Check out this really cool ABC News profile on a pre-moustache Sparky Lyle from 1972. Aside from its archival value, the clip is interesting for a couple of reasons: For one, there's the story's "The Yankees are good again" angle; in truth, the Yankees were a much better team in 1970, finishing 2nd in the AL East with a 93-69 record, though they still wound up 15 games behind the impressive Orioles. They would would only finish 4th in the strike-shortened '72 season with a 79-76 record, but they were at least "in the hunt" for a playoff berth until late September; and since, at this point, it had been eight years — a veritable eon for Yankee fans — since the franchise had even made it to the post-season (and ten since they'd won a World Series), the re-emergence of the Yanks as "winners" was newsworthy in itself.
The other thing that's interesting is that the term "Closer" isn't uttered anywhere in the piece, though that was clearly Sparky's role. Instead, he is referred to several times as "The Saver," because he's the one getting the "saves". The Save was a fairly new statistic in baseball at that time; invented by baseball writer Jerome Holtzman in 1960 as a way to measure a reliever's effectiveness, it didn't become an "official" stat until 1969. Sparky racked up a league-leading 35 of them in 1972, but the way he went about it was far different than today's pampered, "only bring me in if there's a save opportunity" closers. It wasn't uncommon for Sparky to pitch three or even more innngs to close out a game and get the save; in 59 appearances in 1972, he threw 107.2 innings. Hell, in one 1972 game, a 18-10 extra innings victory over the White Sox on June 3, Sparky pitched FIVE scoreless innings, keeping his team in the game until they exploded for eight runs in the 13th off of Bart Johnson. No save there for Sparky — he got the win.
The Save — and what qualifies as such — has gone through multiple headache-inducing permutations since 1969, none of which are worth going into here. Suffice to say that both the stat and the relievers who rack them up are much different animals now than they were in the 70s. And suffice to say that I miss the days when a fireman would battle his way to the end of a tough game, rather than just waltzing in at the top of the 9th with the bases empty and a three-run lead. Salut, Sparky!