Sparky a truly beloved figure
Sparky Anderson was a truly beloved figure, and why not? He was both a winner and a genuinely fine human being.
The former Reds and Tigers skipper died Thurday at age 76. There will never be another like him, more's the pity.
George Lee (Sparky) Anderson was a Major League manager who achieved unprecedented success. He was the first manager to win World Series championships in both leagues, winning with Cincinnati in 1975 and '76 and Detroit in '84. Tony La Russa later became the second manager to achieve this feat.
But just reciting that record undersells the achievements of Anderson and those teams. His "Big Red Machine" ranked with the best of any era. Anderson won four pennants in a span of seven years in The Queen City. The two World Series championship teams won 210 regular season games and then steamrolled their way through two postseasons, going a cumulative 14-3.
His '84 Tigers sprinted out to a record-setting 35-5 start, won 104 games and lost only one game in the postseason.
These teams were undoubtedly talented, but there have been supremely talented teams that have been undone by incompetent managers. Sparky created a professional environment in which talent was allowed to reach its full potential. It was no accident at all that he managed some of baseball's best teams.
And when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Anderson gave all the credit to his players. Again, that was a reflection not only of his innate modesty, but of his intelligence, as well. A successful manager knows, as Sparky knew, that there is more than enough credit to go around. If you win, you don't need to campaign for recognition of your baseball intelligence. All the evidence on your side of the question has already been gathered.
Anderson was a great talker. This is not meant in the sense of Winston Churchill rallying the British people with his oratory during World War II. Sparky did not produce great rhetorical flourishes, but he loved to talk. He was deeply appreciated by baseball reporters for his willingness to converse -- at great length and often. The occasional malapropism only added to his charm.
With his shock of white hair and his finger wagging to emphasize his points, there was an everybody's-favorite-uncle quality to Sparky Anderson. He was genuinely nice, and it wasn't the sort of nice that differentiates in status. You didn't have to be a big name or a national figure for Sparky to treat you like a human being.
Was he occasionally given to overstatement? Oh, yes. But again, it was typically in a positive cause. He had a tendency to exaggerate his players' potential. Maybe Kirk Gibson wasn't quite "the next Mickey Mantle." Maybe some other player who Sparky touted as a Hall of Famer ended up being a marginal talent. But this was Sparky -- building his guys up, rather than tearing someone down.
Anderson was immensely popular in Cincinnati, and then in Detroit -- and eventually throughout baseball. He was widely respected for his knowledge of the game and the success that his teams achieved, but he was also a man who generated a ton of affection just by being himself.
That was Sparky Anderson -- a man who had lots of victories on his resume and a fundamental goodness in his heart.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.