Sparky Lyle was a great left-handed relief pitcher for a number of teams, most notably the New York Yankees. But, his career began with the Boston Red Sox, where none other than Ted Williams suggested he start throwing a slider. That became the pitch that defined his career. While it wasn’t a career that would land Lyle in the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was a memorable one, mostly spent with some great Yankees teams.
Lyle’s 1969 Topps rookie card features a young Lyle with a rather vacant expression. He already had a lot to be happy about as his career was already off to a good start. Had Sparky known what kind of career he would end up having, and that card collectors would actually covet this card, he probably would’ve instead been grinning from ear to ear.
Lyle’s career actually began in the Red Sox’s “Impossible Dream” season of 1967. It was an excellent start: a 2.28 ERA in 22 games with 5 saves. He followed that up with a good 1968 season, too. In 1969, he had his best season yet, 3.5 WAR. He’d have a rather pedestrian 1970 season, but have a good 1971 season.
The Red Sox would then decide it was time to sell high, trading him to the rival New York Yankees for infielder Dany Cater. That Danny Cater trade didn’t work out so well for the Red Sox. In all fairness, Cater has been a useful player to that point, But, he only amassed 2 WAR over 3 seasons with Boston. He hit just .262/.301/.384 with 14 home runs. Granted, offense was a lot lower back then, so that was still a 93 OPS+. Even with solid defense, it just wasn’t enough to make the trade work.
Meanwhile, Lyle went on to be a strong reliever for the Yankees, becoming their closer for the majority of his time in New York. Much to the chagrin of Red Sox fans, Lyle would be a key part of a couple of World Series wins, too He’d even win the Cy Young award in 1977 as the Yankees closer. Suffice it to say, the Red Sox would’ve been better off with Lyle.
There are just 45 PSA 9 examples of Sparky Lyle’s rookie card from 1969 Topps, plus 16 with Qualifiers due to centering. Only 4 Gem Mint PSA 10 examples exist as of this writing. Of course, there’s no shame in settling for a lower grade when it comes to vintage cards. While relievers typically aren’t big names in the baseball card hobby, Lyle’s success with the Yankees has earned him “hobby cred” in the vintage baseball card collecting community.