The Red Sox bullpen is a question mark for the 2019 season and that is not unusual in baseball. This has caused me to pause and look at a few names from the past.
The history of Red Sox relief pitching has a cornucopia of names that spark a memory – memories that can picture a bullpen door opening and fans responding with glee, despair or indifference. The ones I have chosen are simply the result of a mental dartboard with the attended “I wonder whatever happened to?”
One of my favorite players as a youth was Billy Goodman – I could relate to Goodman based on size and his gritty ability – then in early season 1957 Goodman was traded to the Orioles for righty Mike Fornieles who became de facto closer for the Red Sox.
Fornieles was relegated to the rotation and relief for his first two Boston season, but for the 1959 and 1960 seasons it was exclusively the bullpen and Fornieles responded with a combined 24 saves – not impressive by today’s standards, but the methodology of statistically awarding a save was far more strict. In 1960 Fornieles led the American League in appearances (70) and games finished (48) and compiled a 10-5 record.
In 1961 Fornieles saved a career-high 15 games, but his ERA skyrocketed from 2.64 to 4.68. That 1961 team finished sixth and Ted Williams was retired and Carl Yastrzemski had arrived. In 1963 Fornieles – who had been replaced as closer by Dick Radatz – was traded to the Twins, appeared in 11 games and was released. But not gone from baseball.
Forneiles stayed in the Boston area selling cars and pitching in the famous Boston Park League for a few seasons. Forneiles also spent some time in the radio booth assisting with color commentary for Spanish broadcasting for local; radio. Fornieles died in Florida in 1998 as a result of a fall. The same injury that took the life of Radatz.
There are bad Red Sox trades and then there is the trade of lefty Sparky Lyle to the New York Yankees. Was it his personality that helped get him a Boston exit? Lyle was a notorious prankster and was becoming representative of a new age baseball player. Lyle – as a Yankee – was a noted member of “The Bronx Zoo.”
Lyle first game to Boston in 1967, registered five saves and missed the World Series with a tender arm. In 1969 Lyle became closer for Boston and collected 53 saves the next three seasons before being traded for Danny Cater in a trade that became a legendary disaster.
In his first Bronx season, Lyle led the American League in Saves (35) and in 1977 became the first relief pitcher to win a Cy Young Award. The only redeeming feature of the trade was in his career Lyle was 5-11 against the Red Sox. After the 1978 season, Lyle was shipped to the Rangers, made the baseball rounds, and retired as a player after the 1982 season.
Lyle returned to baseball in the late 1990s, but not at the MLB level, but as a manager in independent baseball where he had noted success in the Atlantic League. I am still waiting for Sparky to be inducted into the Red Sox HOF.
The closer for the 1967 Red Sox team on which Lyle first surfaced was righty John Wyatt. Wyatt was already an accomplished closer with Kansas City notching 72 saves over six seasons before hitting a downward trend in 1966. Wyatt (0-3, 5.32) at KC turned his season around (3-4, 3.14) and was set to close for 1967.
Wyatt was the late-inning bullpen glue with 20 saves, ten wins, and a 2.60 ERA. Wyatt could frustrate with a career 4.5 BB/9, but for that one season, Wyatt carried the load.
In 1968 Wyatt became the odd man out as Lee Stange and Lyle took over the bullpen. Wyatt was sold to the Yankees during the 1968 season and by 1969 was out of baseball. Wyatt passed away in 1998 at age 62, but not after having significant success as a real estate developer in KC.
A great baseball name is Dick Drago and the righty was the bullpen leader for the 1975 Red Sox with 15 saves. In his early career, Drago was a starter winning 17 games one season for Kansas City. Traded to Boston for the 1974 season Drago assumed a dual role as a starter and out of the bullpen before taking over for closer in 1975.
Prior to the 1976 season Drago was traded to California, but return to Boston for three seasons (1978-80) where Drago spot started and gathered in 23 saves. After one year in Seattle Drago retired. Post career was not kind to Drago who was arrested in Florida in 1992 and returned to Massachusetts over child support issues. Drago provided necessary documentation and was released.
Sources: SABR, Bronx Zoo