Long-time Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson passed away today in Thousand Oaks , California the age of 76.
George Lee Anderson lasted only one year as a light-hitting second baseman with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959, but later became a legendary manager for a quarter of a century. He won 2,194 games over 26 years which ranks him eighth in wins among all managers. His teams won seven pennants and three World Series and he was the first manager to win championships in both the American and National Leagues. He was inducted into the hall of fame in 2000.
He managed the Big Red Machine to six pennants and two championships between 1970-1978. That team of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and company was among the best and most exciting of my lifetime. He then went on to manage the Tigers from 1979-1995 winning a World Championship in 1984 and a division title in 1987.
When I think of baseball managers, the first image that comes to mind is the charismatic Anderson. He was small in stature at 5-9 170 pounds, but he always seemed to be in control. There was never a doubt that players both loved and respected him. As a fan, I always got the feeling that the Tigers would have a good team as long as their white-haired leader was in charge. And I'm pretty sure he was born with white hair.
Some of my fondest memories of Sparky are his quotes such as "If you don't like Dave Rucker, you don't like ice cream" and "A little pain never hurt nobody." Those and many other memorable quotes still pop into my mind today on a regular basis.
I also remember his bold projections for young players. Kirk Gibson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. Barbaro Garbey was the next Roberto Clemente. Chris Pittarro and Torey Lovullo were future all-stars. None of those predictions were realistic, but there was something about Sparky that made you believe everything he said. How could you not believe him?
There will never be another Sparky.
Rest in Peace Mr. Anderson.