Wednesday, September 26, 2012

#437 - Jim Lyttle

This card always intrigued me a bit as a kid because the “b/e” part of the Expos insignia on Jim Lyttle’s helmet looked like it was glowing. I also liked this shot, which I’m guessing is from Candlestick, because Jim looks moderately pissed, like he just passed on a really good pitch. He’s very tense, judging from his jaw and that vein in his neck. Plus he really likes the pine tar. ’73 was a pretty typical year for Jim, who moved around a lot during his career. He spent the first half of it with Kansas City, where he hit .300 with eleven homers and 45 RBI’s in Triple A before getting sold that July to Montreal after Tim Foli broke his jaw. There were thoughts of using Jim as a middle infielder – he played second base in high school – but instead he filled a gap in center where his excellent defense and pretty decent power got him a bunch of starts down the stretch. It was the most playing time he had since his rookie year of ’70 and would remain so for a few years. So he looks a bit frustrated here, but not as much as he would a couple years down the road.

Jim Lyttle was born in Hamilton, Ohio and relocated to Indiana as a kid where in high school he was a basketball star. He then went to Florida State on a hoops scholarship and his sophomore year was the team’s starting point guard with a 12.4 ppg average. He then played ball, moving to center, and set school records with his .324, 13 homer, and 51 RBI season, earning All-American honors. Following that '66 season he was selected by the Yankees in the first round of that spring’s draft. He had a slow start in A ball that summer but pushed his average up 54 points to .274 at that level in ’67 with some decent speed. In ’68 he moved up to Triple A where he hit only .234 but he bettered that significantly the next year where he hit .313 with seven homers and a .367 OBA in half a season that got him a late look in NY.

Lyttle spent all of 1970 up top where he and Ron Woods – a future Expos teammate – backed up Curt Blefary in right field. Jim missed a bunch of the season after his appendix burst but he still managed to hit .310 and looked good in the field. In ’71 the Yankees acquired Felipe Alou to replace Blefary and with Bobby Murcer establishing himself in center, Jim was relegated to a late defensive and pinch hitting role. After that season he went to the White Sox for pitcher Rich Hinton and had a tough go of it in ’72. He spent most of it in Triple A where he hit .270 but had an unusually large amount of errors. In his few games up top he reprised his ’71 role for Chicago and though he raised his average, recorded 28 strikeouts in his 82 at bats. He then went to KC for outfielder Joe Keough. He began ’74 in Montreal but was almost never used and in May was sold to the Mets, where he again played in Triple A but saw his average move south nearly 100 points from his ’73 one at that level. He then did a repeat, first returning to the ChiSox where he put up excellent numbers in Triple A in ’75 - .311 with a .386 OBA – and in mid-season returned to Montreal where he did much better in the pinch, hitting .273 with a .406 OBA. ’76 was more of the same with the Expos with time in Triple A and up top and in August he went to LA after being released where he finished his career in the US. Jim hit .248 with nine homers and 70 RBI’s in 710 career at bats.In the minors he was a .267 hitter.

Lyttle was a busy boy after his career in the US ended. In ’77 he went to play in Japan where he put in six years with Hiroshima, winning their World Series in ’79 and ’80, the latter year being named Series MVP. He had his best season there in ’81 when he hit .318 with 33 homers and 100 RBI’s. For most of his time with the Carp Adrian Garrett was the other US-born player. He finished things up there in ’83 with Nankai in ’83 and put up a total of 166 homers during his career there. He had moved to Boca Raton in ’71 and had completed his degree at FSU by ’76 and when he returned full-time in ’84 was inducted into the university’s hall of fame. The prior two off-seasons he was the JV basketball coach at Boca Academy and in ’84 took over that role for the varsity team. The following spring he took over as head coach of the local American Legion team after the former coach pulled a Ron Artest and got into a fight with some people in the stands. In the meantime he had begun his own nursery wholesale and landscaping business. In ’87 he began a two-year stint as head coach of the Flynn University baseball team and from ’98 to 2002 he was the hitting coach for Florida Atlantic University. He had to leave both gigs because his nursery business took up too much of his time. He continues to run a farm in the Boca area.

This is Jim’s final card – except for a pretty funny looking Japanese one in ’79 – and Topps can’t seem to fill it up. Not too surprisingly most of the back facts regard his defense.

These guys both moved around a bunch but didn’t play together:

1. Lyttle and John Ellis – they shared a ’70 rookie card – ’69 to ’71 Yankees;
2. Ellis and Don Hood ’75 Indians.

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