’77 Record Breaker Sparky Lyle, 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 18, 2017

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I have mentioned several times that 1978 was my first year of collecting baseball cards and in many ways, my education into baseball. I learned who the players were, what the teams were, who played for whom, who used to play for different teams etc.

I also learned terms and the language of baseball as a 6 year old. Some seemed intuitive. Others fascinated me.

That brings me to this card celebrating the record breaking achievement of Sparky Lyle. The record itself, listed at the top of the card, totally bewildered me.

There was Sparky Lyle. I knew who he was. I mainly knew Red Sox and Yankees players. I knew Sparky was a star on the Yankees. I also knew he pitched with Goose Gossage (remember this was 1978.)

But what was this record?

Most Games… Pure Relief… Lifetime.

Pure in it caught me off guard. I also had a tendency to say “Lifetime” as if I was saying “Lifetiiiiiiiiime.” I said it almost as if I was going to say “Out of sight!” as a punctuation. It seemed very 70’s… or as I thought of it as a kid, the only reality I knew.

Pure. Did that mean he was clean? Did that mean nobody did it better? I had an idea what a relief pitcher did. He came in and replaced the starter.

Was his record that he came in and always gave pure relief… never did anything wrong… and did that all of his life?

That seemed like the only logical explanation.

So for his entire life, he came in and got the job done, got pure relief…. lifetiiiiiiime.

Well, now I understand what it REALLY means. It means that in 1977 Sparky Lyle pitched his 621st game in the big leagues and all were out of the bullpen. He had never made a start. Bob Locker had held the record prior to that year with 576 games, all out of the bullpen.

He would go on to have 899 games of pure relief in his career. (You would think someone could have squeezed in appearance 900 in his career.)

It is a strange record. There have been other relievers who threw more innings or made more appearances than Lyle. Mariano Rivera and Hoyt Wilhelm come to mind. But Rivera made several starts in his rookie year and Wilhelm started some games in his long career.

Lyle, much to my amazement as a kid, began his career with the Red Sox. Why would the Red Sox trade him? Remember, I was young. I didn’t realize at the time how the ineptitude of the Red Sox front office was so often to the benefit of the New York Yankees.

The Sox got infielder Danny Cater out of it and saw themselves have bullpen issues throughout the 1970’s. Meanwhile Lyle blossomed with the Yankees. As the role of the reliever was developing into a more vital position for championship caliber teams, Lyle became the Yankees’ top fireman. He would pile up saves, wins and keep his ERA low, which were the relief metrics at the time.

Lyle had an undeniably terrific year in 1977. He threw 137 innings (pure relief of course), saved 26 games, won 13 and kept his ERA to 2.17. In his league leading 72 appearances, he averaged nearly 2 innings per appearance.

In the post season, he made a ALCS saving appearance in Game 4. With the Yankees on the verge of elimination by Kansas City, the Royals were rallying in the 4th. Ed Figueroa and Dick Tidrow could not hold the KC bats down and Yankee killer George Brett came up with the tying and go ahead runs on base.

Billy Martin brought in his relief ace in the 4th. He got Brett out but now he had to figure out what to do with Lyle.

His solution was novel. Martin had Lyle throw 5 1/3 shutout innings to finish the game and earn the win. That was great but what was he going to do in the do or die Game 5?

Ron Guidry had a poor start in Game 5. This time it was Mike Torrez’s turn to throw 5 1/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen. But when Torrez ran into trouble in the 8th, Lyle came back out with no days rest. He finished the 8th. The Yankees rallied in the top of the 9th to take the lead. Lyle came in and finished the 9th and clinched the pennant.

He was the winning pitcher of the last two games of the ALCS and the first game of the World Series. The Yankees would capture the World Series title but Mike Torrez would have the honor of clinching the final game.

Lyle, a known practical joker and later author of a tell all book about his days with the Yankees, took home the Cy Young Award. The sabermetric crowd would have given it to Frank Tanana of California, who of course got no first place votes.

Because three pitchers all led the AL with 20 wins and that was still the main metric for pitching greatness, perhaps the vote was split.

Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Dennis Leonard and Dave Goltz all got first place votes for Cy Young. So did Bill Campbell who won the Rolaids Fireman Award for best reliever. Lyle won the Cy Young but couldn’t take the top reliever award.

That’s a strange year. It was an even stranger off season for Lyle. He won the Cy Young but lost his job. Steinbrenner signed Rich Gossage from the Pirates, hoping to make a 1-2 tandem in the bullpen. It didn’t quite work and as Graig Nettles said, Lyle went from “Cy Young to Sayonara.”

Lyle was traded to the Rangers in the deal that brought Dave Righetti to the Yankees. He played in the 1981 playoffs for the Phillies before finishing his career with the White Sox.

He couldn’t get that 900th appearance of pure relief in his lifetime (lifetiiiiiiime.)

But what else did he do? He did a chewing tobacco commercial that was aired on TV. The 1970’s were a different time.

Nolan Ryan Record Breaker Cards 1978, 1988 and 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Cards of the Day for November 17, 2017

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There is an amazing alternate reality in history where Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan are teammates for life as members of the New York Mets.

Seaver was still an effective pitcher into the mid 1980’s. Nolan Ryan led the league in strikeouts in 1990 at age 43. They could have rewritten the record book side by side from the 1969 World Series, throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.

