Keeping Score

Sparky Anderson: Witty, Wise, Winner

  • Share
  • Read Later


They don’t make managers like Sparky any more. That’s why everyone couldn’t help but love him.

Yes, Sparky Anderson, who died on Thursday, at 76, of complications from dementia, won 2,194 games over his 27-year managerial career, sixth-best in major league history. He’s a rightful member of the Baseball Hall of Fame – the first manager to win World Series titles with teams in both the National and American Leagues.

Anderson’s Big Red Machine teams in Cincinnati, who seemed to have a Hall of Famer at every base, won back-to-back titles in 1975-76; in ’84, his Detroit Tigers trounced the American League from start to finish, and knocked s off the San Diego Padres in a five-game World Series.

(World Series Photos: The 10 unforgettable moments)

He was a winner, but also a throwback to the days when managers and coaches weren’t so self-serious.

Anderson, whose hair went white in his 20s, could lead like Tony LaRussa or Pat Riley or Coach K – you know, the guys will meet with your corporate clients to impart their wisdom, for a fee – yet speak like Casey Stengel. ”I truly don’t know the language,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1993. ”I wish I could know the difference between a noun and a pronoun and an adverb and a verb, but I don’t know, and you know, I don’t wanna know. Why do you have to know English? It’s like two: There’s three twos! There’s tee-oh, there’s tee-doubleya-oh, and there’s tee-double-oh! Three twos! Now, if I put any one of those down in a letter, you know which one it is I’m talkin’ about. It’s like there and their. What’s the difference, as long as you know there’s a there there?”

Sparky may have hated spelling, but in the dugout, no one was smarter. He played down his own contributions, which is why everyone loved him. “The players make the manager,” he once said. “It’s never the other way.” Not really; by ceding the spotlight to stars like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, Anderson’s teams played harder, and better, for him, and delivered championships for their fans.

“The press would stay late in his office to hear him talk,” says Steve Wulf, the former TIME senior writer who covered Anderson’s Tigers for Sports Illustrated in the 1980s. “And the players would come early to the park.”

Anderson’s one liners – “me carrying a briefcase is like a hot dog wearing earrings” – were funny, but often seriously wise. “I’ve got my faults,” he said, “but living in the past isn’t one of them. There’s no future in it.”

He also noted that “losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good.” Luckily for Sparky, he won plenty.

But today, baseball hurts. Twofold.