For long time Red Sox fans, the 1972 trade that brought Danny Cater to Fenway remains a nightmare memory. The Cater for Sparky Lyle transaction was one of those historically bad deals that not only significantly weakened Boston but dramatically strengthened their arch-rival, the New York Yankees. At the time, Boston was seeking to add some offensive punch to their lineup but I believe the real reason they pulled the trigger was that Eddie Kasko, the Red Sox manager at the time, did not like or get along with the outspoken Lyle. Former Boston pitcher, Bill Lee claims Lyle was shipped out because he had sat naked on Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s birthday cake, just one month before the deal went down. Whatever the reason, I will never understand why Boston could not come up with a better deal for Lyle than the one they made with New York.
I mean no disrespect to Cater, who was a solid big league hitter with an eight-season lifetime average in the .280s at the time the deal was made. He had come up with the Phillies in 1964, got dealt to the White Sox the following year before landing with the A’s in 1966, while that team was still based in Kansas City. He spent the next five years as their starting first baseman. He became a Yankee in 1970 in a trade that sent Al Downing to Oakland and had hit a surprising .301 during his first year in pinstripes. But he’d slumped to .276 in his second year in New York, and had never hit with power.
Lyle’s presence instantly solidified what had been a weak Yankee bullpen, and his absence decimated Boston’s late-inning pitching efficiency. During the next seven years, Sparky would save 141 games for New York, win 57 more, capture a Cy Young Award and help New York win two World Series. Meanwhile, Cater would eventually lose his job as Boston’s starting first baseman’s job to Yaz and become a part-time player for the Red Sox until he was traded to the Cardinals for somebody named Danny Godby after the 1974 season.