Sparky Anderson passed away this past Thursday due to complications resulting from dementia. In his passing, it got me thinking about some of the great people in the sport and in sports in general. Personally, I was very young when Sparky was still in the game, he retired in 1995 after another dismal season with the Tigers, I was 13 years old. In what little I had the chance to see Sparky, living in Houston and such, and given the fact that the Tigers just weren’t any good, it’s not like they were on Sunday night baseball every week for the whole country to see. However, I knew who he was, I remembered watching him on the highlights, and I don’t think a night went by that I can remember, that I wasn’t looking forward to seeing if Sparky got ejected. Sparky was ejected 47 times during 26 seasons as manager for the Reds and Tigers. He finished nowhere close to Bobby Cox, John McGraw or Earl Weaver (all 1,2,3 on baseballs all-time ejections list), but I knew how “sparky” he was, how ferocious he could be.
He became identifiable to me not because he once led the Big Red Machine to back-to back world series titles, not because he won a world series with the Tigers in ’84, but because he was old school, he had the fire burning inside him, he loved the game and it showed through every night. Sparky, for me made the Detroit Tigers relevant. I became a Tigers fan because of Sparky, and I think sometimes in sport, maybe a lot of the time, we grab a hold of a team or an individual and root for that team, not because of who they are as an organization, not because we know anything about their history etc., but because we maybe feel that bond with that person as if we knew them, yet never would have had the chance in a lifetime to even see/meet that individual or team in person.
There are all sorts of stories, articles and columns that have been written about Sparky, so many people around the game of baseball have spoken and talked about who Sparky was as a person, what he meant to baseball, what he meant to fans or how he treated anyone who came up to him that just wanted to meet him and talk a little baseball. He was a the type of guy that would give anyone the time of day.
A question I asked the other night was, could Sparky manage in the game today? With all the different types of personalities in the game today, the money, the way it has become a business first instead of a game. It’s interesting to think about, I think he could have, I believe players now days, or 70 years ago wish they could play for a manager like that. One that will always have their players backs, but one that’s not afraid to let that individual when they need to pick up the slack.
Baseball keeps losing its greats, as time goes on, so will they. When we are old and grey…who will we look back on as a great ambassador for the game, a good person and all the things that Sparky Anderson represented? Think about it…the few, the proud…the dwindling.