November 4, 2010, - 3:02 pm

Sparky Anderson, RIP: Cool Baseball Giant, Rare Class Act

By Debbie Schlussel


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:

Debbie —

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.

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7 Responses

Sparky was the linchpin of the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. He moved Rose to 3rd base to get Foster’s bat in the lineup. A humble man, a class act–he will greatly missed here in Cincinnati.

Max A on November 4, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Very sad to hear about his passing.

Me2 on November 4, 2010 at 3:21 pm

RIP Sparky Anderson, and my prayers go out to his family, friends & relatives.

“A nation is identified by it’s borders, language & culture!”

Sean R. on November 4, 2010 at 3:39 pm

that was a magical summer indeed. we were 16 years old, and drove to old tiger stadium at least once a week when the tigers were in town. watched the core of that championship team grow up together, rush out of the gate at 35-5, and never looked back. it truly was a bless you boys summer. bless you sparky

drdean on November 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Anderson was a true class gentleman, agreed.


DS writes:
“It was another era, before taxpayers funded gargantuan, palatial stadiums for the billionaires who own teams and the millionaires who play on them.”

That’s not accurate. Taxpayer funding of ballparks began in late 40s with Cleveland’s Municipal stadium, continued into the late 50s, main reason why O’Malley and Stoneham moved Dodgers/Giants out of NY/Brooklyn.
This trend became the norm for all new parks in 60s/70s.
The few remaining parks (wrigley, Tiger Stadium, Fenway, etc) still around then simply didnt have a chance to take advantage of government gravy.

DS also writes: “in those days, Anderson and his players had contracts worth a few hundred thousand dollars a year, not multi-millions.”

Answer: Actually free agency starting in mid 70s. Around the same time, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson already had multi-million contracts…and…fans were bellyaching about it even then.

And…So what? Salary cap existed in baseball for a century. Called the reserve clause. Owners were allowed to profit, just not the players. Form of socialism or fascism by another name.

This is America, not Karl Marxstadt.

The American free market will determine HOW MUCH a player is worth. Amen to that. If they can get paid for their brief window of opportunity, in America, they have that right to go for it.

I dont trust folks in private sector who say that MONEY does NOT play ANY FACTOR WHATSOEVER into their final decisions regarding their personal careers.

Anderson was a true class gentleman.

M: Great points, but . . . . In those days, there weren’t the palatial parks like Comerica Park, the new Camden Yards, etc. And they certainly weren’t the norm. Also, the multi-million dollar contracts were not the norm either. A few stars had them. Most players didn’t. DS

Marky on November 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Back in the 90’2 I would take our son on roadtrips to various ballparks… one such trip was to Detroit in the early 90’s to see the Tigers vs the White Sox. After batting practice Cecil Fielder wouldn’t stop signing autographs and had to be yelled at by the usherette ( it sounded like she was making a hog call) to get back inside with his team. I had to pay an extra $10 to the off-site parking ‘attendant’ to ‘ensure’ car safety. At the game, the elderly usher in the upper deck told us to move on down to the lower deck seats available so that ‘the TV camera guys would have some more people to aim at’. After the game, we waited outside for autographs. Dan Gladden came up to us and asked us to keep a lookout for a friend he was supposed to meet. Then we waited for Sparky with a small group of fans at the parking exit. When he drove out he stopped and took his time talking to everyone there. My son was in heaven. When I told my wife, she was too. She liked him from the minute she saw him on TV. Yes, a mensch. The polar opposite of what I saw in Canseco (don’t begin to ask) and McGuire later on.

Not Ovenready on November 5, 2010 at 10:57 am

Great write up Debbie. Sparky was indeed a special man. He won in a classy way and did anything for his players. His players responded in kind. I am big baseball fan and really wanted to see Sparky manage again but he never came back. He was a great ambassador for the game. He never tired for his love of baseball and his players. That video of the ’84 Tigers was like opening a time capsule.

RIP Sparky

CaliforniaScreaming on November 5, 2010 at 2:32 pm

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