From the FOXSports news desk, I learned tonight of the death of George Lee “Sparky” Anderson, one of the greatest managers in Major League baseball history. Hospitalized on Wednesday in a Thousand Oaks hospice unit when the dementia from which he was suffering caused complications, Sparky Anderson died on November 4, 2010, at the age of 76. There will be no services to usher out this great man. His requests for no post-mortem accolades will be honored. But may Sparky Anderson forgive the many fans who wish to remember him in articles like this one.
I was a college freshman when the 1976 championship games rolled around. They had won the World Series in 1975 but I had not watched the games. In 1976, the Cincinnati Reds won 102 games and lost 60, earning a place in the National League division playoffs. I watched each game the Big Red Machine played against their opponents, the Philadelphia Phillies. Sparky Anderson was the manager. He was directing the plays of one of the greatest lineups of talent the game had known. Names like Davey Concepcion, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, to mention half of the opening roster, became familiar to me by the third and final game against the Phillies.
The Big Red Machine’s American League opponents in the World Series matchup was the New York Yankees. They had defeated the Kansas City Royals in five games to win their Division title. Some people thought the Reds, having played only three games to the Yankees’s five games, were better rested. I remember thinking during the game Billy Martin, the feisty Yankees manager, made Sparky Anderson seem docile in comparison. (I did not know until listening to this interview and reading about his early managing career in the minor leagues that Sparky Anderson had a temper. Note: this video contains foul language.) The Cincinnati Reds won four games in a row and sent the Yankees back to hope next year would be their year. The Reds had also become the first major league team since 1921 and 1922 to win two consecutive World Series titles.
Sparky Anderson managed the Big Red Machine from 1969 to 1978, when he was fired from his position by Dick Wagner, general manager of the Reds for only a year. I remember wondering why at the time and thinking the new general manager had made a big mistake.
The temporary repite in his managing career was not to last. In spring 1979, Sparky Anderson moved on to become the manager of the American League Detroit Tigers. In 1984, the Detroit Tigers, in a repeat of the 1976 Reds-Phillies match, defeated the Kansas City Royals to win the American League Division title. He managed the team in their World Series victory in five games against the San Diego Padres. He never received a manager of the year award until he managed the Detroit Tigers. Then he won it twice, once in 1984 and again in 1987 after the Detroit Tigers won the American League Division title. Sparky Anderson managed the Detroit Tigers for seventeen years until his retirement in 1995.
The Veteran’s Committee of the Hall of Fame chose to induct Sparky Anderson into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. According to FOXSports, Sparky Anderson downplayed his record as a manager in his acceptance speech. He claimed he needed only to allow the talents of his players to win the games while he hung around. Until 2000, he did not visit the Cooperstown Hall of Fame because he believed he had not earned that right.
In May 1982, the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins engaged in one of the biggest onfield brawls in major league baseball history during the eleventh inning. This interview, comments about the fight, shows the Sparky Anderson I remember, a manager who stood up for his players and loved the game.
http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/history/timeline.jsp Cincinnati Reds History
http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/postseason/mlb_lcs.jsp Major League Baseball Division Playoffs and World Series Statistics
http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/andersp01.shtml Sparky Anderson as Manager
http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/Hall-of-Fame-manager-Sparky-Anderson-dies-at-76-110410/?GT1=39002 Death Notice