Friday, November 5, 2010
Sparky Anderson died yesterday. He is probably best known (among those of us who incline to knowing such things) as the manager of baseball's Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, who Sparky led into four World Series, of which they won two, including possibly the greatest World Series ever played, against the Boston Red Sox, in 1975 (sorry if the memories are too painful, Suldog). But after the Reds fired him in '78 (I mean, the Reds had finished second - second, for cryin' out loud! - two years in a row), Sparky hired on with my beloved Detroit Tigers, who he led for another 17 seasons, winning another world championship in 1984 (in doing so, he became the first manager to win a World Series from both leagues, as well as the first to lead a team to 100 or more wins in a season, in both leagues). And he led the Tigers to another division crown in '87, that capped one of the best pennant races I've ever followed - the Tigers swept a season-ending series with the runner-up Toronto Blue Jays, including a 1-0 gem by Frank Tanana on the last day of the season, with the title on the line. Around these parts, those '84 Tigers are beloved virtually on a level with their predecessors of '68. They had one of the most dominant seasons I've ever seen - 35-5 in their first 40 games, and then 7-1 in two post-season series. Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson (who hit a dramatic World Series home run for the Tigers four years before the more famous one he hit for the '88 Dodgers), Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, et al are legendary names in the pantheon of all-time great Tigers. And Sparky Anderson. It is interesting, looking back - the '68 Tigers had a Hall-of-Famer, Al Kaline, and several really good, solid players; Denny McLain had one of the greatest single pitching seasons any pitcher has ever had. The '84 Tigers didn't have any Hall-of-Fame players. A few of them were nominated, but none of them have yet been deemed worthy of the honor. Jack Morris may yet be enshrined - his vote totals have been rising in recent years; Kirk Gibson hit that legendary homer off Dennis Eckersley in the World Series, but he almost certainly won't be. But they were managed by a Hall-of-Famer. When Sparky left the Tigers after the '95 season, he was third on the all-time list for managerial victories (he's since been passed by three others), and the only manager to have the most wins in franchise history for two different teams. He was enshrined in Baseball's Hall of Fame in 2000. Sparky could have an, um, interesting way with words. Once, when one of his players was bothered by pain in his throwing shoulder, even though he'd been checked multiple times by multiple doctors, and found to have no structural damage to the shoulder, Sparky urged him to 'play over the pain' with the immortal words - "Pain don't hurt you." Sparky could tell stories like a favorite uncle, and he could be as stern or as jovial as he needed to be. I think he hoped to land another managerial job after he left the Tigers, but it never came to pass. And now he's gone. This has been a tough year in terms of historically beloved Tigers, having said goodbye to Ernie Harwell just a few months ago. But it is good to be able to step back and remember the man, and his place in history, and appreciate the opportunity to have seen him closer-at-hand than most, and to appreciate the excellence of his skill, and that he was our manager for x-number of years. George 'Sparky' Anderson, Requiescat in Pace. . .