Special Moments & Thoughts from Sparky Anderson

Former Detroit Tigers manager and Hall of Fame legend Sparky Anderson has passed away from complications caused by dementia.   He had been receiving hospice care at his home in Thousand Oaks, California.

How sad to think that we have lost Sparky at a relatively young age, especially since Tigers fans have lost George Kell, Mark Fidrych, Ernie Harwell, and Tiger Stadium in the past two years.

Of all the players and managers throughout the long history of the Tigers franchise, Anderson was certainly one of the most popular and fan/media friendly figures to wear the Old English D.

Ask any member of the media throughout the country and everyone will say what a treat it was to speak with him as Sparky philosophized about baseball and life with his often fractured English.

I had the pleasure of spending some time with him when I chaired a charity luncheon in the early nineties for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) of Michigan. Without fail, Sparky came out to every luncheon to lend his support.

I’ll never forget sitting at a meeting with him and about ten other people at Henry Ford Hospital. Everyone was asked to introduce themselves. (As if we didn’t know who he was.) As we said our name around the table, when it came to him he said, “I’m George Anderson.“ I understand he never really cared for the nickname “Sparky.” It’s as though it was simply his persona as a baseball celebrity, and that he really just saw himself as George from the streets of Los Angeles.

Years later I conducted a few phone interviews with him for stories I did in the Detroit Free Press. Two of many observations he gave me had the biggest impression.

When I asked him what he did the moment the Tigers won the 1984 World Series he said:

“Let me tell you something. I did not run out on the field. I went right into the locker room. You don’t show up the other manager who is hurting so much. Dick Williams was my friend. When I was managing the Reds and we won the Series against Boston, someone did a painting of the celebration on the field and I was in the picture. That was a lie because I was in the locker room. I would never show up the other guy. Today I can’t stand it to see everyone greeting each other in the middle of the field after they win a game. For what? Looking up to the sky? Jesus Christ. Evidently God loves the guy more who won than the guy who lost. Oh my God it’s ridiculous.”

We all know of Sparky’s accomplishments in baseball.

He won two world championships as manager of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine and after managing Detroit to the 1984 world championship he became the first manager in history to win world championships in both leagues. When he quit after the 1995 season, he was the third winningest manager in history behind Connie Mack and John J. McGraw.

However in November of 2008 when I asked him what he was most proud of from his years in baseball, he said it was his refusal to manage replacement players during the bitter 1994 strike.

There was still anger in his voice as he recalled being asked to manage replacement players.

“You always think will you have the courage when the biggest thing hits you, can you stand? Well [Mike] Ilitch didn’t like it. And who cares? I asked my wife, where are the other 29 [managers]? The game is more important than the dollar. Baseball made a complete farce of itself. If I had not had the courage to have done that, I feel I would have failed my whole career. That’s why I walked away from the game after ’95. I told my wife, if this is what the game has become, they don’t need me no more. Go get somebody else.”

Oh, one other thing Sparky said.

“My Daddy said ‘it will never cost you a dime son to be nice.’ I will never forget that. I was eleven years old and I will die with that because that means so much to me.”

What a treasure.

Our thoughts and prayers are with George Anderson and his family.

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.