Andy Messersmith, whose test of baseball's reserve clause led to free-agency rights for himself and countless major leaguers in his wake, got the Bronx ax yesterday - released by the Yankees. Nothing's gone right for Smitty since he took the Atlanta money and ran from California (Where he was a 20-games winner for Dodgers and, before that, Angels). Injuries wrecked his Brave 76-77 seasons and limited him to five appearances (0.3) with New York this year after the Yanks bought him for $100,000. Oh, the Yanks P.S.d in letting him go - if the old right arm feels better, come on down to spring training - as a free agent.
Sparky Lyle, the Yankee toast of '77, ghost of '78 already disposed disposed of in trade to Texas last week, gathered the media in Big Appleville yesterday - to plug a book he's coming out with in spring: "The Bronx Zoo."
And, added Lyle: "I really got upset when they gave Messersmith all that money to sign and they didn't even know if he could throw. I mentioned that to them and they just told me to, 'Buzz off."
Deaths: Dick Chapman, 67, winner of the U.S. Amateur in 1940. British Amateur in 1951 in an illustrious golf career (joining the family stock brokerage, he never turned pro) including 19 Masters and five Walker Cup appearances. Died at home in Rancho Santa Fe. Calif . . . Erie the Red (Hansen), noted pro wrestler: just arrived in Tampa from a match in Miami, he alit from a stalled car and was struck by another vehicle . . . France Laux, 80, who broadcast St. Louis Cardinals and browns baseball for most of 30 years with KMOX; died in a St. Louis-area nursing home.
Pete Rose, if the Reds' tour of Japan is his last hurrah in Cincinnati apparel, is going out in accustomed style: hit safely yesterday in his 14th consecutive game; three to go on the trip. And Johnny Bench hit his eighth homer over there as Reds beat Yomiuri Giants, 3-2, for ninth straight win.