Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sparky Anderson 1934-2010

When Sparky Anderson was 30 he looked 75. And now that he’s passed away at 76 I still think of him as 30. No one had more energy than George "Sparky" Anderson. Even the last time I spoke to him, which was only a few months ago at Dodger Stadium, he still had that twinkle. The sharpness wasn’t there but the enthusiasm was. He came out when the Tigers were in town. The above picture is one I took. How often do you see three Hall-of-Fame managers (Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, and Sparky) together?

It was the first time I had seen Sparky in years. He looked the same. Of course, he always looked the same. He circulated, greeting people and shaking hands. Judging by the respect and affection everyone had for him, you’d think the Pope was hanging around the batting cage.

Later he was up in the press dining room regaling scouts and long time cronies with stories. There was much laughter. That signature Sparky grin was ear-to-ear. I wondered why he didn’t come out more often. He got to be beloved and see a game. Not a bad way to spend a summer’s day. I must say, I never thought of his appearance as a farewell tour.

I’ve known him for almost twenty years, since I started broadcasting for the Orioles and he was managing the Tigers. Sparky and MASH producer, Burt Metcalfe, went to high school together at Dorsey High in Los Angeles. Whenever Sparky saw me down through the years, the first thing he always said was give Burt his best. This summer at Dodger Stadium was the first time he didn’t. I figured something wasn’t right.

Sparky gave the best interviews. The English was fractured but his answers were refreshingly candid and straight-forward. Once, when I was with the Mariners I asked how he planned to handle Ken Griffey Jr. and he went on for five minutes about "that kid is not going to beat me.  I don't care if I have to walk him nine times.  I don't care if everyone else in that line up hits a home run.  That so-and-so is not going to beat me!"  He was a throwback – back to the days when managers were colorful and made decisions based on gut, not Sabremetrics. The passion and joy he had for the game was infectious.

He was the Casey Stengel of my generation.

Will I miss him? Will baseball miss him? To use his favorite expression: “No doubt about it!”

Thanks for all the great years, Sparky.  And that's from a Dodger fan.

20 comments:

cadavra said...

As an Ohio boy, the Reds were (and are) always my team. I was so blessed to live in Cincinnati during the glory days of TBRM. There truly will never be another like him, and the world is an even sadder place today.

Heidi Germanaus said...

Sparky and Ernie, just months apart. Detroit just got suckier...somehow.

Mike McCann said...

Thanks for a wonderful reminiscence of Sparky. You're so right about his Stengel-esque persona. His unfiltered comments came from the heart, not a spinmeister. I only met him once, at Lakeland where I interviewed him in Spring Training before the '86 season. It was clear he loved the game, loved what he was doing and would do it until they cut the uniform off him. Baseball needs a lot more people just like him.

Anonymous said...

One of the greats. How could you go wrong with a guy named "Sparky"?

John Leader said...

Great baseball guy. Always fun to listen to no matter what he was talking about. God bless Sparky Anderson.

Gary said...

Kenny, I vaguely recall that event in Seattle, the Tigers wouldn't pitch to Griffey. But eventually, one of their pitchers mistakenly got one in the strike zone and the Kid launched it - then gave Sparky the finger as he completed his home run trot, a thoroughly non-Griffey thing to do. He eventually apologized for it and I'm sure Sparky accepted. He was a great mgr. and a terrific human being.

Michael said...

I read that in each spring training with the Reds, Sparky would have a meeting and say something like this: "Managers always claim they have one set of rules. This team includes Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench. They are all Hall of Famers. They have their own rules. Prove to me you're a Hall of Famer and you'll get your own rules, too." Brilliant.

From 1979 to 1982, Sparky did color for the World Series on CBS Radio with Vin Scully. What a team they were to listen to! Shakespearean elegance and ain't, all in one place!

Rose said...

Sparky Anderson was a part of my childhood, growing up in Cincinnati watching the Big Red Machine. I remember being stunned when they fired him. I played softball throughout my grade school and high school days and could never understand how the Reds' front office could let such a valuable and beloved manager go. There were many heartbroken fans in Cincy after he left. He was truly one of a kind and will never be forgotten!

I hope he enjoys all the games on the Other Side.

Charles H. Bryan said...

One of the good things about living in Michigan was getting to spend many summers watching and listening to the Tigers while Sparky was the manager, but I'll remember him most for stating in an interview words along the lines of "It doesn't cost anybody anything to be polite."

There just aren't enough Sparkys these days.

The Milner Coupe said...

Thank you for this post. Not a shock to lose him now, but very sad. Aloha

Dan Serafini said...

Another instance where the MLB Network is a godsend. They did a good half hour on the guy and hopefully, will show some '84 Tigers and '75-'76 Reds games in the near future.

He also was in a great WKRP episode.

Roger Owen Green said...

A World Series winner with both the Reds and the Tigers. Who else has won the WS in both leagues?
I particularly loved the Detroit win, because I just didn't see it coming; it wasn't like the the Big Red Machine with several likely Hall of Famers.

David said...

Roger, Tony LaRussa won the WS with the A's in '89 and the Cardinals in '06.

Sparky was one of a kind -- a simply wonderful kind. I remember when he got older and asked the press to start calling him by his given name, George. It didn't stick, of course: he was Sparky, through and through.

Brad Olson said...

...Sparky was pretty funny on the episode of WKRP he did, also... wish it was on YouTube

Phillip B said...

Sparky quoted by Steve Rushin in SI -

"I truly don't know the language," Sparky once told me. "I wish I could know the difference between a noun and a pronoun and an adverb and a verb, but I don't know, and you know, I don't wanna know. Why do you have to know English? It's like 'two'. There's three 'twos'! There's tee-oh, there's tee-double-ya-oh, and there's tee-double-oh! Three twos! Now, if I put any one of those down in a letter, you know which one it is I'm talkin' about. It's like 'there' and 'their.' What's the difference, as long as you know there's a there there."

benson said...

Heidi beat me to it, but it's been a tough year for Tiger and baseball fans. Two of the nicest men.

Aaron said...

Great post and BRILLIANT photo, Ken.

VP81955 said...

Great guy, and a real ambassador for baseball -- more so than Tom Lasorda, because he never laid it on thick. You will be missed, Sparky.

Anonymous said...

GREAT photo, Ken. It made my day.

Mike Barer said...

"The Casey Stengle of our generation",well said.