Former Detroit Tigers’ manager George Lee “Sparky” Anderson died Thursday in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 76.
Dan Ewald, a family spokesman, announced his death. The Associated Press reported Anderson had been placed in hospice care because of dementia complications, about which his family made a statement Wednesday.
Anderson managed the Cincinnati Reds to four pennants and two World Series, the memorable seven-game classic with the Red Sox in 1975 and the Big Red Machine’s complete domination of the New York Yankees with a sweep in 1976.
After nine years In Cincinnati, he managed the Detroit Tigers for 16 ½ seasons. He became the first manager to win World Series championships with teams from the National and American Leagues when the Tigers beat the San Diego Padres in five games in 1984.
Anderson succeeded as a manager thanks to ability to deal with players as individuals. He said players didn’t need to like the manager, but they needed to obey the manager. Sometimes he was called Captain Hook for removing his starting pitcher at the first signs of trouble, but this maneuvering was merely ahead of its time as it is commonly accepted in today’s game.
Anderson earned his nickname in the minor leagues. He was doing what he always did, which was berating an umpire and getting ejected from the game. A radio man said, “Look at those sparks fly! That’s one sparky fella!”
Anderson only saw big league action as a player in 1959 when he played 152 games at second base for the Philadelphia Phillies. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Anderson hit .218 with nine doubles and three triples that year before being sent back to the minors, where he played in Triple-A another four years.
After managing various minor league teams, he was offered a coaching job by the California Angels. The day he took that job, he was called to be the manager of the Reds. The headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer the next day read, “Sparky Who?” He was the youngest manager in baseball, 36, already with a full head of white hair.
Anderson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 by the Veterans committee. He chose a Reds cap for his plaque to go with his Hall ring as a tribute to Cincinnati general manager Bob Howsam, for giving a career minor leaguer a shot at the big leagues.
“I never wore a World Series ring,” Anderson told The Associated Press. “I will wear this ring until I die.”
Anderson is survived by his wife, Carol; sons Lee and Albert; his daughter Shirlee Engelebrecht, and nine grandchildren.
It’s hard to write about Sparky without remembering we’ve also lost longtime Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell this year. Not only were they both great baseball men, they were two of the nicest people ever.
As Sparky said, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.”
The world has lost two great men. And so has baseball.