Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson Battling Dementia

Sparky Anderson

Sparky Anderson with one of the posts he used as strategic hunting blinds in the Tiger Stadium dugout.

Hugh Surratt has informed me that the legendary Sparky Anderson, who won the World Series as manager of the Reds and Tigers, age 75, has been battling dementia, as reported today by the Detroit News. UPDATED: Sparky passed on the following day.

As a big fan, and victim of The Big Red Machine in 1976, I reflected on a few nice memories of the man and his legacy. Was it his ability to strategize, his management of the personalities or having loaded teams the source of his success? SABRE-metricians will pick apart the stats (has anyone come up with metrics for managers yet besides wins and losses?) but let’s refer instead to the following stories:

His real name is George. “Sparky” came from the minors, and his temper. Another of his nicknames was “Captain Hook,” because he would pull pitchers at the first sign of trouble.

Sparky Anderson was known for creating the line “My way or the highway.” He later regretted it, saying “it doesn’t even make sense,” but the alternately home-spun manner and hard-nosed, flammable, “sparky” side were his hallmarks.

He could make you like Pete Rose. Besides saying “they should lock the Hall of Fame” until he is let in, as one of the ten best players of all time, I particularly enjoy the story of their conversation on the bus after the Bernie Carbo game in 1975 from Sparky!.  “Peter Edward, we lost and I’m going to be up all night…”  Rose says, “but wasn’t that the greatest game ever?  Don’t worry, we’ll win tomorrow.”

Watermelon was another icon for Anderson, having once thrown a tantrum while managing in the minor leagues involving a buffet of fruit that he wrecked. After throwing the stuff all over, with seeds sticking to the low ceiling of the clubhouse, Sparky noticed the janitor in the corner looking around at the mess, too.  He felt ill and said he never looked at watermelon without remembering that story.

His rough-hewn visage was once parodied by David Letterman, who screwed his face to do an impression of Sparky “listening to a reporter’s questions after a game.”

I wish him the best in the battle ahead.

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