Sparky Who? Yes folks, that's what the headlines read in Cincinnati when George Anderson, otherwise known as Sparky was hired to manage the Cincinnati Reds for the 1970 season. Could you blame the Cincinnati press for saying that? Anderson played for only season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959 after being drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953. In his only major league season, Anderson batted .218 with 0 HRs and 34 RBI. He had 9 doubles, 3 triples and 6 stolen bases while playing in 152 games at second base. His only major league coaching experience came in the form of the assistant coach to Preston Gomez of the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969. So like I said, can you blame them for saying "Sparky Who?". Well, Sparky proved to them who he was as a manager.
From 1970-1978, Anderson led a team like no other. Made up of three Hall of Famers (Bench, Morgan, Perez), a (hopefully) future Hall of Famer (Pete Rose), solid position players (Concepcion, Dressen, Foster, Griffey Sr., Geronimo) and pitchers (Gullett, Billingham, Grimley, Borbon, Norman) this team truly lived up to their moniker of the Big Red Machine. During those nine seasons, the team went 863-586 for a winning percentage of .596 for an average of 95.9 wins a season. Their most impressive season was 1975 when the won 108 games (to 54 losses) and winning the Championship in arguably the most exciting World Series going seven games against the Boston Red Sox. In total, Anderson's Reds won five National League West titles (1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976), four National League Pennants (1970, 1972, 1975, 1976) and were repeat World Series Champions in 1975 and 1976 (Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees) while losing to the Baltimore Orioles (1970) and the Oakland A's (1972) in the World Series. What I find surprising during Anderson's tenure as the Reds' manager was that he never won the Manager of the Year Award (Until 1982, there was only one award given shared by both leagues. Since 1983, an award was given to an American and National League manager). After two straight second-place seasons (1977-1978), Anderson was fired as manager of the Cincinnati Reds when he refused to replace part of his coaching staff.
He would return to the majors mid-way during the 1979 season as the manager of the Detroit Tigers. From 1979-1995, Anderson's Tigers went 1331-1248 for a winning percentage of .516. Their best season was the magical season of 1984 when the Tigers galloped to a 35-5 record and didn't look back winning 104 games (to 58 losses) and winning the World Series against the San Diego Padres in five games. Not only did Anderson win his first American League Manager of the Year Award, he also gained the honor of being the first manager to win a World Series in both leagues (in 2006, Tony LaRussa joined him as his 1989 Oakland A's and the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals both won World Titles). Anderson would also win the American League Manager of the Year Award in 1987. In total, Anderson's Tigers won two American League East Titles (1984, 1987), one American League Pennant (1984) and one World Series Title (1984). Anderson was dismissed from his duties as manager during the 1995 season. It was at this point that Anderson retired from baseball.
Anderson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 along side his Cincinnati Reds player Tony Perez and Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox catching legend Carlton Fisk. With a 2194-1834 record Sparky is sixth on the All-Time wins list behind such managerial legends as Connie Mack, John McGraw, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. Anderson would pass away due to complications from dementia on November 4th.
I'll always remember watching Sparky Anderson on TV when those dirty looking Tigers players (and I mean that with the most utmost respect because those Tigers teams were gritty and tough) played the Yankees on WPIX 11 amid the backdrop of old Tiger Stadium and thinking how old was he. LOL. He may have looked old was was definitely a young man in heart and soul. Rest in peace Sparky. Keep taking those pitchers out of the game from behind the pearly gates.
For Further Reading:
- Click Here for Sparky Anderson's Obituary from the New York Times, November 4, 2010
- Click Here for John Erardi's article Sparky Anderson, Reds Great Dies from Cincinnati.com dated November 4, 2010
- Click Here for an article from the Detroit Free Press describing how Sparky Anderson will be remembered on freep.com
- Click Here for the Sports Illustrated article on Sparky Anderson's passing from SI.com
- Click Here to read Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda's dedication to his friend Sparky Anderson from his blog Tommy's World
- Click Here to view Sparky Anderson's statistics as a player from BaseballCube.com
- Click Here to view Sparky Anderson's Manager statistics from BaseballReference.com