Baseball players are often remembered for a single great accomplishment. Don Larsen had a long and mediocre career, but he endures as The Guy Who Pitched a Perfect Game in a World Series. Joe DiMaggio, who has been everything from Mr. Coffee to Mr. Marilyn Monroe to the Yankee Clipper, remains The Guy Who Hit in 56 Consecutive Games. Roger Maris is The Guy Who Hit 61 Homers. Ted Williams is The Last Guy to Hit .400.
To this long and illustrious list the name of Steve Lyons may now be added. Some people know him as Psycho. Others call him Mr. Versatility. But when the final ballots are counted at the end of his career, Lyons will be remembered as The Guy Who Pulled His Pants Down.
Last week in Boston, Lyons was bantering with a couple seated behind the White Sox dugout who were trying to cajole him into procuring teammate Robin Ventura's autograph. Lyons cheerfully refused, then said, "Gotta go now," and trotted to take his turn in the batting cage.
"Who was that?" the woman in the stands asked her husband.
"Lyons," her husband replied. "The guy who pulled his pants down."
It happened in a flash the night of Monday, July 16. The White Sox were playing the Tigers in Detroit. Lyons, a utility infielder who was playing first base that night, bunted and dived headlong into first. Safe! signaled umpire Jim Evans. Tiger pitcher Dan Petry disagreed. They argued over the matter. Lyons, absorbed in the discussion, felt dirt trickling down the inside of his pants. It is a terrible, tickly feeling. So ... well, you've probably seen the tape on the news. Lyons pulled his pants down and casually brushed away the dirt. The argument stopped, and Lyons, apparently realizing his blunder, gave a world-class I-can't-believe-I-pulled-my-pants-down gape.
This partial, PG-13-rated disrobing struck some sort of chord with baseball fans everywhere, who must long for the daffy days of yore, when the likes of Jimmy Piersall slid into the plate after hitting a homer over the wall and owners like Bill Veeck sent midgets into games to pinch-hit. But in all the years of major league baseball, no one, it seems, had ever dropped his drawers on the field. Not Wally Moon. Not Blue Moon Odom. Not even Heinie Manush. Lyons was the first.
Players have pulled their pants down, or had them pulled down for them, in other sports. In hockey in the early '70s, Steve Durbano, a wild-man defenseman for the St. Louis Blues, mooned the opposing crowd after he was ejected from a game following a brawl. More recently, basketball's Chuck Nevitt, at the time a backup center for the Detroit Pistons, had his pants yanked down by teammate Bill Laimbeer during a pre-game shootaround. But the closest anyone in baseball had come to taking off his pants was when Spaceman Bill Lee reportedly shagged flies before a college game clad only in a jockstrap.
Which is why Lyons is now, and ever shall be, The Guy Who Pulled His Pants Down. He says it was unintentional, that he wasn't thinking about where he was or whether the television cameras were on him. "I may be off the wall, but I'm not stupid," he insists. And lest you get the wrong idea, it wasn't like he was suddenly bare-assed naked. Lyons was wearing clean sliding shorts under his pants, for which he thanks both his father, Dick—who taught him how to dress like a big league ballplayer when he was Steve's Little League coach back home in Eugene, Ore.—and his mother, Lillian. "She's the one," says Lyons, "who always told me to wear clean underwear in case something happened and I had to show them to strangers."
Among those who know Psycho best—teammates, ex-teammates, White Sox officials—there are some who think he might have dropped trou for, well, exposure. Lyons has, after all, a certain track record in this field. "I can't set career goals like other players," Lyons says. "I can't say, 'I'd like to get 150 hits this year,' because I don't play often enough. So my biggest goals this year are to appear on Late Night with David Letterman and on the cover of GQ."