Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson died Thursday at his home in California at the age of 76. He was a delightful character, a baseball legend and a special leader.
On the field, Anderson’s accomplishments were numerous in his 26 years with the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. He managed the fabled “Big Red Machine” to back-to-back Worlds Series wins in 1975 and 1976, and then won another Fall Classic with a juggernaut Detroit squad in 1984. Anderson was the first manager in baseball history to win the World Series in both leagues, and his 2,194 wins stand sixth all-time among managers. He totaled five Pennants and three World Series titles during his ultra-successful tenure.
While all of the numbers above explain the baseball legend, it was Anderson’s personality that made him so loved among his players and peers. He was a very modest man born in South Dakota during the Great Depression, and he never forgot that. In a business full of money of egos, he was not caught up in all of the fame and fortune. In my opinion, Anderson was the best kind of leader – fiery but compassionate. There was no doubt Sparky was the absolute boss on his teams, but he was still a gentleman at the same time.
Anderson was also was quite funny, often butchering the English language in a Casey Stengel-like manner. He would compare his young players to Hall of Famers and offer an array of aloof quotes on a regular basis. That being said, Anderson could relate to his players and did a marvelous job of teaching his youngsters how to be Major Leaguers. His personality won over his squads and many admirers around baseball, and the love they felt for Sparky was very evident after his passing:
Former Reds hit king Pete Rose
"He understood people better than anyone I ever met. His players loved him, he loved his players and he loved the game of baseball. There isn't another person in baseball like Sparky Anderson. He gave his whole life to the game."
Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline
"Sparky was one of the greatest people I've met in baseball. He was a leader to his players both on and off the field. He was an incredible person and I cherish the time I was able to spend with him."
Former Tigers slugger Kirk Gibson
"He had a great way about himself. Sometimes he was stern, sometimes he was very tough. Sometimes he did it with humor, and other times he did it with charm. When you mix it all together, he never lost you."
While Sparky Anderson may have left us, his baseball influence will definitely last for generations. Thirteen of his former players have gone on to manage in the Majors. Even three well-known general managers (Woody Woodward, Ken Williams and Billy Beane) briefly played for Sparky during their MLB careers. Anderson may also lead all managers in the number of his players whose sons (Ken Griffey Jr., Brian McRae, Eduardo Perez, Ed Sprague, Pedro Borbon, etc.) went on to make it in the bigs. His effect on so many in the game of baseball is undeniable.
There were so many memorable Sparky quotes, but the one that sticks out to me was a reflection on his life in 2006. It shows his humble nature and why so many people—and the game of baseball—will miss him greatly.
“I was so lucky that I almost at times … feel ashamed that you could be that lucky, all the things that happened for me”.