Sparky Anderson and the 25 Most Beloved People in Baseball
The recent sad news about Sparky Anderson has unfortunately made it clear that the baseball world just lost one of its most beloved people.
Sparky was one of a kind, no doubt about that. Luckily for us, when it comes to other beloved baseball personalities, he was hardly alone.
Here are the top 25 beloved people in baseball history.
25. Ernie Harwell
The late voice of the Detroit Tigers was a baseball broadcaster for 55 years, and his voice is one of the most recognizable in sports broadcasting history.
Depending on who you ask, Harwell was the first to come up with a signature home run call. And his is the only one that doesn't suck.
"That one is loooooong gone," he would always say when a ball cleared the fence. There was no shouting, no obnoxious cheering. Just the facts with a little bit of flavor.
He also had the best call for when a player struck out looking. "He watched it go by," he would say, "like the house on the side of the road."
Classic. He will be missed. And he already is.
24. Ozzie Smith
If ever there was a baseball player who could bring the crowd to its feet at any given moment, it was The Wizard.
From doing all sorts of crazy flips on his way out to the diamond, to the bare-handed diving stops, to the walk-off home runs precipitating that made people go crazy, Smith was one of those rare players who was a form of entertainment in and of himself.
And ever since he retired in 1996, there are very few shortstops who have played the position with the same kind of expertise as Smith.
Also, he made one of my all time favorite cameos on The Simpsons. No doubt it's a favorite of baseball fans everywhere.
23. Joe DiMaggio
Was Joe DiMaggio kind of a jerk in his day? Undoubtedly. But he also happens to be one of the greatest players of all time. And as far as Yankees are concerned, he might just defy the organization better than any of them, for good or ill.
Joe D's accolades are extensive: a 56-game hitting streak, nine World Series rings, three MVPs, and 13 All Star appearances.
You could also argue that he is the blueprint for athletes as celebrities. And while not many people are quick to forgive him for that, there's no doubt that he handled the dynamic better than anyone since.
22. Earl Weaver
There will never be another manager like Earl Weaver.
In addition to pioneering the use of statistics and using his bench to mix and match like no manager before him had ever done, Weaver also had a kind of charisma that will never be matched.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, just go type 'Earl Weaver' into YouTube. If you're at work, make sure you're wearing headphones.
After you watch him carry on, you will perhaps understand his place on this list.
21. Bob Uecker
You have to think that people who have only seen Major League and are unaffiliated with baseball have no idea that the guy playing Harry Doyle is not just some actor.
Nope, he was a real broadcaster, folks. The good news is that we love him too. In fact, we call him "Mr. Baseball."
The longtime announcer for the Brewers is undoubtedly one of baseball's funniest personalities, if not the funniest altogether. His announcing style and wit is unparalleled, and he is endlessly quotable.
Seriously, how many of you baseball fans always say "Juuuuuuuuuust a bit outside!" whenever there's a wild pitch?
I know I do.
And if you haven't seen his Hall of Fame induction speech, then you officially have not seen one of the best stand-up comedy routines ever performed.
20. Ernie Banks
You know you've done something right for your organization when you're nickname is "Mr. Cub."
The originator of the famous tag line, "Let's play two," Banks played every season of his 18-year career for the Cubbies, piling up 512 home runs, and more than 2,500 hits in the process.
Banks' 14 All Star selections, two MVPs, and a membership in Major League Baseball's All Century Team pretty much make him the greatest Cub of all time.
19. Harry Caray
Speaking of the Cubs, they sure don't make 'em like Harry Caray any more.
The longtime Cubs broadcaster revolutionized the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning, and few broadcasters have reached the same level of national fame that Caray was able to achieve.
Also, without him we wouldn't have Will Ferrel's most hilarious impersonation. Perish the thought.
18. Joe Torre
A lot of people hate the Yankees. But in all his years as manager of the team, I don't think anybody really hated Joe Torre.
How could you?
Not only was Torre a brilliant manager, he was also just a great man. We all liked that about him, Yankee fans in particular. And the rest of us particularly appreciated that he never seemed to take any crap George Steinbrenner.
Thankfully, he will be remembered for more than just being one of the game's great guys. His 2,326 wins as a manager are the fifth most all time, just ahead of Sparky Anderson.
