Unknown to Hall of Fame

Anderson, 1st to win World Series in each league, dead at 76

November 05, 2010|By Keith Thursby, Tribune Newspapers

Sparky Anderson, baseball's first manager to lead teams from both the National and American Leagues to World Series titles, died Thursday at 76.

Anderson died at his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., of complications from dementia, family spokesman Dan Ewald said in a statement.

Anderson's Reds won championships in 1975 and '76 as one of the dominant teams of its era. In 1984, his Tigers won the Series. He was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 2000.

"There's a difference between a good manager and a great one," Johnny Bench, Anderson's Hall of Fame catcher with the Reds, told the Los Angeles Times in 2000. "The good one will tell you there's more than one way to skin a cat. The great manager will convince the cat it's necessary. Sparky had the cats carrying the knives to him."

George Lee Anderson was born in Bridgewater, S.D., on Feb. 22, 1934, and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 9. Anderson began his professional career at 19, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers' organization.

His career as an infielder stalled in the Dodgers' minor league system and he reached the big leagues only after being traded to the Phillies. He hit .218 in 1959, his only season in the majors. By 1964, Anderson was managing in the minors.

All this made him an unlikely choice to take over the Reds in 1970. But Reds general manager Bob Howsam had hired Anderson to manage in the Cardinals' organization and now turned to him to mold his young and talented team.

"Anyone who says they knew about me before Howsam hired me would be lying," Anderson told the Los Angeles Times' Ross Newhan. "Well, I don't know how you measure what you owe someone, but I do know that everything we have in our house has to belong to him. If he doesn't hire me, chances are I never manage in the big leagues."

Howsam knew what he wanted.

"He didn't beat around the bush. He was right to the point," Howsam told the Rocky Mountain News in 2000. "And the way he developed young players was very important. We needed that type of thing."

But Cincinnati was underwhelmed by the hire. "Sparky Who?" was the headline in the Cincinnati Post.

"I think a lot of (the Reds) thought, 'He's a fly-by-night guy, and what's this character all about?' I wouldn't blame them," Anderson said.

But the Reds quickly flourished under his leadership, winning 102 games in 1970 and reaching the World Series, where they lost to the Orioles in five games. They became known as the Big Red Machine, led by future Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Bench — and another star, Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader whose chance for the Hall of Fame was doomed when he was banned from the sport for betting.

Anderson, who looked older as a young manager because of his white hair, was direct even in the way he changed pitchers. He became known as Captain Hook for his quick, no-nonsense meetings at the mound.

"I didn't want no conversation. They're not happy. I'm not happy with what I'm seeing. There's no sense for conversation," he told the Rocky Mountain News.

The Reds reached the World Series in 1972 but lost to the A's. They won a division title in 1973 but didn't return to the World Series until 1975, when the Reds defeated the Red Sox in seven games despite being on the losing end of one of baseball's most dramatic finishes.

Carlton Fisk won Game 6 for the Red Sox with a 12th-inning home run that hit the Fenway Park foul pole, with Fisk waving his arms as if to keep the ball fair. But the Reds came back to win the seventh game with a Morgan single driving in the winning run.

The Reds fired Anderson after two second-place finishes and a change in the front office, when Dick Wagner succeeded the retiring Howsam. But he wasn't out of baseball long. The Tigers hired him in June 1979 to guide another young team. But this time he was far from an unproven manager.

"With Sparky, it was never just about baseball. … He was another father figure," Tigers shortstop Alan Trammel told Newhan in 2000. "We were a young club that needed direction when he took over, and he brought leadership and a presence to the clubhouse."

The Tigers' best season by far was 1984, when they jumped to a 35-5 start and never looked back, winning 104 games and dominating the Padres to win the Series in five games.

The Tigers won another division title in 1987, and Anderson remained in Detroit until he retired after the 1995 season.

"I think the greatest thing about Sparky is that he really does feel that he was blessed. He is as modest as anyone who will ever reach the Hall of Fame," Vin Scully said in 2000. Scully met Anderson when he was a Dodgers minor leaguer and they worked together on World Series broadcasts for CBS radio.

Sparky was a fitting description of Anderson as a player and manager. With the Reds and Tigers, he would walk on the field with both hands in his back pockets, a habit he said that started after an argument with a minor league umpire turned physical.

Anderson called his nickname "the biggest break I ever had … George? There are a lot of Georges."

Survivors include his wife, Carol; sons Lee and Albert; daughter Shirley Englebrecht and nine grandchildren.

No services are planned.

kthursby@tribune.com

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