Skip to comments.A Roar for Sparky
Posted on 11/03/2010 12:23:55 PM PDT by BluesDuke
The nearest I ever got to Sparky Anderson in person was four years ago. At a funeral. I'm not even close to making this one up.
Larry Sherry, the 1959 World Series MVP for the Los Angeles Dodgers (Anderson was once a minor league infielder in the Dodger organisation, before spending a miserable season as a good-glove-bad-bat Philadelphia Phillies infielder), had died after a long bout with cancer. I wrote a pleasant little tributary to the old righthander and, within hours of its publication, I received a pleasant communique from Sherry's son-in-law.
He thanked me for the kind words and a couple of stories he hadn't known to have involved his father-in-law, and asked me to attend the funeral to be held just a few miles down from my then southern California home. For that kindness I accepted the invitation.
A number of baseball people were present, including Anderson. He looked his age at last; for years it was said that the white-topped, craggily lean-faced Anderson looked about thrice his age. He moved that day with a kind of becalmed, measured steadiness. And, though it was extremely tempting to think about lingering after the service and attempting to talk, I thought better of it.
When the service concluded, I simply walked back out to my car and drove home. Now I wonder if I didn't make a mistake. It would have been worth an immeasurable amount to get even five minutes' conversation with Sparky Anderson.
Regular readers of this arterial (all five of you) know that I've jumped on just about any excuse to plug in a delicious Anderson quote, understanding that singling out one delicious Anderson quote is something along the line of trying to hit Sandy Koufax with a plastic bat: We try every way we can do to kill this game, but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it.
Not quite so. A worsening case of dementia has hurt the game by robbing us of Anderson. He has been placed into California hospice care by his family. Something something did suddenly hurts the game which is so much less ennobled when Anderson cannot be part of it, even as a mere presence.
He has been more than the first man to manage teams in each major league to World Series triumphs. Anderson has been a kind of punctuator to baseball's doings and undoings. Like Casey Stengel before him, Anderson was a genius at turning a language mangle into a sage precept.
Consider what he said of Stengel himself. "Casey knew his baseball. He only made it look like he was fooling around. He knew every move that was ever invented and some that we haven't even caught onto yet."
Anderson didn't get anywhere near to that singular schpritz of triple talk known as Stengelese, but he didn't have to. Mastering the double negative, inverting a malaprop, and removing the non from the sequitur were quite enough for him. Imagine if he'd had to manage Yogi Berra, or if Yogi was one of his coaches.
Even his praise could inspire quips in return. "I told Sparky he had to quit saying that," Johnny Bench once said, of Anderson's habit of saying God touched his mother and said He'd give her the best baseball player that ever lived. "Besides, I couldn't afford to keep giving him $100 every time he said it."
On the other hand, it isn't recorded what Willie Stargell replied if and when he was told of this Anderson observation: "He's got enough power to hit home runs in any park. Including Yellowstone."
His criticism could be just as deadly. Once upon a time, he changed his mind about the designated hitter, which he loathed for long enough. "Instead of being bad," he said. "It stinks."
Once upon a time, at the height of his tenure managing the Cincinnati Reds, he was handed a gift thanks to the clumsiness of the New York Mets' front office, which traded their marquee future Hall of Fame pitcher rather than let him dare to think of not just more money for himself on his next contract but more money invested in the club itself.
"My idea of managing," he said, "is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work."
Anderson knew the place of the past rather well. "I've got my faults," he once said, "but living in the past is not one of them. There's no future in it." About his own past, he was just as eloquent: "The great thing about baseball is, when you're done, you'll only tell your grandchildren about the good things. If they ask me about 1989 [his Detroit Tigers finished dead last in the American League East, thirty games out of first place], I'll tell them I had amnesia."
On the other hand, even Anderson wasn't above contradiction. The man who once said players "have only two things to do---play and keep their mouths shut" also said that, if you have good players and keep them in the right frame of mine, "the manager is a success."
Still, he couldn't help being piqued by some of his players' idiosyncrasies. "I don't know why the players make such a fuss about sitting in the first class section of the plane. Does that mean they'll get there faster?"
Some of Anderson's teams equaled a first class section. He managed two Big Red Machine teams to back-to-back World Series triumphs (1975, 1975); he recobbled the Tigers into the 1984 World Series champions and retired as the most victorious manager in Tigers' history. He managed the Tigers far enough longer than he managed the Reds, yet he chose to go into the Hall of Fame with a Reds cap on his plaque portrait because the Reds gave him his major league chance managing chance in the first place.
Yet he maintained slightly closer ties ties to the Tigers' home region, whose baseball team he managed to glorious highs and grotesque lows alike---his Michigan-based CATCH organisation, helping sick and at-risk children, has raised millions for area hospitals.
Ask him how to build a championship team and here's what you'd get: "Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts. I'll win a pennant every year." Ask him the key ingredient, and you were liable to get: "You give us the pitching some of these clubs have, and no one could touch us. But God has a way of not arranging that, because it's not as much fun."
Ask his players what his greatest gift was and they just might tell you it was his ability to return the manager's chair into the center of attention and entertainment enough to keep the heat away from their hides when things went bad and got worse from there.
One of those players is now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and another is now that manager's bench coach.
