Former Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers manager George Lee “Sparky” Anderson passed away today at the age of 76due to complications resulting from dementia.
Sparky started out in baseball in 1953 by signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers. After several years of bouncing around the minors, Sparky finally made an appearance in the Major Leagues in 1959 where he hit .218 with 0 home runs and 34 RBIs. Anderson would never step foot on a Major League diamond again as a player, he was relegated back to Triple AAA where he spent the final 4 seasons of his playing career playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League.
In 1964, because of the urging of former Maple Leafs owner Jack Kent Cooke (Cooke also owned the Lakers, Redskins and LA Kings), Sparky Anderson made his debut as a manager for the same Maple Leaf team he had just finished playing for the previous season. Anderson bounced around between the Dodgers, Reds, Padres, and Angels farm system before finally becoming the Cincinnati Reds manager in 1969. Anderson went on to manage the Reds from 1969 until 1979. During that time he managed one of the most famous “dynasties” in baseball history known as “The Big Red Machine” with future hall of famers Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan along with all-time hits leader Pete Rose.
Most of us remember Sparky from his time as manager of the Detroit Tigers where he lead the team to a World Series title in 1984. Sparky will always be remembered for his penchant for pulling his starting pitchers at the first sign of fatigue, and for being one of the first managers to ever play situational matchups by bringing in a left handed pitcher to face a left handed batter and vice versa. He is the only manager to lead 2 baseball franchises in all-time wins.
Sparky was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
To me, Sparky Anderson is what I envision to be the perfect manager. He taught his players how to play the game the right way, how to be off the field, and to always respect the game. What I’ll always remember is the 1984 World Series where the Tigers were playing the San Diego Padres. Game 5 when Kurt Gibson, who had hit a homerun earlier in the game, came up to bat against dominating closer Goose Gossage and it’s been reported that Gibson flashed 10 fingers to Anderson to signal he would be $10 that Gossage would pitch to him because of Gibson’s lackluster numbers against Gossage in his career. As the video replay shows, you can hear Anderson saying “he don’t wanna pitch to you” in the dugout followed by a deep homerun into the right field stands and the image of Anderson trying to celebrate and throw sunflower seeds in his mouth at the same time…
It’s been a rough year for Detroit sports fans as arguably the 2 most notable figures in Detroit sports history have passed away. Now’s a time for reflection and to thank Sparky for the memories he left us, that we’ll always be able to carry with us through the generations. Sure the Tigers weren’t the best teams during his tenure as manager, but he was always one of the most respected managers to ever manage the game. RIP Sparky.