Sparky Anderson was the most high-profile manager of the 1970s and 1980s, always happy to give reporters a quotable quote or a story. He loved the game of baseball, and like Casey Stengel (one of his heroes), Sparky was a great ambassador of the game.
Anderson was a virtual unknown when the Cincinnati Reds tapped him as their manager in 1970. The Reds liked Anderson’s fiery determination and they acted on a recommendation from Preston Gomez, who had Sparky on his coaching staff in San Diego. The Reds won 70 of their first 100 games in 1970 and “The Big Red Machine” era was born. Anderson’s Reds won pennants in 1970, 1972, 1975, and 1976 with star-studded lineups which included Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan — “The Big Four”. The ’75-76 team is considered one of the best in baseball history.
The Reds were a very conservative but reactionary organization, and when Sparky guided his team to second place finishes in 1977 and 1978, he was unceremoniously fired. After being out of the dugout for only a few weeks at the start of the next season he took the Detroit job after announcer George Kell brokered the deal. Anderson took over a young but talented Detroit team. He famously told reporters that he would bring a championship to Detroit within five years (the same length as his contract) and he quickly went to work sweeping out players he felt wouldn’t fit into his system. By 1981 the young Tigers were in the hunt for a playoff spot and in 1983 they finished a strong second with 92 wins.
Though hopes were high for the ’84 season few experts could have predicted what happened that year for the Tigers. The team won their first nine games, 18 of their first 20, 26 of their first 30, and 35 of their first 40. The division race was essentially over by June and the Tigers rolled to a franchise record 104 wins. They lost only one game in the postseason and Sparky became the first manager to win a World Series title in both leagues. he was named Manager of the Year, giving him the honor in both leagues. In 1987 he led the Tigers to baseball’s best record but it was his last pennant race. He managed through the 1995 season, often saddled with teams that could score 6-7 runs but give up 7-8. He won more than 1,331 games in Detroit making him the franchise leader, and his 863 victories also ranked him first in Cincinnati.
Sparky grew up playing baseball in California where he learned the game from some of the best coaches. He was in the Dodgers organization for several years but he got his only shot in the big leagues with the Phillies in 1959 when he was their second baseman all season. The little infielder hit .218 with only twelve extra-base hits in 152 games but he was known more for his ability in the field. After that season he was shipped back to the minors and soon he was plying his trade as a manager, working his way up the ranks. When the Reds hired him in 1970 Sparky was only 36 years old even though he had white hair and looked like a grandfather already.
In 1960, when he was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International Association, Sparky Anderson received three season honors: Smartest Player, Best Hustler, and Best Defensive Infielder. The Maple Leafs won the league pennant.