"He lives within me every day," Kirk Gibson said upon the news of Anderson's hospice. "There is more Sparky in me than anyone that I was touched by in the game. He knows that I'm going to stand up for what he taught us all. I do. Trust me.
"Sparky taught us the scoreboard is like a painting," Gibson continued. "When an artist is painting a picture, it changes every time his brush crosses the canvas. The scoreboard is like a painting. It's always changing. It tells you what to do as a player, as a manager, and as a human being. Sparky taught us to play the game, how to respect the game, and how to treat people. When I first came up, trust me, I needed a lot of lessons."
So did Anderson, as he never tired of telling on himself. As a fresh minor league manager, age thirty, he had a run-in with an umpire. The umpire bumped Anderson, prompting Anderson to grab his shirt to wrestle him to the ground, something thwarted when his players hustled out to pull him off. Anderson spent the night thinking his season, and probably his managing career, were over before they began.
The next day, Anderson was hailed softly---by that umpire. As Anderson quoted him, "I didn't mean to bump you. And I won't deny that I did. But here's what we're gonna do. You got run for bad language. That's the truth of it, and that's how I'm going to report it. Everything else came after I bumped you. You don't deserve a long suspension and I'm not going to report it in such a way that you get one."
"He saved my career," Anderson said gratefully.
We try every way we can do to kill this game, but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it.
An insidious robbery of cognitive ability is making sure things go bad and will get worse from there for George Lee Anderson. People used to roar in approval just seeing him bring the lineup card out to the home plate umpire. Right about now, he could use as much help as possible in keeping the heat away from his hide. And, his singular mind, whatever this insidious theft will allow him to save.
A roar of approval would not be inappropriate.
He wrote a river?
Forgot to add ;) . Yes, I know of the secondary meaning.
Thanks for posting, good read. My late dad loved Sparky.
I did. Rhetorically speaking, of course.
We’re even. I forgot the wink, too. ;)
A nice article about a nice man. Shook his hand after a game in 1985 at the Humphrey Dome (a win, early in the season).
Asked my kids for an “Olde English D” tire cover for my spare at Christmas. I’ll die a Tiger fan.
George and Ernie have gone, Sparky’s fading now. Think I’ll head home and have a beer for each.
Sparky was a true gentleman. In Cincinnati in those days, he got the knickname “Captian Hook” because he would not hesitate to go to his bullpen. Spary had an uncanny ability to ssense just when the other team was mounting a rally. That’s when he would bring in one hammer after another. He was a lot more savvy than he ever let on. Also part of his charm.
Great article. I enjoyed it and God bless and keep Sparkey and his loved ones through the final inning.
Prayers up for Sparky and this from a Red Sox fan who remembers the 1975 Series very well.
If you would like to be added or dropped from the Michigan ping list, please freepmail me.
"There is nothing in this world that you will ever do that's better than helping a child." Sparky Anderson.
Sparky's CATCH charity has helped many kids at Children's and Henry Ford.
I actually met Sparky once at a luncheon--maybe it was for CATCH, or when he wrote his book. I have to go now, I'm crying....
Sparky was indeed a gentleman and a very class act. Too bad they had to mention Gibson, Sparky managed a lot of better "people" in Detroit than that jerk.......Trammel, Whitaker........
But Bouton got a start against Anderson's still-contending Reds and pitched strongly enough, though he lost. After the game, Anderson said, "We got two runs off him that we weren't supposed to get." Remembered Bouton, writing about the game in an update to Ball Four, "Sparky Anderson is a gentleman."
Indeed, BluesDuke. Thanks for the story, and thanks again for posting this.
Still the only manager to win the World Series in both leagues. And a good guy. My favorite quote is “hitting is practically a useless art.” Thanks grellis.
My favorite [Sparky Anderson] quote is hitting is practically a useless art.And, considering his batting record with the 1959 Phillies (.218 batting average, .282 on-base percentage, .249 slugging percentage, though he did have 477 at-bats and 104 hits and was a tough man to strike out---he seems to have made lots of contact finding lots of gloves), he was certainly in position to know! ;)
Well written, my friend.
Left me a mite misty eyed...
Nice tribute. I was sorry to hear the news about Sparky. I had a family member pass away this year from dementia. Its hard on the family. Recently I read a book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds called The Machine. The writer must have talked alot to Sparky Anderson for the book because he quotes Sparky alot. Its great we got to hear Sparky alot in that book. Best wishes to him and his family and friends.
Sad News today Cletus, Sparky has passed. I miss those old days, not many of the great ones left. Where is Al Ackerman when you need him: ‘Bless You Sparky!!!!!”.
BTW Great comment, I agree completely. A lot has changed in my life over the years. But there will always be one constant, I also will die a Tiger Fan!!!
Thanks. I heard earlier but couldn’t post...my screen was all blurry.
Hits me hard especially. My mom is 77 and is moving to assisted living in the spring. A Cincinnati blog quoted Johnny Bench saying that Sparky had stopped eating and the family declined to tube feed him. My mom occasionally forgets to eat, too. She has home care now so they “catch her up” on meals.
I was sorry to hear the news about Sparky. I had a family member pass away this year from dementia. Its hard on the family.It was likewise hard on mine, when it robbed us of my paternal grandmother.