Thursday, November 04, 2010

RIP: George "Sparky" Anderson

Baseball lost another Hall of Famer. Sparky Anderson died today at the age of 76. As manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Anderson won two World Series championships when they went back to back in both 1975 and 1976. Later, as manager of the Detroit Tigers, he won his third ring in 1984. May he rest in peace.
Readily identified throughout the game simply by his nickname, George Lee Anderson was the first man to manage a World Series champion in each league. He steered the Big Red Machine to victory against the Red Sox in the wonderful and rain-protracted seven-game Series in 1975 and to a sweep of the Yankees the following October. Eight years later, his Tigers team won 35 of its first 40 games, led the American League East wire to wire and won seven of eight postseason games. The '76 Reds, the only team in the divisional-play era to sweep a postseason, remain the last NL team to repeat as World Series champions.

Anderson left the game following the 1995 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame -- he is depicted on his plaque wearing a Reds cap -- in the summer of 2000. His 2,194 regular-season victories rank sixth all-time, his .545 winning percentage fifth all-time among those who have managed at least 3,000 games. His Reds won at least 92 games in seven of nine seasons, producing 210 victories in 1975-76. His Tigers teams averaged 91 victories from 1982-1988. The '84 team won 104 games before its postseason rampage.

He finished his career with seven division championships, five pennants, a .631 postseason winning percentage and with this distinction: he was the only man to have the most career victories for two franchises. His career in the dugout was far more successful than his brief run as a player -- one season, 1959, with the last-place Phillies, in which he batted .218 with 34 runs batted in and 12 extra-base hits, none of them home runs, in 477 at-bats.

Anderson's family announced Wednesday that he had been placed in hospice care due to complications from dementia. He hadn't been well for some time, but he had remained content, grateful and generous even in the face of severe illness.[...]

His final on-field appearance in Detroit was in 2009, during ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of his World Series champion team. Nearly all his players made it back, many of them -- from Kirk Gibson to Alan Trammell to Lance Parrish to Jack Morris to Brookens -- returning to see fans show their appreciation for the former manager.[...]

For all he did for the Tigers, Anderson felt a debt of gratitude to the Reds and, in particular, former club president Bob Howsam, who hired him to manage in 1970, shortly after Anderson had accepted a job as a coach with the Angels in the offseason. He had five years' experience as a manager, all in the Minor Leagues. Hence, his preference to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Red.

Anderson is a member of the Reds' Hall of Fame, and the No. 10 uniform he wore from 1970-78 has been retired in his honor.

He is beloved in the Queen City. "He never has a harsh word for anyone. He was always gracious to the fans. He's a very special person in how he relates to people and how they relate to him," longtime Reds announcer Marty Brennaman said Wednesday after learning of Anderson's failing condition. "I compare him to Joe Nuxhall, eminently successful people with no ego at all. Their popularity is off the charts because they were so good to people.

"Sparky would look you in the eye, answer all your questions. It was as if you were the most important person in the world to him. Knowing him for 37 years, it was not an act. People could wonder if it wasn't the real George Anderson, but it was. He loves people. He laughs easily and has a great sense of humor. He's just the kind of person that anybody with a semblance of celebrity would aspire to be like."

As a manager, Anderson was "one of the all-time greats," Brennaman said. "I laugh at anyone who says they could have managed those Reds teams. The hell they could.

"There were a lot of egos in that clubhouse. They had to find a way to make it work before they got on the field. There were players like [Pete] Rose, [Johnny] Bench, [Tony] Perez and [Joe] Morgan -- all superstars. They made it work. He could manipulate a pitching staff better than anybody around. The proof is in the pudding. After he left Cincinnati, he won in Detroit."

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