American baseball manager
George "Sparky" Anderson became a big league manager at the age of thirty-five and left the game with 2,228 victories after twenty-six years running the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers. Although there are only two managers in baseball that have won more games, Connie Mack and John McGraw, Anderson is the last person to take credit for his success. His modesty is almost as astonishing as his record. Even with seven division titles, five pennants and three World Series' on his resume, Sparky Anderson has always insisted his success was due largely to luck and the players he had the honor of managing. His unusual manner of speech and penchant for exaggeration made Anderson a lovable throwback to the golden age of baseball. But what made the Hall of Fame skipper one of the games' great ambassadors, however, was his commitment to principle and his belief in treating everyone—from the ballpark's elevator operator to his star players—with the same generosity and respect.
The Early Years
George Lee Anderson was born February 22, 1934 in Bridgewater, South Dakota. The family had little money and moved to Los Angeles in 1942 in search of work in the shipyards. Anderson's interest in baseball was first sparked by his father, who played catcher on a semipro team and encouraged his son's interest in the sport. After hanging around the baseball field at the University of Southern California, Anderson was offered a job as the team's batboy and formed a lifelong relationship with their coach, Rod Dedeaux. The world revolved around baseball for Anderson and his friends. It was the only thing that caught his attention other than Carol Valle. Valle, a girl he met in the fifth grade, would become his wife in 1953.
Anderson took two buses to attend Dorsey High because the school he was supposed to attend didn't offer baseball. Playing shortstop for Dorsey, he was recognized for his enthusiasm for the game more than his talent.
"There were some guys with much greater ability," remembered Dedaux in Anderson's book They Call Me Sparky. "But they played to maybe 80% of their ability. Georgie always gave you 110%. That pushed him past guys who had more natural talent than him." His drive is what initially caught the interest of Lefty Phillips, a part-time scout for the Cincinnati Reds. When Anderson graduated from high school Phillips was then a full-time scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers and quickly signed Anderson to play for Santa Barbara in the California State League. He would toil in the Dodgers' farm system until 1959 when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He then played one season with the Phillies, his only season in the major leagues. He soon moved to the International League in Toronto and played second base until he became the team's manager in 1964.
|1934||Born February 22 in Bridgewater, South Dakota|
|1942||Moves to Los Angeles|
|1953||Marries Carol Valle|
|1959||Makes major league debut with Philadelphia|
|1964||Becomes minor league manager in Toronto|
|1969||Accepts managerial position with the Cincinnati Reds|
|1970||Gets first win as a major league manager|
|1970||Makes first trip to the World Series|
|1972||Wins National League Manager of the Year|
|1975||Wins first World Series with the Reds|
|1975||Named National League Manager of the Year|
|1978||Fired by Cincinnati|
|1979||Named Detroit Tigers' new manager|
|1984||Wins World Series with the Tigers|
|1987||Wins a division title with the Tigers|
|1993||Gets his 2,000 career win|
|1995||Retires from baseball|
|2000||Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame|
The Big Leagues
Anderson spent the next six years bouncing around the minor leagues learning his craft and passing on his knowledge and enthusiasm. He was hired by the Cincinnati Reds in 1970. He immediately recognized the difference between the minor and major leagues. The stakes were higher and so were the salaries, but Anderson felt the real fun was in the minor leagues and told his team shortly after his arrival. The Reds were far from the minors, however, with Johnny Bench , Tony Perez and Pete Rose on the roster. The Reds were a team loaded with young talent and on the verge of domination. Although Anderson was relatively unknown it didn't take long before his enthusiasm and their talent turned the team into "The Big Red Machine."
Anderson's feisty attitude immediately made headlines. Before his first season, he claimed the Reds would win the division by ten games. Later in his career he would become famous for such predictions but in this particular case he was rewarded by his talented young team. The Reds won the division by 13 1/2 games and went to the World Series where they lost to Baltimore in five games. After the team matured—they featured eight rookies in 1970—they became one of the seventies most dominate teams. In his nine seasons in Cincinnati, Anderson's teams would average ninety-six wins a season and win their division in five of his first seven years. They capped their back to back World Series' victories in 1976. Over the next two years "The Big Red" started to dismantle and although Sparky was an extremely popular figure in Cincinnati, he was fired in 1978.
The age of free-agency had arrived in baseball and while baseball was changing, Anderson's old fashioned values weren't. Among the many rumored reasons floated in the wake of his firing was that his style had supposedly fallen out of favor with the new crop of wealthy young players. Anderson had always demanded a certain amount of discipline from his players on and off the field. He insisted his players look like major leaguers, always clean shaven and well dressed. He wanted his teams to look, act and play with the same amount of excellence and passion. Whatever the reasons for his firing, Sparky Anderson would prove them wrong in Detroit.
Sparky in Detroit
Sparky Anderson left Cincinnati and became manager of the Detroit Tigers in 1979. Anderson's ability to level with his players as people and not as personalities would ultimately prove more powerful than the politics of major league baseball. His teams in Detroit would never be as powerful or talented as those in Cincinnati, but his message would take them to the top and make him the only manager to win a World Series in both the National and American leagues.
