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Friday, November 5, 2010

Goodbye, Sparky. We Will Miss You.

Sparky Anderson died Thursday in complications resulting from dementia. He was 76. Anderson is the winningest Detroit Tigers manager with 1,331 victories. Sparky managed Cincinnati’s powerful Big Red Machine to baseball dominance in the 1970s.  He was also the first manager to win the World Series in both the National League (Cincinnati Reds) and the American League (Detroit Tigers). With 2,194 victories, he ranks sixth on the all-time list for managers.

All great accomplishments without a doubt. But, Sparky Anderson was much, much more to his players, his fans, and his acquaintances. He was the Main Spark.

George Lee Anderson was born February 22, 1934, in Bridgewater, South Dakota, where his father, LeRoy, painted farmhouses and silos. When he was 8, his family moved to Los Angeles, and he became a batboy for the University of Southern California teams teams coached by Rod Dedeaux, one of the best-known figures in college baseball.

Anderson played the infield for his high school team, then signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system in 1953. At Class Double-A Fort Worth in the Texas League in 1955 a radio announcer hung the nickname "Sparky" on him for his feisty play -- and it stuck. (Enquirer staff, "Sparky Anderson: Did You Know?" The Cincinnati Enquirer, November 4 2010)

Sparky was traded to the Phillies' organization, and in 1959 he made it to the major leagues as a 170-pound second baseman. He hit .218 with no home runs for the last-place Phillies team. After that, he fell back into the minors, where he played the infield once more and managed.

Deemed a good baseball man by those with whom he worked, Anderson became a coach for the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969. Then, in a move that shocked everyone, Bob Howsam, Reds' general manager, gave 35 year-old Anderson the Cincinnati managing job for 1970. Although Anderson was an unknown commodity to most, Howsam, while serving as St. Louis Cardinals' manager, had been impressed by his managing skills with their Rock Hill, South Carolina, farm team. (Richard Goldstein, "Ex-manager Sparky Anderson Dies," The New York Times, November 4 2010)

“Everybody knows the story about how the headline in the paper the day I was hired read, ‘Sparky Who?’ ” Anderson once told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Seemingly overnight, Sparky began to look like Casey Stengel, with his hair turning prematurely white and his craggy features. But, Anderson was also quick to prove his keen sense of strategy, his ability to deal with players as individuals, and his strong desire to win. Sparky became known as Captain Hook for removing his starting pitchers at the first signs of trouble; previewing the accepted wisdom of baseball today.

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,", 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.

"Sparky was no Kumbaya campfire skipper. He made his players shave. Dress in jackets and ties. To paraphrase Kipling, they all counted with him, but none too much. 

Kirk Gibson remembers a time Anderson called him into the office, yelling, 'Big Boy, come in here! ... You got something to say?' 

"And Gibson did. He ranted and raved for three minutes, uninterrupted, about playing time and usage. Finally, Sparky nodded and said, 'Are you done?' 

"'Yes,' Gibson said. 

"Sparky motioned to the door -- 'go on now, get out' -- and never added a word.

"'But I felt better,' Gibson recalled.

"And that was Sparky's touch."

Sparky on Sparky

John Erardi, Cincinnati Enquirer staff writer shares some of Anderson's wisdom with the readers in his article "Sparky Anderson on Baseball" November 4, 2010. This is Sparky in his own words:

"I’ve heard about 'the book.' Baseball by the book. I didn’t have a book, didn’t go by the book, never once in my life copied anybody. My attitude was, 'What if they’re wrong?' But some things I believed in...My eyes, that’s what I believed in. That’s what I went by. Leave your heart at home. Your heart’s for your family. I didn’t need no computer to tell me what my eyes were seein.'" 

"Captain Hook? Yeah, I used what I had. We weren’t blessed with the Dodgers’ starting pitching, but we had a really deep bullpen. People say I was ahead there, too, five years ahead of the league, you know, having more saves than complete games, but I didn’t do it because it was in some book. I did it because we didn’t have but a couple of guys who could go much past six innings."

 “I’ve seen people write and say, ‘Bob Howsam fired you,' or 'Dick Wagner (Howsam’s No. 2 man) fired you.’ No they didn’t. I fired myself. I was told to let three of my coaches go, and I wouldn’t do it. I’d brought them in, and I wasn’t going to take them out. They had no choice but to fire me. I wouldn’t do what they wanted.”

Main Spark Quotes

Here are a few memorable Sparky quotes for consideration:
His wife, Carol, told him to take grammar lessons when the Big Red Machine was a prime television attraction. His response, as cited by Major League Baseball’s Web site: “I told her it ain’t gonna help me. Or should I say, ‘It ain’t gonna help me none?’ ”  

“My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work.”

“Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.”

“Players have two things to do: Play and keep their mouths shut.”

“I can’t believe they pay us to play baseball – something we did for free as kids.”

“Me carrying a briefcase is like a hot dog wearing earrings.”
He also noted that "losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good."
Remembering Sparky Anderson
Paul Daugherty tells this of Sparky: "A few years ago, I did a book with Bench. We talked at length about Sparky. Bench said the Main Spark’s best attribute was his ability to manage people." From the book, Catch Every Ball:

Sparky took the time to know his players individually, so when he needed to motivate someone, he knew what made him tick.

Anderson would consult The Big Four (Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan) before recommending a trade to the general manager. If we didn’t like the player or didn’t believe he’d fit our team, we’d veto him. If there was a guy available we wouldn’t like to have dinner with, he wouldn’t be on our club.

Joe, Pete, Tony and I ruled the clubhouse. One spring, Sparky told the team, “I have one set of rules for you guys, and one set for them,” pointing to The Big Four. “Their rules are, they have no rules.”

“He relied on our information, but made the decisions,’’ said Bench. “And 99.9 percent of the time, he was right.’’ (Paul Daugherty, "Sparky Anderson, Thanks For the Memories,", November 4 2010)
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