Instead both were traded away in deals that were nothing short of disastrous for the Mets.

The Mets drafted Lynn Nolan Ryan out of Alvin Texas High School in 1965. He made a pair of appearances in 1966 before getting to the big leagues for good in 1968.

He was a spot starter and reliever for the 1969 World Champions. He got the save that clinched the NLCS and won the pennant for the Mets. Later, he won Game 3 of the World Series in relief.

Ryan, along with Seaver and company, was a World Champion. He got that checked off his resume at age 22.

Then after the 1971 season, the Mets decided they had enough pitching and needed to shore up their infield. Jim Fregosi came over to the Mets from the Angels. Ryan was one of multiple players sent to Anaheim.

There his career exploded.

I wrote about his career in a blog post back in 2013. I compared him to George Harrison. Trust me, it made sense to me.

But I can think of no better way of demonstrating how wide spread the trade backfired on the Mets than these three record breaking cards. One was issued in the 1970’s, one in the 1980’s and one in the 1990’s as he remained dominant for all those years after he was shipped off.

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In 1977, he broke Sandy Koufax’s record of most games with 10 or more strikeouts. Koufax’s mark was 97. Ryan finished with 104 at the end of 1977. Keep in mind he would pitch for 15 more seasons. He would finish with 148 games of 10 or more strikeouts… in the American League.

The grand total he would reach is 215 when his years with the Mets and Astros are included.

Inexplicably, I tried to draw beard on his face on this 1978 Topps card. Don’t ask me why.

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In 1988, Topps issued THIS Record Breaker card to commemorate Ryan passing 200 or more strikeouts for the 11th time in his career. That would set the all time mark.

To add insult to injury, the pitcher he passed was Tom Seaver. He would eventually pass 200 strikeouts 15 times in his career.

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The final record breaker card honors his 5000th strikeout. He would fan Rickey Henderson no less to reach that mark. To be fair, this highlight would also be in the 1980’s but he would win the 1990 strikeout crown and throw another no hitter in that decade.

Nobody else in history has fanned 5,000 for their career. Randy Johnson’s 4,875 has come closest. And that is a far cry from Ryan’s final tally of 5,714.

Ryan won 324 games, 295 of them for teams other than the Mets. All of these records could have been set in Flushing. He would have been a New York legend.

Instead he had to settle for one of the most famous and beloved stars in the history of baseball and a first ballot Hall of Famer.

A little more value than say Jim Fregosi.

1978 Record Breaker Mike Edwards, 1979 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 16, 2017

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You never know what you are going to see when you go to the ballpark. An unlikely pitcher could throw a no hitter. A hitter could go on a four homer rampage. A wild comeback could turn the game around in the 9th. The game could fly by in less than 2 hours. The game could go into the 20th inning.

In an August game in 1978 at Oakland between the A’s and the Angels, a handful of fans witnessed a record being broken.

It is safe to say the few who were there had no clue what they witnessed. And Mike Edwards that day put his thumbprint on baseball history and had the greatest game of his short career.

In the years between the A’s championship run in the mid 1970’s and the arrival of Billy Martin, the Oakland team was in flux. They consistently put a poor product on the field and could not draw anything near a million fans for an entire season.

On August 10, 1978, however, the A’s were surprise contenders. They were 60-56 and only 4 1/2 games behind the Royals. They were closer to first place than the eventual World Champion Yankees were.

That day in Oakland, the A’s were playing another surprise team, the California Angels who were only 1 1/2 games ┬ábehind Kansas City.

There were only 3,832 fans attending the day game that Thursday afternoon. The A’s fans did not witness a pretty game for their team. In the first inning, Matt Keough was getting roughed up. Don Baylor, a former Oakland player, doubled home Ken Landreaux and Carney Lansford to give the Angels 2 runs before the A’s even came to bat.

Joe Rudi, once a beloved Oakland star, came up for the Angels with a runner on second and one out. He hit a liner to A’s second baseman Mike Edwards. He caught it and stepped on second to double up Don Baylor to finish the inning.

By the 4th inning, the A’s were behind 5-1 and already dipping into the bullpen. The first 8 batters in the 4th reached. Three pitchers could not record a single out. The A’s were down 10-1 with the bases loaded and nobody out.

Reliever Craig Minetto faced Dave Chalk. He lined a shot to second base and Edwards snared it. He stepped on second to double off Danny Goodwin. The inning would end with Oakland still trailing 10-1. They cut it to 10-5 in the 6th but the Angels rallied again and won 16-5. The A’s would lose 37 of their next 46 games and fall out of contention.

As the dejected fans left the stadium, I wonder how many of them realized they saw a record being set. For the first time ever in an American League game, a second baseman made two unassisted double plays in the same game.

Two National Leaguers in the 19th century, Davy Force and Claude Ritchey, had pulled the feat off and the Angels Luis Alicea would match them in 1997.

Edwards, who was acquired from the Pirates before the 1978 season. He was the regular second baseman for the 1978 and 1979 before playing his final year under Billy Martin in 1980.

Edwards played 2 years in Mexico and a year in Japan before finally retiring. He may not have had a long big league career, but he has set a record that has never been broken, which is not a bad legacy to leave.