Sparky Anderson: Former Manager of the Detroit Tigers

Like most local kids of my age group, I grew up on Detroit Tigers’ baseball. Sparky Anderson was my hero of heroes, capable of turning my beloved Tigers into a World Series-winning machine. In third grade, I even had a pet worm named Sparky that I kept in a plastic Bubble Tape container beside my bed. I kept Sparky Anderson’s baseball card at the top of my card collection, safely tucked away in an old shoebox at the bottom of my closet for years after I lost interest in baseball.

Although the Detroit Tigers have fallen on losing times (okay, so they’ve had a pretty lousy decade), I still think back to my childhood hero from time to time. Who was Sparky Anderson, anyway, and why did I worship him so faithfully? I decided to do some research, and this is what I came up with.

Sparky Anderson’s real name is George Lee Anderson, and he hails from Bridgewater, South Dakota. His career in baseball started unimpressively in the minor league. Sparky Anderson played six seasons for the minor league Dodgers before being picked up by the major league Philadelphia Phillies in 1959. His major league career was abysmal enough to send him back to the minor leagues. In his one-year stint as a second baseman, Anderson’s batting average was only .218. After four more years in the minors, Sparky Anderson finally found his true calling in baseball as a manager of Toronto’s minor league team.

Thank goodness Sparky couldn’t play ball very well, because he turned out to be one of the greatest managers baseball has ever seen. After winning four consecutive pennants as manager of Toronto’s minor league team, he got a job coaching the major league San Diego Padres in 1969. The rest, as they say, is baseball history.

Although I remember my beloved Sparky Anderson as a hometown hero, he wasn’t always Detroit’s to claim. In 1970, the Cincinnati Reds hired Sparky as team manager. Under Sparky Anderson’s leadership, the Cincinnati Reds became a pennant-winning machine, eventually winning the 1975 and 1976 World Series. During his stint with the Reds, he acquired his nickname “Captain Hook” for pulling pitchers out of games early and replacing them with relief pitchers. Sparky was fired from his management position in 1978 when the Reds failed to maintain their winning status and he protested the firing of their coaching staff.

My beloved Detroit Tigers (say what you will, but they’re still my team) hired Sparky Anderson as their new manager in 1979. The Tigers did better and better, until they finished second in 1983 and won the World Series in 1984. The Tigers’ World Series win made Sparky Anderson the first baseball manager to ever win for managing both an American League and a National League team. His third World Series win also got him named Manager of the Year.

Sparky Anderson was again named Manager of the Year in 1987. Although the Tigers did not make it to the World Series that year, they did set the record for best year in the major league.

The Tigers never did regain their past glory, but Sparky Anderson stayed at the helm until his retirement in 1995. He may be remembered as a winning manager, but baseball remembers him as a man of principle. Before his last season began, Sparky Anderson took a leave of absence from his position because he would not manage a team of replacements during the players’ strike. He came back only when the strike was resolved and his regular team was assembled to begin the season.

In 2000, Sparky Anderson was elected to the Baseball Hall of fame for his illustrious career as a manager. In 2005, the Cincinnati Reds retired Sparky Anderson’s old number ten.

And while baseball’s Hall of Fame keeps Sparky’s name within its hallowed halls, the hero of my childhood seems so much more than a number on a jersey or card at the top of my stack. To me, Sparky Anderson is the man with the slight frame and wise face who made my Tigers win, once upon a time.

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