Sparky Anderson, the man that managed the Cincinnati Reds for 9 seasons and the Detroit Tigers for 17 seasons, died yesterday from complications from dementia, according to his family.
Sparky had his first cup of coffee in the majors way back in 1958, playing a full season and batting .218 with the Philadelphia Phillies, rendering him a relative unknown when he arrived in 1970 in Cincinnati to take control of the youthful and emerging Reds.
His youth matched that of his players and, in his first season, he won 102 games. He would win nearly 900 games in nine seasons with the Reds, with three seasons of over 100 wins, while averaging 96 wins a season throughout his tenure.
Sparky was part of a youth movement in Cincinnati and brought along with him the emerging tactics of the day.
He was part of the transition toward using more relief pitchers, often taking his starter out at the first sign of weakness and he leaned heavily on his relievers. In fact, Rawly Eastwick was the back-to-back saves leader from 1975-1976, the Reds championship seasons.
Anderson took control of a diverse group of players, with names ranging from Cesar Geronimo, Tony Perez and Dave Concepcion, to George Foster, Joe Morgan and Ken Griffey Sr., to Johnny Bench and Pete Rose.
No matter the players differences, they had one thing in common, their outright respect for a truly great manager.
Pete Rose said many times, "I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit for Sparky."
Sparky was well-respected by nearly everyone in baseball circles and got all of the reverence and adoration that comes with bringing a winner to Cincinnati, one of the greatest and oldest of baseball towns.
He was never afraid and never wavering on his decisions, giving of an air of confidence wherever he did go. Whether it be to take out a struggling pitcher, or moving Pete Rose to third base 1975, a move that was immensely criticized by the fans, the reporters and the organization, but the Reds still went on to win back-to-back titles.
He was so dedicated to those around him that he got fired for it.
After two second place seasons in 1977 and 1978, the Reds wanted him to bring in new assistant coaches, something which Anderson refused to do. Despite being fired, he resented no one.
He said at Bob Howsam's (the Reds general manager who hired and fired Anderson) funeral, "The man changed my entire life, my home, everything. He was precious to me."
Sparky exhibited a love and dedication for the game, yet understood the business side of the game that allowed it to prosper. It allowed him to make a living from the game that he loved.
He went from Cincinnati to Detroit, a place where the city cherished him just as much as the people in Cincinnati did.
He won 104 games and the World Series with the Tigers in 1984, his last pennant, his last 100-win season and his last championship.
He would go on to finish with 2194 wins, good enough for third all-time when he retired in 1995 and is now sixth on the list.
At his Hall of Fame induction in 2000, he pined on just how lucky he was.
"Players earn this, by their skills. Managers come here, as I did, on their backs, for what they did for me. I never believed different, I will never believe different, and I think that's what made my career so lucky. I was smart enough to know the people that were doing the work, and I could never under any circumstances ever thank 'em."
His rise was so improbable, having coached for only six season at the single and double-A level, but he did so with such confidence and ability that he would not be denied.
He was a humble man to the end and may not have a single enemy in the world, save for a few shaky starting pitchers and aging minor league umpires that he yelled at back in his playing days.
R.I.P Sparky Anderson.
The world has lost a great manager and an even better man.
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