Anderson, George Lee ("Sparky")
ANDERSON, George Lee ("Sparky")
(b. 22 February 1934 in Bridgewater, South Dakota), one of the most successful managers in major league baseball history and the only manager to win the World Series for both a National League and American League team.
Anderson was one of five children. He grew up in a household of nine people, including his father, a painter and postal worker; his mother, a homemaker; his grandparents; three sisters; and a brother. When Anderson was eight, his family moved to the area in Los Angeles later known as Watts, near the University of Southern California (USC). Anderson spent a fair amount of time at the USC baseball field. Eventually, he became a batboy for the university team, coached by Rod Dedeaux, and developed a love for baseball.
After graduating from Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, he signed a contract as an infielder with the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system in 1953. That year, on 3 October, Anderson married his high school sweetheart, Carol Valle, and they eventually had three children. He was sent to Santa Barbara of the California League and began his professional career, primarily playing second base.
Anderson moved up the ranks of the Dodgers' minor league system by virtue of his fielding skills. Over his ten-year minor league career, he led the league four times in double plays but never batted above .300. He played at Pueblo (Western League, 1954), Fort Worth (Texas League, 1955), Montreal (International League, 1956 and 1958), and Los Angeles (Pacific Coast League, 1957) in the Dodgers organization. It was at Fort Worth where he received the nickname "Sparky," because of his explosive arguments with umpires.
In December 1958 Anderson was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for three players. He started in 1959 for the Phillies and had a modest rookie year. He played in practically every game (152 out of 154), batted .208, scored 42 runs, and stole 6 bases. He had an impressive .984 fielding average at second base for the last-place Phillies, but he was shipped back to the minors the following year.
From 1960 until 1963 Anderson played second base for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. For the 1964 season Anderson retired as a player and became the Maple Leafs' manager. During his first season with Toronto (a co-op team with players from the Milwaukee Braves and the Washington Senators), they went 80–72, fifth in the league.
Anderson then managed in the St. Louis Cardinals organization at Rock Hill (Western Carolinas League) in 1965, and at St. Petersburg (Florida State League) in 1966. In 1967 he began two years of managing in the Cincinnati Reds organization, first for Modesto (California League) and then for Asheville (Southern League). In 1969 he was hired as a coach for the San Diego Padres.
In 1970 Anderson returned to the Cincinnati Reds organization and accepted his first major league managerial position. Anderson immediately made an impact, leading the Reds, third place finishers in 1969, to a 102–60 record. He led the Reds to the World Series for the first time since 1961, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in five games. Beginning with the 1972 season, Anderson's Reds finished no worse than second over seven consecutive seasons. In 1972 the Reds made it to the World Series but lost to the Oakland A's.
In both 1975 and 1976 the team that Anderson had been building finally won World Series championships against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, respectively. These Reds teams were known as the "Big Red Machine" and were led by Hall of Fame players Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan, as well as Pete Rose, Don Gullet, and George Foster.
The Reds primarily won with their offense, having a good, but not spectacular, pitching corps. Given the pitchers that he had to work with, Anderson earned the nickname "Captain Hook" for his tendency to replace pitchers with relievers at any point in the game. He knew he was being tough on his pitchers, but he didn't see any other way to handle it. "My mother, I love her," Sparky once said, "but she don't pitch for me." The common school of thought among managers in the 1970s was to let the starting pitchers stay in the game and work themselves out of problems. By going quickly to the bullpen, Anderson helped revolutionize the game. The Reds finished second to the Los Angeles Dodgers in both 1977 and 1978. Despite his success, Anderson was fired after the 1978 season over differences with the club management.
Anderson took off the early part of the 1979 season, but after weighing several offers, decided to accept the managerial position with the Detroit Tigers. He debuted with the Tigers on 14 June in the middle of what became a fifth-place finish. The Tigers were a very young team that had not won their division since 1972, but they already had many of the players who would make up the core of the pennant contenders of the 1980s, including Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, and Milt Wilcox.
Under Anderson, the team steadily improved until they finished 92–70 in 1983. They started the 1984 season with a 35–5 record and stayed in first place all season. They finished 104–58, swept Kansas City in the American League Championship Series (ALCS), and defeated the Padres in five games for their first World Series win since 1968. While they remained competitive through the mid-to-late-1980s, they only won the division title in 1987, losing to the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS. In 1984 and 1987 Anderson won the American League Manager of the Year award.
The Tigers fortunes under Anderson began to wane in the late 1980s. In 1989, during a season that saw the Tigers drop from second to seventh in the standings, Anderson took time off, sitting out seventeen games from 19 May to 4 June. Anderson returned to a team that had a combination of aging stars like Trammell and Whitaker and younger players who would never blossom into major league stars.
In 1995, when major league owners pursued replacement players to field teams during the prolonged players' strike, Anderson stood alone among managers by refusing to manage these hastily assembled teams. He was relieved of his duties, but when the strike broke during spring training, Anderson was brought back to manage the Tigers. After another poor finish by the Tigers that year, Anderson retired.
Anderson once said, "The biggest misconception about me is that I'm an extrovert. I'm an introvert. My real name is George, and that's the name I like best, and it's who I am." The upbeat media personality known as "Sparky" was a very different individual. Anderson believed that a large part of his job was showmanship. He patterned himself after Casey Stengel and was never more pleased than when someone compared him to the great manager. Sports Illustrated said he "blessed Tiger Stadium with a style and syntax that were all his own."
In his nine years with the Cincinnati Reds and seventeen years with the Detroit Tigers, Anderson was the only manager to win World Series in both the National and American leagues. He compiled a lifetime managerial record of 2194–1834, the third highest win total in baseball history. Anderson was named Manager of the Year four times during his career, and in 2000, during the first year he was eligible, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Information on Anderson is available in a players file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. Anderson cowrote several books, including The Main Spark: Sparky Anderson and the Cincinnati Reds (1978), with Si Burick; Bless You Boys: Diary of the Detroit Tigers' 1984 Season (1984), with Dan Ewald; Sparky (1990), with Ewald; and They Call Me Sparky (1998), with Dan Ewald. Information about Anderson can also be found in Leonard Koppett, The Man in the Dugout: Baseball's Top Managers and How They Got That Way (2000).