Book Review: The Bronx Zoo

author: Sparky Lyle & Peter Golenbock  published: 1979 / pages: 248

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, then you probably know or heard about the crazy 1978 baseball season. The Yankees were defending World Series Champions but were literally 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 that carried them to yet another championship. It is considered one of the greatest games in history.

The book starts out 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. His contract became a major focal point of the story because 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, his ego sure got in the way of so many things. He didn’t hold back on his thoughts of feelings in regards to his situation and there 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 wasn’t pitching he’d leave the ballpark before or during a game. In the world of social media in 2019, that would not be possible. If he was caught 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 really turned me into a hater more than a fan.

Yankees fan 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 absolutely hated in the clubhouse. Throw in the fact that he “never hustled” and was always hurt, Lyle painted this terrible picture of one the Yankee’s most beloved heroes.

The format of the book will eventually wear you down. He literally recaps every single day of the season, whether it was good news or bad news. You could sense the tone change on days the Yankees played well and he got to pitch. You could then sense the tension and anger on days the team didn’t show up and he didn’t pitch or pitched in situations he didn’t like. For a guy who got to play baseball for a living and make more than the average American, he was never happy and spent the majority of his book complaining.

The biggest gripe I had with the book is the format. Spring training starts in February and he goes on to describe every single 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 really rushed and not overly detailed. That was the whole reason I bought the book, thought it would 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 in 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 would have rather learnt more about that one game playoff than all the pranks he pulled on his teammates or the details of pranks his teammates pulled on other people.

I understand this is a biography from one man’s point of view. This wasn’t a fair assessment of the 1978 New York Yankees, but how Sparky Lyle saw it from the bullpen and the dugout. I guarantee that as I make my way through other Yankee biographies, they won’t be so bias, opinioned, and angry. In the end, Lyle got traded out of the Bronx Zoo and ended up with the contract he spent an entire booking griping about. I never knew much about him before this book, but I also didn’t learn any Earth shattering information about one of the greatest comeback seasons of all-time.

If you love the New York Yankees you may give this a read. If you love 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 that are not so self-centred.  4/10


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