With the first signs of spring in the air and baseball season right around the corner it seemed appropriate to highlight baseball legend Sparky Anderson as our pipe personality for this edition of the Gazette. Many ball players are well know for chewing gum, eating sunflower seeds while spitting out the shells or doing their chipmunk impression with cheeks filled with chewing tobacco. But Sparky was was among the very few that was better known for satisfying his oral fixation by smoking his pipe. He never seemed more at ease than the hours before a game, when he would sit in his office, smoke his pipe and offer opinions on dozens of subjects.
George Lee "Sparky" Anderson (February 22, 1934 – November 4, 2010) was an American Major League Baseball player, coach, and manager. He managed the National League's Cincinnati Reds to the 1975 and 1976 championships, then added a third title in 1984 with the Detroit Tigers of the American League. He was the first manager to win the World Series in both leagues. His 2,194 career wins are the sixth most for a manager in Major Leagues.
Anderson began his playing career with the Santa Barbara Dodgers of the class-C California League, where he was primarily used as a shortstop. In 1954, he was moved up to the class-A Pueblo Dodgers of the Western League and was moved to second base, where he played the rest of his career. In 1955, Anderson was moved another step up the minor league ladder, playing for the Double-A Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League. A radio announcer gave him the nickname "Sparky" in 1955 for his feisty play. The next season, after the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, he returned to Montreal.
After five minor league seasons without appearing in a Dodger uniform at the MLB level, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on December 23, 1958. The Phillies gave Anderson their starting second base job, and he spent what would be his one full season in the major leagues in 1959. However, he batted only .218 in 152 games, with no home runs and 34 runs batted in, and returned to the minor leagues for the remainder of his playing career. His 527 at-bats is still the record for the most by a player who only played in one Major League season.
He played the next four seasons with the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League. After watching several practices, Leafs owner Jack Kent Cooke observed Anderson's leadership qualities and ability to teach younger players from all backgrounds. Cooke immediately encouraged him to pursue a career in managing, offering Anderson the post for the Leafs.
Anderson was named the Reds manager on October 8, 1969. Since he was a relative unknown in the sports world, headlines on the day after his hiring read "Sparky Who?" Nonetheless, Anderson led the Reds to 102 wins and the National League pennant in 1970. Over the course of these two seasons, Anderson's Reds compiled an astounding 14–3 record in postseason play against the Pirates, Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees, winning their last eight in a row in the postseason after triumphing against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, and then winning seven straight games in the 1976 postseason. They remain the only team to sweep the entire post-season since the inception of the league championship series in 1969. During this time Anderson became known as "Captain Hook" for his his habit of taking out a starting pitcher at the first sign of weakness and going to his bullpen.
When the aging Reds finished second to the Dodgers in each of the next two seasons, Anderson was fired on November 27, 1978. In June of 1979 he became the new manager of the young Detroit Tigers. Upon seeing the team's young talent, he boldly proclaimed to the press that his team would be a pennant winner within 5 years.
In 1984, Detroit opened the season 9–0, was 35–5 after 40 games (a major league record), and breezed to a 104–58 record (a franchise record for wins). On September 23, Anderson became the first manager to win 100 games in a season with two different teams. They swept the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and then beat the San Diego Padres in five games in the World Series for Anderson's third world title. The 1984 Tigers became the first team since the 1927 New York Yankees to lead a league wire-to-wire, from opening day to the end of the World Series.
Anderson retired from managing on October 2, 1995 and was was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager in 2000. Although he managed 17 seasons in Detroit and just 9 seasons in Cincinnati, his Hall of Fame plaque has him wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform.
On November 3, 2010, it was announced that Anderson had been placed in hospice care at his Thousand Oaks home because of his deteriorating dementia condition. Anderson died at the age 76 on Thursday, November 4, 2010. In 2011 the Detroit Tigers honored Anderson by retiring his number 11 from future use and placing his name and number on the outfield wall with the other past honorees and members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Sparky was, by far, the best manager I ever played for," said 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."
Jim Hawkins from the Oakland Press wrote, "Sparky Anderson was one of a kind. Painfully-shy as a young boy, he became a bubbling cauldron of enthusiasm and confidence. Wherever he went, whoever he met, Sparky knew he was expected to put on a show. He was always on stage. And he never let his audience down."
Mitch Albom from the Detroit Free Press wrote and article stating that all baseball managers need a little "Sparky". One of his suggestions to managers was to "GET A PIPE: Few things are more disgusting than baseball players with mouths full of tobacco. One is managers with mouths full of tobacco. Tom. Spit it out. Whitey. Drop those cigarettes. Notice how Sparky Anderson smokes a pipe during his post-game remarks? Yes. A pipe. This makes him look professional, cultured and scholarly.”
In his book The Score of a Lifetime - 25 Years of talking Chicago Sports, Terry Boers recalled an encounter with Sparky Anderson. He recalls, "So what was Sparky doing when I went into his office? Sitting buck naked with his feet up on the desk smoking a pipe. "What do you need? Sparky said, fully understanding that he had me right where he wanted me." ..."Little did I know that he wouldn't be the first baseball manager that I met who liked to be naked."
Thanks Sparky for being a credit to our hobby.