For all his success, Anderson preferred to leave the accolades to his players.
“There’s two kind of manager,” he said when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2000. “One, it ain’t very smart. He gets bad players, loses games and gets fired. There was somebody like me that I was a genius. I got good players, stayed out of the way, let ’em win a lot, and then just hung around for 26 years.” (Richard Goldstein, "Ex-manager Sparky Anderson Dies," The New York Times, November 4 2010)
Sparky Anderson experienced tremendous success in Cincinnati with the Big Red Machine. Much has been written about talented team and their tremendous manager in this era. Still, time moves along and some criticized the Reds second place finish in the National League West to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977 and ’78. Dick Wagner, concluding his first year as general manager after taking over from Howsam, fired Anderson in November 1978.
Anderson became the Detroit Tigers’ manager in June 1979 and built on a sound group that included Alan Trammell at shortstop, Lou Whitaker at second base, Kirk Gibson in the outfield and Jack Morris on the pitching staff. The 1984 Tigers started the season 35-5 on their way to a World Series championship.
“I wanted to prove the Reds wrong for firing me,” Anderson said in his memoir They Call Me Sparky, written with Dan Ewald (1998). “When the Tigers won in ’84, I finally felt vindicated. It wasn’t until years after that, though, before I released all the bitterness I should never have allowed to creep into my mind in the first place.” (Richard Goldstein, "Ex-manager Sparky Anderson Dies," The New York Times, November 4 2010)
In 1995, club owners brought in replacement players to take the spots of striking major leaguers. Sparky Anderson was the only manager who refused to take them on, citing the integrity of the game.He went on unpaid leave, then returned when the regular players came back before the delayed opening of the season. After the Tigers finished fourth in the American League East in 1995, Anderson resigned amid speculation that he would be fired.
Who Was the Manager As a Man?
Everybody who ever met Sparky has a Sparky story, because he was congenitally kind. Sparky would dispute the congenital part. He says he learned it from his father growing up in Bridgewater, S.D. Anderson was comfortable with fame. It just never changed him. He was also easy with crediting everyone else, a trait that served the Reds well during their star-filled run. “He had everyone’s respect, but he had to earn it, and he did,’’ Johnny Bench recalled Wednesday. (Paul Daugherty, "Sparky Anderson, Thanks For the Memories," news.cincinnati.com, November 4 2010) Sparky was gregarious, loving, and well-loved.
Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press remembered Sparky on November 5, 2010, in his article "Losing Sparky Like Losing Family." Albom said:
"A mold has been forever shattered. Fans of a certain generation need only hear the word "Sparky" and they'll know what just passed. And kids, well, it may be hard to explain. Anderson didn't belong to today's fantasy league/money ball/analytics world of baseball. He was born to manage it. Not study it. Not even play it. (He was a pretty lousy player.) Manage it. He got the game. He felt it. He gripped the clubhouse the way Ruth or DiMaggio gripped a bat. He played hunches, pulled pitchers, tinkered lineups. He lived the game's lore until he became part of it. Baseball wasn't a diamond to Sparky, it was a planet. His home.