Memories of Sparky
Sparky Anderson will remembered by many people in many different ways. To some he will be remembered as one of baseball’s best ambassadors. To some he will be remembered as a loyal and giving friend. To some he will be remembered as a devoted family man. To some he will be remembered as scrappy second baseman. To some he will be remembered as an outstanding manager.
I have the privilege of remembering him as all of those.
It’s easy to remember him in the blue and orange of the Detroit Tigers winning the World Series in 1984. It’s easy to remember him in the bright Red of the Cincinnati Reds winning in 1975 and again in ’76.
But what a lot of people don’t know is that he started his career in baseball in Dodger Blue. I met Sparky at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida way back in 1949, “50, “51; those years. He was an infielder and I was a pitcher. We developed a wonderful friendship and ended up playing together both in the Pacific Coast League for the Los Angeles Angels and in the International League for the Montreal Royals (both were triple-A Dodger farm teams).
As a player, it is fair to say that he was on overachiever. He made it to the big leagues, but not because of his powerful bat, but because of his desire and will and heart. He just wanted it so bad.
When he became a manager, he started in the low minor leagues. He worked his way up to the big leagues in that pursuit too, and went on to lead the Reds to two World Series championships, and the Detroit Tigers to a Championship. He was the first manager in the history of baseball to win a World Series in both leagues.
When I became the manager of the Dodgers, Sparky and I had been friends for a long time. But I told him that our friendship had to end because we were going to go after the Reds with everything we had, and I knew he was going to have his team go after us with all the drive and will and heart that he played with.
We developed an outstanding rivalry in those years, as when we would come into Cincinnati the stands would be packed just to watch BP.
When I retired I was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame right away. Due to my age I didn’t have to wait five years. Sparky told me that he was proud of me, and that he would definitely be in Cooperstown for my induction. A few years later, when I heard the news of his election to the Hall I told him the same thing.
It brought back a memory. In 1977 Sparky was the manager of the National League All Star team. He asked me and Danny Ozark to be on his coaching staff. There we were for the introductions and 60,000 fans were roaring. Sparky, Danny who played with us in the Dodger system, and I looked at each other in awe. Sparky said to us, “Would you have ever imagined that we would be together, after all these years, in the All Star Game together?”
We all looked at each other with a laugh at that because as just minor leaguers together, as just kids, as just friends, that was an impossible thought.
Looking back on that today, it really was an impossible thought, but I will be forever thankful that we made it come true together.
Rest in Peace, Sparky.