The 1984 Tigers won the World Series in convincing fashion. They led the race from the beginning of the season until the last out of the Series. He would ultimately spend seventeen seasons with the Tigers and claim that the 1987 season was his most satisfying of his career. In 1987, his Tigers were overachievers that made it to the playoffs without the talent of the top clubs but with a feisty determination that reflected Anderson's personality perfectly. During Sparky's years in Detroit he would endure only five losing seasons and make a very public stand against the baseball strike before retiring.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1971, 1973, 1976-77||Named manager for National League at the All-star game|
|1972, 1975||Named National League Manager of the Year|
|1975||Wins World Series|
|1976||Wins second World Series|
|1984||Wins first World Series with Detroit Tigers|
|1985||Named American League manager at the All-star game|
|2000||Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame|
Sparky Anderson Hall of Fame Induction Speech
I want all of you at this moment—and it's a must for me, 'cause this will be the last time I ever get to speak, 'cause when I walk away from here today, I'll never win another game, and I'll never lose another game, and I know that; so in that respect it's a sad moment for me, knowing I will never get to get up in front of a group—but, I want you to take a look at the people behind me and put it in your brain, when you look at 'em. The people that came before them, and these people, and the people that will come after them. That is baseball. All the other stuff you've heard about baseball is just makeup. Those people made this game, and they will protect this game. And when you set in a room with the, and you look around, you say to yourself, "My goodness, George Sugar, how could we come from the streets of Santa Barbara to Cincinnati, Ohio? That's impossible. How could a young man from Bridgewater, South Dakota, 600 people, and couldn't play ever be in front of a microphone, and they're talking about the third winningest manager?"
Well let me tell you this, and get it straight, and I hope every manager that follows me will listen very carefully: Players earn this, by their skills. Managers come here, as I did, on their backs, for what they did for me. I never believed different, I will never believe different, and I think that's what made my career so lucky. I was smart enough to know the people that were doing the work, and I could never under any circumstances ever thank 'em.
My father never got past the third grade, but there ain't a guy that ever went to Harvard as smart as my Daddy. My Daddy said this. He said, "I'm gonna give you a gift. It's the greatest gift to take all the way through your life. And if you live with this gift, everything will work perfect." And he said, "Son, I'm gonna give you a gift that will never cost a dime, and that gift is this: If everyday of your life, and every person you meet, you will just be nice to that person, and treat that person like they are someone." And, you know, I can tell you this. I have tried as hard as I could, and there's no way you can try any harder than I have. My Daddy was all man. He didn't need no big degrees to walk tall. He could walk tall just from the way he handled himself.
I'm not gonna mention players individually or coaches individually. But I'll tell you this: No coach ever worked for me in my whole career. I worked with coaches, and that was the thing I think I enjoyed so much. We were together. We worked together. They told me many times what to do and I listened. 'Cause you know something? It's a funny thing. There are other people besides the manager that are smart. You know, a manager has that above his door. He can be the dumbest moron there ever was, but as long as he's manager he's got "Manager" above his door. That don't work. There's two kind of managers. One that ain't very smart. He gets bad players, loses games, and gets fired. Then there was somebody like me that was a genius. I got good players, stayed out of the way, let 'em win a lot, and then just hung around for 26 years. It was a lot of fun.
Source: Induction Speeches: Sparky Anderson. "Baseball Hall of Fame." http://baseballhalloffame.org/hof_weekend/2000/speeches/anderson_sparky.htm (November 24, 2002).
He left the Tigers in 1995, resisting a rebuilding project that he and the owners felt he shouldn't have to endure. After flirting with the idea of managing somewhere else, however, Anderson decided he was no longer afraid of the prospect of being out of baseball. He retired to California, the father of three, grandfather of 14 and loving husband of the girl he met in the fifth grade.
Sparky Anderson never strayed from the small town values he learned from his father as a child. He applied the same principles on the field as he did in his personal life. He became one of the most successful managers in baseball history without ever incurring a single smudge on his reputation or straying very far from his roots. "The biggest thing I'll miss," he said during his last days as a big league manager. "Is all the BS I've thrown out."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY ANDERSON:
(With Dan Ewald) They Call Me Sparky, Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, MI, 1998.
Anderson, Sparky, and Dan Ewald. They Call Me Sparky. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 1998.
"Anderson has Plenty to Talk About as he Returns to Tigers." Detroit Free Press (April 5, 1995).
"Fisk, Big Red Machine Meet Again at Cooperstown." New York Daily News (July 23, 2000).
"He'll Be Missed, but Time is Right For Sparky's Exit." Detroit Free Press (September 21, 1995).
"Managing His Way to Fame." Baseball Digest (June, 2000): 46.
"The New Perfesser." Sports Illustrated (June 28, 1993): 54.
"A Nice Guy Finishes First." U.S. News & World Report (March 13, 2000): 12.
"A Not-So-Classic Fall Classic." Time (October 22, 1984): 82.
"Sparky's Big Day." Detroit Free Press (July 23, 2000).
"Sparky, McGraw to be Neighbors." Detroit Free Press (July 20, 2000).
"Sparky Anderson: A Manager Without a Team." Detroit Free Press (November 14, 1995).
"Sparky Anderson Exits Walking Tall." New York Daily News (February 20, 1995).
"Sparky's Finest Move." The Sporting News (July 10, 1995): 8.
"Sparky Says He'd Avoid Spotlight." Detroit Free Press (October 14, 2002).
"Will Home Finale Be Triple Play with Sparky Anderson?" Detroit Free Press (September 20, 1995).
Sketch by Aric Karpinski
"Anderson, Sparky." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anderson-sparky
"Anderson, Sparky." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anderson-sparky
Sparky Anderson (George Lee Anderson), 1934–2010, American baseball manager, b. Bridgewater, S.Dak. A one-season (1959) infielder for the National League's Philadelphia Phillies, he became the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, also of the NL, in 1970. He guided the "Big Red Machine" to four pennants (1970, 1972, 1975–76) and won two World Series (1975–76) before moving (1979) to the helm of the American League's Detroit Tigers. In 1984 he led the Tigers to more than 100 wins and victory in the World Series, becoming the first manager to achieve those feats in both leagues. When he left Detroit after the 1995 season, Anderson had won 2,194 games, third in baseball history to Connie Mack and John J. McGraw.
"Anderson, Sparky." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anderson-sparky
"Anderson, Sparky." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anderson-sparky