15 April, 2009

Sparky Anderson


George Lee "Sparky" Anderson is a former Major League Baseball manager. He managed the National League's Cincinnati Reds to the 1975 and 1976 championships, then added a third title in 1984 with the Detroit Tigers of the American League.

Anderson has resided for many years in Thousand Oaks, California. He was known as "Sparky" during his time in baseball, but in private life goes by his given name of "George". Anderson is famous for his superstition of not walking on the foul lines on the baseball field. His superstition was so great that he used to nearly trip on the field to avoid walking on the foul lines, as if he would trip on them.

Anderson was a "good field, no-hit" middle infielder as a player. After playing the 1955 season with the Texas League Fort Worth Cats as an apprenticeship in the farm system of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he played one full season in the major leagues, as the regular second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959. However, a .218 average with no power ended his big-league career at that point.

He played the next four seasons with the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League, but never got a second chance in the majors. Finally, in 1964, Anderson moved into the manager's job in Toronto and later handled minor league clubs at the A and Double-A levels, including a season (1968) in the Reds' minor league system.

During this period, he managed a pennant winner in four consecutive seasons: 1965 with the Rock Hill Cardinals of the Western Carolinas League, 1966 with the St. Petersburg Cardinals of the Florida State League, 1967 with the Modesto Reds of the California League and 1968 with the Asheville Tourists of the Southern League. It was during the 1966 season that Sparky's club lost to Miami 4-3 in 29 innings, which remains the longest pro game played (by innings) without interruption.

He made his way back to the majors in 1969 as a coach for the San Diego Padres. He was briefly a member of the California Angels coaching staff during the 1969-70 offseason, but within days of being hired in Anaheim, he was offered the opportunity to succeed Dave Bristol as manager of the Reds. His appointment reunited Anderson with Reds' general manager Bob Howsam, who had hired him as a minor-league skipper in the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati organizations.

Anderson won 102 games and the pennant in his first Major League season as manager, but then lost the World Series in five games to the Baltimore Orioles. After an injury-plagued 1971 season, the Reds came back and won another pennant in 1972, but lost to the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. They took the National League West division title in 1973, then finished a close second to the Los Angeles Dodgers a year later.

Finally, in 1975, the Reds blew the division open by winning 108 games, swept the National League Championship Series and then edged the Boston Red Sox in a drama-filled, seven-game World Series. They repeated in 1976 by winning 102 games and ultimately sweeping the New York Yankees in the Series. Over the course of these two seasons, Anderson's Reds compiled an astounding 14-3 record in postseason play against the Pirates, Philles, Red Sox and Yankees, winning their last 8 in a row in the postseason after triumphing against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, and then winning seven straight games in the 1976 postseason.

During this time, Anderson became known as "Captain Hook" for his penchant for taking out a starting pitcher at the first sign of weakness and going to his bullpen, relying heavily on closers Will McEnaney and Rawly Eastwick.

When the aging Reds finished second to the Dodgers in each of the next two seasons, Anderson was fired. The Reds won the division title again in 1979 but lost three straight to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the League Championship Series. They would not make the playoffs again until they won the World Series in 1990 by sweeping the heavily favored Oakland A's.

Anderson moved on to the young Detroit Tigers after being hired as their new manager on June 14, 1979. The Tigers became a winning club almost immediately, but did not get into contention until 1983, when they finished second to the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1984, Detroit opened the season 35-5 (a major league record) and breezed to a 104-58 record (a franchise record for wins). They swept the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and then beat the San Diego Padres in five games in the World Series for Anderson's third world title. After the season, Anderson won the first of his two Manager of the Year Awards with the Tigers.

Anderson became the first manager to win a World Series for both a National League and American League team. Either manager in the 1984 Series would have been the first to win in both leagues, since San Diego Padres (NL) manager Dick Williams had previously won the series with the Oakland Athletics (AL) in 1972 and 1973. Anderson's accomplishment was equalled in the 2006 World Series, when St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa — who had previously won the World Series with the Oakland Athletics in 1989, and who considers Anderson his mentor — led his team to the title over the Detroit Tigers. Coincidentally, having won a championship while managing the Florida Marlins in 1997, Tigers manager Jim Leyland could have achieved this same feat had the Tigers defeated La Russa's Cardinals in the 2006 World Series.

With a 9-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on July 29, 1986 Anderson became the first to achieve 600 career wins as a manager in both the American and National Leagues.

Anderson led the Tigers to the majors' best record in 1987, but the team was upset in the ALCS by the Minnesota Twins. He won his second Manager of the Year Award that year. After contending again in 1988 (finishing second to Boston by one game in the AL East), the team collapsed a year later, losing a startling 103 games. During that 1989 season, Anderson took a month-long leave of absence from the team as the stress of losing wore on him. First base coach Dick Tracewski managed the team in the interim.

In 1991, the Tigers finished last in batting average, first in batting strike outs and near the bottom of the league in most pitching categories, but still led their division in late August before settling for a second-place finish behind the rival Toronto. The team featured a power-packed lineup of sluggers Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton, and Rob Deer, which led the league in home runs and walks that season.

During his managerial career, Anderson was known to heap lavish (and often times undeserved and unfair) praise on his ballplayers when talking to the media. He declared Kirk Gibson "the next Mickey Mantle", which he later acknowledged may have put too much pressure on Gibson early in his career. He said Mike Laga, who played for him in 1984, would "make us forget every power hitter who ever lived." He also said, "Johnny Bench (who played for him in Cincinnati) will never throw a baseball as hard as Mike Heath (a catcher who played for him in Detroit)."

Anderson retired from managing after the 1995 season, reportedly disillusioned with the state of the league following the 1994 strike that had also truncated the beginning of the 1995 season. It is widely believed that Anderson was pushed into retirement by the Tigers, who were unhappy that Sparky refused to manage replacement players during spring training in 1995. He finished with a lifetime record of 2194-1834, for a .545 percentage. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager in 2000. His Hall of Fame plaque has him wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform. He spent the larger portion of his career managing the Tigers (1970-78 with the Reds, 1979-95 with the Tigers), but he won two World Series with the Reds and one with the Tigers. He chose to wear the Reds cap at his induction in honor of former GM Bob Howsam, who gave Anderson his first chance at a major-league managing job. Anderson was also inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame the same year. A day in his honor was also held at Detroit's Comerica Park during the 2000 season.

On May 28, 2005, during pre-game ceremonies in Cincinnati, Anderson's jersey number, 10, was retired by the Reds. Anderson's number in Detroit, 11, has been inactive since 1995. However, it has not been officially retired by the Tigers.

In 2006, construction was completed on the "Sparky Anderson Baseball Field" at California Lutheran University's new athletic complex. In 2007, Anderson was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

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