Book Summary: The Bronx Zoo is one phrase that described the 1978 World Champion New York Yankees. This book is Sparky Lyle’s point of view of the chaos the erupted on and off the field.
If you like baseball, know baseball history, like the New York Yankees, or even hate the New York Yankees, you probably know or heard about the crazy 1978 baseball season. The Yankees were defending World Series Champions but were a wildfire that grew a couple of hundred miles a day. The drama between players, managers, owners, fans, and media was front-page news every day. New York takes its baseball very seriously, and so do the players.
I bought The Bronx Zoo because I wanted to know more about the 1978 miracle season. The defending champions struggled all year only to rally from 14 games down in the division to force an epic one-game playoff against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in late September. That game continued the Curse for the Red Sox and gave the Yankees momentum to yet another championship. It is considered one of the greatest playoff moments in history.
The book starts with a recap of how Sparky Lyle won the American League CY Young Award (best pitcher) the previous season. He came into the 1978 season looking for a new contract that paid him a fair wage he thought he deserved. Sparky’s new commitment became a central focal point of the story. If he didn’t like the lack of progress of the deal, he refused to pitch. He would go into great detail about his conversations with other players, his general manager Cedric Tallis, and his heated exchanges with owner George Steinbrenner.
For an elite pitcher, who claimed to love the game, ego sure got in the way of so many things. He didn’t hold back on his thoughts or feelings in regards to his situation. There were some parts of the book I wondered why he even stuck around.
What amazed me, actually astonished me, was the fact on many game days, if he weren’t pitching, he’d leave the ballpark before or during a game. In the world of social media today, that would be impossible. There is no way he would go unnoticed at the store during the seventh inning of a game currently in progress; he’d be roasted online and in the press. His poor attitude in this regard turned me into a hater more than a fan.
Yankees fans know that Reggie Jackson is Mr. October. The majority of people know he was the prima donna of his generation, and Lyle didn’t hold back on his opinion of Reggie. Self-proclaimed “straw that stirs the Yankees drink,” Reggie was hated in the clubhouse. Throw in the fact that he “never hustled” and was always hurt, Lyle painted this terrible picture of one of the Yankee’s most beloved heroes.
The format of the book eventually wore me down. Sparky recaps every single day of the season, whether it was good news or bad news. You could tell the story was upbeat and positive on days the Yankees played well, and he got to pitch. Then sense the tension and anger on days the team didn’t show up, and he didn’t throw or pitch in situations he wanted to. For a guy who got to play baseball for a living and made more than the average American, he was never happy and spent most of his book complaining.
The biggest gripe I had with the book is the format. Spring training starts in February, and he describes every day from there until the end of the season. Then when it’s time to tell the tale of the epic one-game playoff win, it was rushed and not overly detailed. That was the whole reason I bought the book. I thought it would be so in-depth and that I’d get to know what happened in the clubhouse before and after that one game. Instead, the final chapter blends the playoff game with the division series and eventual World Series win. It sure felt like a whole lot of build-up with little to no payoff. I wanted more insight into that one-game playoff than all the pranks and escapades he had with his teammates.
I understand this is a biography from one man’s point of view. His perspective regarding the saga wasn’t a fair assessment of the 1978 New York Yankees, but how Sparky Lyle saw it from the bullpen and the dugout. As I make my way through other Yankee biographies, I guarantee that they won’t be such a bias, opinionated, and angry. In the end, Lyle got traded out of the Bronx Zoo and ended up with the contract he spent an entire booking seeking.
If you love the New York Yankees, you may give this a read. If you like 1970’s baseball history, you might also give this a read. If you a casual baseball fan, I’d advise you to steer clear of this book because there are so many better ones out there.