Thursday, November 04, 2010
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.
By Ken Levine at 3:40 PM