17. Bobby Cox
Bobby Cox is gone now, and you know as well as I do that baseball is going to miss him.
Indeed, out of all the managers of the last twenty-odd years, none of them have been quite as likable as the longtime Braves manager. And that's saying something for a guy who holds the managerial record for most career ejections.
If you think about all those Braves teams in the 90s and the better part of this decade, Bobby's name sticks out just as much as that of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper and Andruw Jones, and all the rest. And because there's an entire generation people who have grown up to Braves games on TBS, Bobby's effect on contemporary baseball fanhood is not to be underestimated.
16. Sparky Anderson
And then there's Sparky.
As far as baseball managers go, he's one of the all-time greats. His 2,194 wins as a manager are good for sixth on baseball's all time list. He was also the first manager to win a World Series in both the American and National League.
Today's news that Sparky is basically on his way out undoubtedly brought home all sorts of memories of the Big Red Machine and the 1984 Tigers for baseball fans everywhere. Those were Sparky's teams, and they were pretty darn good.
In addition, it was him that uttered a quote that most perfectly encapsulates the love that people have for baseball.
"I can't believe they pay us to play baseball," he said. "Something we did for free as kids."
15. Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan is the best power pitcher that ever lived. And it's really not all that close.
324 wins, a record 5,714 strikeouts, a record seven no-hitters, a record 383 strikeouts in one season, a record...
Oh heck, you know the story.
But just as impressive as Ryan's career is what he's done in the years following his retirement. To put it simply, he became a titan of the business aspect of baseball, and he now owns a Texas Rangers team that just made it to the World Series.
To say that he's done well for himself and the game would be a pretty good way to put it. And we love him for it.
14. Vin Scully
As far as baseball broadcasters go, Vin Scully is the man.
He's been the voice of the Dodgers for 61 years, which means that men and women who listened to him while they were still in the crib are now listening to him as they near retirement.
But more impressive than the length of his career is the fact that there's simply nobody else who is on the same level as Vin Scully. If you've never listened to him broadcast a game (shame on you), he does it all by himself. No color guy needed. And there's never a dull moment as long as he's relaying the action.
For the record, if you could have sworn you heard Vin Scully doing a Giants game one day, that was just Jon Miller doing his awesome impression of Scully.
13. Johnny Pesky
Now that Ted Williams is gone, Johnny Pesky is the Boston Red Sox.
Pesky, born John Michael Paveskovich, broke in with Boston in 1942, and was the Red Sox's second baseman during the Ted Williams years. This is, of course, except for the three seasons from 1943-1945 that he missed due to military service in World War II.
He later became the Red Sox color analyst for a time, and has been in and around the organization ever since he retied from baseball in 1954. His No. 6 is one of seven numbers on the facade in right field, just above the famous right field foul pole that is famously known as the "Pesky Pole."
Yup, they love him in Fenway, and beyond as well.
12. Tommy Lasorda
Who doesn't love Tommy Lasorda?
Seriously, I need to know.
This Hall of Famer has been involved in one capacity or another for the Dodgers organization six decades, and is one of the greatest personalities the game has to offer.
He won two World Series in the 1980s as the charismatic manager for the Dodgers, and it just seems like he's always there whenever there is some sort of important baseball function going on.
Personally, my favorite memory of Lasorda was when he appeared at a game at AT&T Park, and was lightheartedly booed by the Giants faithful. When he started blowing kisses to the crowd, people started laughing and applauding. Classic.
11. Cal Ripken Jr.
There has perhaps never been a player who played the game more professionally and with as much passion as Cal Ripken Jr.
We all know his most impressive accomplishment. He played in 2,632 consecutive games, shattering Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130. The game in which the total reached 2,131 is going to be a great memory for baseball fans for years to come, particularly members of my generation who understood that something profound was happening even at the young ages at which we watched.
Cal also played the game during one of the most tumultuous times in baseball history, and is one of the major reasons why the game was able to revive itself following the 1994 strike season.
And for that, Cal, we are forever grateful.
10. Lou Gehrig
When people think of the Lou Gehrig's fair well speech, I don't think anybody truly realizes just how fascinating it is that one of the modern world's most famous public addresses was delivered by a baseball player.
