the Yanks during the lean years 72-75 and his spectacular 77, far exceeds anything Gossage ever did for the team. Gossage had the nerve to comment negatively on the fist pump of Joba, when that jackass single handedly blew whatever chance the Yanks had at a three-peat by getting into an idiotic fight with Cliff Johnson in 79.

      Sparky’s incredible playoff performance in games 4, 5 in 77, and game 1 of the 77 World Series is the greatest accomplishment by a relief pitcher in the history of baseball. Where the hell is the plaque for that.

    4. 77yankees
      July 28th, 2012 | 3:28 pm

      I doubt it has anything to do with Goose. Lyle’s anger in The Bronx Zoo was all directed at the Boss, and everything I’ve heard & read through the years was that everyone on that team accepted Goose even though it was not an ideal situation…….well, everyone except for Billy Martin, of course, and some of that had to do with the Billy Sample incident that’s been recounted over the years.

    5. July 29th, 2012 | 12:11 am

      @ 77yankees:
      I couldn’t disagree with you more. Hell, the Yankees don’t even assign 54 any longer. Gossage gets the icon treatment at Old Timers Day. Lyle is not going to show up and play second fiddle to that (nor should he, he was the better of the two just talking Yankee days). Lyle was also a thinking man’s pitcher, unlike the Goose who Munson once described as having feathers between his ears.

    6. Raf
      July 29th, 2012 | 9:39 am

      Joseph Maloney wrote:

      Lyle was also a thinking man’s pitcher, unlike the Goose who Munson once described as having feathers between his ears.

      Gossage reared back and threw as hard as he could, Lyle slider’ed hitters to death.

      Not much thought required for either approach.

    7. 77yankees
      July 29th, 2012 | 8:08 pm

      Joseph Maloney wrote:

      @ 77yankees:
      Hell, the Yankees don’t even assign 54 any longer.

      Kevin Long is assigned #54. Here’s the assignment of the number: http://www.yankeenumbers.com/playerslist.asp?x_Number=54&z_Number==,,&order=Year

      Here is the Yankees’ career sole comparison of numbers:

      Lyle: 57-40, 141 SV, 420 G, 348 GF, 745 IP, 2.41 ERA, 1.207 WHIP
      Gossage: 42-28, 151 SV, 319 G, 272 GF, 533 IP, 2.19 ERA, 1.079 WHIP

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