Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thinking of Sparky

Thursday addendum: Sparky Anderson died Thursday.

Sparky Anderson — Hall of Fame manager who skippered the Big Red Machine and the 1984 Tigers to World Series titles — is now in hospice care with complications of dementia.

It hardly seems possible that it's been 15 years since the white-haired one left the dugout. He won 2,194 games as manager; that's now sixth on the all-time list, but was third when he retired. The Cincinnati teams he had in the mid-70s boasted probably the best lineup of regulars ever:

There will be no more
Sparky Anderson monologues
comparing Kirk Gibson
favorably to Mickey Mantle.
Rose, 3b
Griffey (Sr.), rf
Morgan, 2b
Bench, c
Perez, 1b
Foster, lf
Concepcion, ss
Geronimo, cf

It strikes me that Sparky spent most of his long managerial career with two shortstops — Dave Concepcion in Cincinnati and Alan Trammell in Detroit. Both of them were better than a handful of shortstops enshrined in Cooperstown, but neither right now can be called the best eligible shortstop not in (that would be Barry Larkin).

Anderson was a mentor, at least at a distance, to Tom Kelly, which makes it at least slightly ironic that it was Sparky on the losing end of the ALCS to Kelly in 1987.

But what I will long remember about Anderson was off the field. As I recall, it was 1988, the year after the Tigers lost out on a World Series trip to the Twins. My future wife and I went to a day game, the last game of a Tigers-Twins series at the Dome; the Twins won. She and I went to a restaurant for a meal and were walking past the Dome again. The Tigers bus was idling outside the players gate, ready to go to the airport.

And Sparky, doubtless chafing internally after a lost game and lost series, was standing outside the bus door, a swarm of people around him, signing autographs.

We all go sometime, and it appears that Anderson's time will come soon, and when he goes he won't be — and isn't now — the Sparky Anderson we remember.

But we will remember.


  1. Ed, what is the distant relationship/connection between Kelly and Anderson?

  2. Supposedly, and particularly early in TK's managerial career, Kelly would call Anderson (and Tony LaRussa) to talk about aspects of the job. Ralph Houk too, but Houk was a formal arrangement; he had a consulting contract with the twins for just such a purpose. But TK was an open admirer of Anderson and LaRussa.