November 4, 2010, - 3:02 pm
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE ****
Sad news in the world of sports, today. George “Sparky” Anderson, one of my favorite baseball personalities, died today. The guy was a gentleman, a character, and a born leader. He wasn’t just outspoken, he had the baseball chops and achievements to back it up, as one of the most successful manager/coaches in baseball history. (He also played the game as a pro baseball player in the 1950s.) But he also raised a lot of money for charity, with his annual CATCH golf outings. As you can see from the video, below, he was loved like a father by his players.
Growing up as a kid in Detroit, who didn’t know the name, Sparky Anderson? The cool, charismatic manager of the Detroit Tigers led the team to a World Series in the mid-’80s, when the Tigers Revolution paralleled the Reagan Revolution. Detroit, like the rest of the country, had come out of the Jimmy Carter malaise days, and Anderson led the excitement by winning it all for Detroit’s baseball team in 1984. It was truly a reawakening and a time of pride for a city that was so bad off economically then (and is again, now). Flashy personalities, like Kirk Gibson, never outflanked the classy, outspoken Sparky. I’ll never forget seeing Sparky blow his trademark giant bubble gum bubbles on the field, seen below in the video for “Bless You Boys,” the Tigers anthem during the ’84 season. He was a disciplinarian and the boss. And I loved watching his heated arguments with the umpire.
Back in those days, my late father would take us to Detroit Tigers games, sometimes, on a Sunday. And we saw Sparky in action. That was in the old days when Tigers Stadium–not Taxpayer Park (a/k/a Comerica Park)–was the team’s home. It was another era, before taxpayers funded gargantuan, palatial stadiums for the billionaires who own teams and the millionaires who play on them. Heck, in those days, Anderson and his players had contracts worth a few hundred thousand dollars a year, not multi-millions. Although I’ve never been a big baseball fan, Sparky made the game exciting without engaging in the criminal or immoral. He insisted that his players behave, and he loved the working-class men who made Detroit’s cars and whose ticket purchases paid his salary.
Anderson was a man of principle, walking out and refusing to coach replacement players during the baseball strike in 1994. He lost $150,000 in salary with that move. Who would do that today? And in those days, $150K was a lot more money. Regardless of how you feel about overpaid pro athletes going on strike, Anderson was loyal and stuck to his guns. That’s uncommon in today’s pro sports world, where players are mercenaries and coaches and general managers are, too.
Sparky Anderson coached greats like Pete Rose with the Cincinnati Reds and Lou Whitaker with the Tigers. He led both teams to World Series championships and was inducted into the pro Baseball Hall of Fame.
Earlier this week, Anderson was put in hospice care after being diagnosed with dementia. So, I’m glad he didn’t die a slow, painful death.
Sparky Anderson was one of the few mensches left in the sports world, and he will be missed by so many, including me. He was great for baseball, great for sports, and great for America. Now, he is gone, along with the Detroit stadium on Trumbull that he brought to life.
Sparky Anderson, Rest in Peace. Bless You, Boy.
**** UPDATE: Reader Brian Lewis writes:
Thanks for your post on Sparky Anderson. It’s refreshing to read such a positive article about someone from the world of sports.
I lived in Cincinnati from 1960 through 1971; I got to see the early part of Sparky’s leadership there. He got the Reds to the World Series 4 times in his 9 seasons.
Rest in peace, Sparky.
Tags: 1994, baseball, Bless You Boys, catch, Charity, Cincinnati Reds, Class Act, Cool, Detroit Tigers, George "Sparky" Anderson, George Anderson, Hall of Fame, Major League Baseball, outspoken, replacement players, RIP, Sparky Anderson, Strike, video, World Series, World Series championships, World Series wins