Sunday, July 23, 2000
Part huckster, part genius, pure Sparky
Don't let his way with the language fool you, Anderson was excellent manager
By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Sparky Anderson, the man who never met a double-negative he didn't like, will go down in history as one of the most beloved baseball people of all-time, right up there with the great Casey Stengel.
In fact, after Anderson first met Casey Stengel, he came home and told his wife, You won't believe this but I understood every word that man was saying.
Given Stengel's propensity for non sequitors, Anderson was a Gang of One if he understood everything Stengel was saying.
Like Stengel, Anderson will go down in history as one of the great ambassadors of the game. They both had a self-deprecating sense of humor that endeared them to the fans and the media.
I was 35 years old when I went into Cincinnati in 1970, said Anderson, about to tell one of his favorite stories. "When I came out nine years later, the guys had made me a star. Over those nine years, they averaged 96 victories a season. Just think what I could've done if I had some players!
Main Spark, as he was known in his days in Cincinnati, is the only manager in basball history to win World Championshipos in both leagues: 1975-76 for the Reds, 1984 with the Detroit Tigers.
Anderson was born in Bridgewater, N.D., on Feb. 22, 1934, and grew up in Los Angeles, where he served as the batboy for the University of Southern California Trojans under coach Ron Dedeaux. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers out of high school, and spent six years in the minors where he learned about how to win and how to conduct oneself as a winner before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1959 season. He hit only .218 his rookie season but was an excellent fielder.
Baseball expert Bill James said that if the Phillies had allowed Anderson another year to develop as a hitter he would have likely hit .250 or .260 and had a good career as second baseman, but instead they dumped him and Anderson turned to managing.
After five years in the minors and two as as major-league coach, Anderson took over the Reds as a 35-year-old no-name on Oct.9, 1969 all because Reds general manager Bob Howsam had known Anderson as a minor-league skipper and believed in Anderson's ability to teach young players how to be winners and to improve their fundamentals.
From 1972 through 1976, the Reds averaged 100 victories a season with a lineup that featured three future first-ballot Hall of Famers (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and had he not later gotten into gambling trouble Pete Rose), and this year's fellow inductee Tony Perez. And, under Anderson's tutelage, the Reds' Davey Concepcion developed into one of the 25 greatest shortstops of all-time.
After the Reds fired Anderson after the 1978 season following two second-place finishes, he was hired by Detroit midway through the 1979 season and picked up where he'd left off.
He had 10 straight winning seasons in Detroit, highlighted by the world championship in 1984.
James writes that Anderson was more than just a great manager.
Leo Durocher, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson were all scrappy middle infielders, James said. Sparky was intense as any of these men, and he was as much a disciplinarian as (Dick) Williams. But he had something else: He cared about the people who played for him.
Sportswriter Leonard Koppett, wrote in his book, The Man in the Dugout: More than most managers, Anderson has a sense of baseball history and baseball's place in the culture, in the emotional niche it fills for the people who follow it.
That was abundantly clear six years ago when Anderson visited Cincinnati and was asked what it was like to occupy such a major position in baseball as sage and raconteur and modern-day Stengel.
Everybody somewhere along the line starts to develop an ego, Anderson answered. "You start thinking you're the game. The game isn't like that. You know what the game is? It's the Pyramids.
I been watching a lot of TV shows on history. Saw one on the Pyramids. Think about how long ago that was. Well, baseball isn't as old as the Pyramids. But they both make great history. I opened up one of my photo books the other day to get ready for my trip to Cincinnati. I was looking for something to say. I saw myself in a picture and I said, "Wow! Carolyn, come look at this! I thought I always looked like I do now. Geez, I looked like a kid!'
That answer is part Stengel, part Anderson and pure Sparky.
What mattered to Anderson after the winning, of course was the game, the veterans going out and the rookies coming in and everybdoy in between. The connection with the past is what makes baseball special, Anderson said, and most fans have that appreciation.
As beloved as Sparky is to the fans, he was a master strategist and knew how to get position players to give their all for the team. He rarely ordered, but often coaxed.
He is the guy who moved Pete Rose to third base (paving the way for young slugger George Foster in the outfield) and inserted the young Ken Griffey Sr. into the No.2 spot so that Joe Morgan could blossom (back-to-back MVPs, 1975-76) in the No.3 spot.
Sparky wanted to learn what got the best out of each player,
what team he could put together, Johnny Bench said. A team means you get role players
and personalities that fit. I think that was much of the genius of
the man. And he was a genius.
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