While his brief playing career may have been forgettable (.218 average over 152 games for Philadelphia in 1959), George “Sparky” Anderson was anything but.
Judging by his major and minor league statistics, Sparky wasn’t a great hitter. He wasn’t known for his superb defense, either. When he was hired to manage the Cincinnati Reds in 1970, the headline read “Sparky Who?” So just what was this Sparky Anderson guy? He was a winner. And he proved it.
In his first seven seasons managing the Reds, Anderson led the team that would become known as “The Big Red Machine” to four pennants and back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and 1976.
Anderson took a team that had all the talent in the world, and transformed them into not just winners, but champions. Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, George Foster, Ken Griffey, Cesar Geronimo, Tony Perez, the list goes on. They were “The Machine,” but Sparky was the one running that machine. And he ran it well.
Sparky led the Cincinnati Reds ball club until 1978, when he was surprisingly fired after back-to-back second place finishes in the division to the rival Dodgers. Anderson was promptly hired by the Detroit Tigers as manager, and took over for the 1979 season.
The Tigers became a winning team immediately following the arrival of Anderson, but it wasn’t until 1984 when things truly came together for Anderson’s Tigers. After storming out of the gate with a 35-5 start, Detroit continued on into the postseason, sweeping Kansas City and then defeating the San Diego Padres in five games to win the World Series title.
With his championship in Detroit, Anderson became the first manager to win the World Series in both the National and American Leagues, a feat that has since been matched only by Tony LaRussa.
Anderson currently sits sixth all-time in the wins column for managers in MLB history, with 2,194 victories. In 2000, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, as a manager.
The list of accomplishments goes on and on for George “Sparky” Anderson, but the thing that doesn’t show up in the record books is what may have defined him the best to those who knew the man. He has been called one of the nicest people in baseball, and countless stories and articles have been published in the week since his passing lauding him for it.
I never knew Sparky Anderson, and I wasn’t even born when he won his third and final World Series title, but by reading everything from “The Machine” by Joe Posnaski and articles remembering Sparky’s life and career, to his own Berra-like witticisms, I certainly felt like I understood just why nearly everyone who ever knew the man thought so highly of him.
On November 4, 2010, at the age of 76, Sparky Anderson passed away while in hospice care in his California home because of complications from dementia.
Anderson is survived by his wife, Carol, their three children, and nine grandchildren.