Lyle was first signed as an amateur free agent by the Baltimore Orioles on June 17, 1964; however, he never played a game for the Orioles. On November 30 of the same year, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox from the Orioles. He first joined the Red Sox as a player on July 4, 1967, during their "Impossible Dream" season. Lyle missed the 1967 Red Sow World Series because of an injury. By the 1969 season, he would emerge as the Red Sox' top reliever. On March 22, 1972, he was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for first baseman Danny Cater and a player to be named later (Mario Guerrero).
Career with Yankees
Lyle became the Yankees' bullpen ace, and established himself as one of the best relief pitchers of the 1970s, helping the Yankees to three straight pennants from 1976-1978 and winning the World Series the last two years. In 1972, he saved 35 games, an American League record at the time, and a major league record for left-handers; Ron Perranoski had set both marks in 1970, but John Hiller would surpass Lyle's total with 38 in 1973. In 1972, Lyle also became the first southpaw to collect 100 saves in the American League. He also finished 3rd in the 1972 MVP voting.
He again led the league in saves in 1976, and in 1977 became the first AL reliever ever to win the Cy Young Award. He was named an American League All-Star in 1973, 1976 and 1977. In 1976, he broke Hoyt Wilhelm's American League record of 154 career saves, and the following year eclipsed Perranoski's major league mark for left-handers of 179 career saves. Through 1977, Lyle had compiled 201 career saves, and was within range of Wilhelm's career big-league record of 227.
Much as later Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has entered games to the tune of "Enter Sandman," Lyle has also been associated with a trademark song to herald his entry into games, "Pomp and Circumstance" played by the stadium organist.
But despite the fact Lyle had won the 1977 Cy Young Award, the Yankees signed Rich Gossage as a free agent during the 1977 off-season, and Gossage followed with an outstanding 1978 season which made Lyle expendable. On November 10, 1978, Lyle was part of a major trade that sent him, along with four other players and cash, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Juan Beníquez and four other players, including a young Dave Righetti. During the 1978 season, Yankees teammate Graig Nettles famously quipped that Lyle went "from Cy Young to sayonara."
In his late 30s, Lyle was unable to duplicate the great success he had previously enjoyed (perhaps due to the strain of pitching over 100 innings six times from 1969-78), and saved only 21 games for the Rangers in 1979-80. Rollie Fingers moved ahead of Lyle in career saves in early 1980, breaking Wilhelm's record just weeks before Lyle reached the mark, and Fingers eventually pushed the record beyond reach. Lyle won the last 2 games of the ALCS in 1977 and Game 1 of the 1977 World Series to set a record for most consecutive post-season team games won in relief; he also tied the overall record of consecutive team games won in relief.
On September 13, 1980, Lyle was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later (Kevin Saucier). Although the Phillies won their first World Series title in 1980, Lyle did not appear in the postseason, having been acquired by the Phillies too late to qualify for that. He was first assigned number 39 with the Phillies, but for the 1981 season, he resumed the uniform number 28 which had been his trademark since 1967.
On August 21, 1982, he was purchased by the Chicago White Sox from the Phillies. His last game was played on September 27 of that season for the White Sox, who released him on October 12. Lyle finished his 16-year career with 238 saves, a 2.88 ERA, and a record of 99-76 in 899 games pitched — all in relief. In 1985, Fingers broke his American League record for career saves; and in 1991 Righetti surpassed Lyle's major-league record for career saves by a left-hander, though Lyle still holds the AL mark of 232. Sparky Lyle was the only relief pitcher covered in Maury Allen's book on the greatest players of the 20th century, putlished in 1981 Hoyt Wilhelm was cited in the 10 honorable-mention runners-up).
In 1998, he became the manager of the Somerset Patriots, a minor league team based in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He managed the team to Atlantic League pennants in 2001, 2003 and 2005. He remains the only manager in club history. 
A noted clubhouse prankster in his playing days, Lyle was known for sneaking into the locker room during games to sit au naturel on birthday cakes prepared for teammates, leaving the imprint of his posterior on the frosting. In his autobiography, Lyle noted that teammate Ron Swoboda turned the tables on him by defecating on a cake which was then delivered to Lyle.
- ISBN 0-517-53726-5, "The Bronx Zoo" (with Peter Golenbock) (1979, Crown Publishers)
- ISBN 0-553-05750-2, "The Year I Owned the Yankees: A Baseball Fantasy" (with David Fisher) (1990, Bantam Books)
- List of Major League Baseball saves champions
- List of Major League Baseball all-time saves leaders
- Lyle, Sparky; Peter Golenbock . The Bronx Zoo, first, New York: Crown Publishers, p. 222.
- Lyle, Sparky; Peter Golenbock . The Bronx Zoo, first, New York: Crown Publishers, pp. 47-48.
- Lyle, Sparky; Peter Golenbock . The Bronx Zoo, first, New York: Crown Publishers, p. 48.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Baseball Hall of Fame candidate profile
|American League Saves Champion
|American League Cy Young Award