The Book: The Bronx Zoo
The Author: Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock
Rating: Must Read, 5-out-of-5
This book is essentially Sparky Lyle‘s diary of the 1978 season and it’s written in the style started by Jim Bouton‘s Ball Four. Personally I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but if you are not a die-hard Yankees fan and are comparing this book to Bouton’s this is probably a four-out-of-five to Ball Four‘s five-out-of-five, but since I’m a die-hard fan I gave it a five.
Leading up to this book things were going pretty well for Lyle. The Yankees won the ’77 World Series and he won the Cy Young that year as the team’s closer. The team certainly had issues, mostly because of the George Steinbrenner/Billy Martin/Reggie Jackson trifecta, but in ’78 things changed. The Yankees struggled for much of the season before turning it around to go on another World Series run and Lyle struggled on an off the field because of events that were put in motion when Goose Gossage, another closer, was brought in.
Most of the book is spent discussing Lyle’s adjustment to being a setup-man to Gossage. He’s upset because he isn’t happy with his contract, this is the time period right after free agency began and the new free agent acquisitions make much more money than the guys who have been Yankees for a while (Thurman Munson also dealt with this issue). This was also during the time when the role of the setup-man was not clearly defined so Lyle has to deal with inconsistent playing time which he insists is the cause for his sporadic performances on the mound. I’ve read some reviews that bash this book saying that Lyle spends too much time whining, but I didn’t find it overwhelming or boring and to his credit he never once blames or takes out his anger on Gossage. That is saved for Steinbrenner, whom Lyle hates.
Aside from his complaining about money and playing time there is the Steinbrenner/Martin/Jackson part of the story. Again, Lyle hates Steinbrenner and makes it quite apparent in this book. It’s pretty funny and interesting, but if you want to read a book that focuses primarily on this then a better book to read might be Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning by Jonathan Mahler. Besides that the book spends a good amount of time discussing his teammates and the pennant race with the Red Sox that came down to a one-game playoff.
By today’s standards everything Lyle says in the book is rather tame, but at the time it was rare for this much behind the scenes stuff to make it to the public and there certainly weren’t many books being published that were outright bashing the Yankees and their ownership. It’s also very honest and funny.
If you think of players as over-privileged kids, then this book probably isn’t for you. If you are a fan of the Yankees, especially the late 70’s teams, then this book is a must read. If you like baseball and mixed with a little bit of humor, then this book is a must read.