But Gehrig was no slouch. He went to Columbia University, and was one of the only players of his generation that had a college education. And he was, of course, a hell of a ballplayer too. Before Cal Ripken was the Iron Man, Gehrig was the Iron Horse, appearing in 2,130 consecutive games. He ended his career with 493 career home runs, and undoubtedly would have hit many more had it not been for the tragic end to his career.
Today, Gehrig may not be on the same level as the Babe, but he's definitely forever in our hearts.
9. Ken Griffey, Jr.
Baseball fans will perhaps never again see a swing as graceful and elegant as that of Ken Griffey, Jr. in his prime.
And with it, he was one of the most complete hitters in baseball history. A lifetime .284 average, 630 home runs, and 1,836 RBIs. He made the All Star team 13 times, was the MVP in 1992, and won seven Silver Sluggers.
By the way, he could also fetch it. He won ten Gold Gloves, and you could argue that he invented the home run-saving catch.
And then there was his personality, which gained him enough acclaim in and around baseball to elevate him to the same level as Michael Jordan's.
And for members of my generation, he is our Willie Mays. We probably didn't realize it during Griffey's struggles this past decade, but I think we do now.
8. Derek Jeter
I'm one of the most diehard Red Sox fans you're ever going to come across, but even I will acknowledge that Derek Jeter deserves to be one of the game's most beloved figures of all time.
In fact, let's take a step back from Jeter's current contract status and take a moment to admire his career.
In the last 20 years or so, it is indeed quite hard to find a player who has transcended the game more than Jeter. And it goes beyond his 11 All Star selections and five World Series rings. The man is simply a class act. The fact that nobody has ever really taken issue with anything he's ever done on the field is pretty remarkable.
Just look at his teammate at third base for a quick point of comparison.
7. Babe Ruth
Sure, we know all about the boozing, gorging, womanizing, terrible John Goodman movies and all other kinds of debauchery concerning George Herman Ruth. But dammit if we don't love him anyway.
There's no doubt that Babe's legacy has been downplayed by more recent generations, who don't see a ballplayer when they look at him. But on balance, I think we also appreciate the fact that he singlehandedly invented the home run.
Indeed, he hit a then-record 714 home runs, won the World Series seven times, set the then-single season record of 60 in 1927, and he even sports a 2.28 lifetime ERA.
If he were to be playing these days, he would probably be the ultimate love him or hate him athlete. But he's not, so we love him.
6. Ted Williams
"All I want out of life is for when I go walking down the street for people to say, 'There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.'"
Before Roy Hobbs uttered something very similar on the silver screen, Ted Williams was the first to say it.
And he got what he wanted. Ted Williams is the greatest hitter that ever lived. Fact.
The last man to hit .400 was a lifetime .344 hitter, with 521 home runs, 2,654 hits, and 1,839 RBIs. Had he been playing in the five years that he missed due to active service in WWII and Korea, those numbers would be even more ridiculous.
If you want to talk about how much Williams was hated while he was playing, go ahead. But I also urge you to go back and watch his introduction at Fenway Park before the 1999 All Star Game. It's one of the most chill-inducing baseball moments of all time.
5. Roberto Clemente
The Roberto Clemente Award is given each year to a player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."
Yeah, I'd say that sums up Roberto Clemente pretty well.
We can talk all we want about Clemente's brilliant career, but I think we love him more for his selflessness away from the field. The fact that he could walk away from baseball each season and throw himself into charitable work is pretty remarkable given the kind of dirt that comes out about the offseason antics of athletes these days.
And the notion that a professional athlete could actually give his life serving efforts such as these... well, how can you not look up to a guy like that?
4. Hank Aaron
Before Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron was baseball's all time home run king. And in the minds of many, he still is.
His resume is one of the most impressive in baseball history. Second on the all time list with 755 home runs, first on the list with 2,297 RBIs and 1,477 extra-base hits. He is a 25-time All Star, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, an MVP, and a World Series champion in 1957.
Nowadays, it's funny to think that Aaron really didn't get all that much attention during his career until the days when he started moving up baseball's career home run list. And that, I think, is a testament to his humility and the class with which he played the game.
In short, as far as symbols of the game go, it's hard to find anyone more worthy than Hank Aaron.
3. Jackie Robinson
I hate to over generalize things here, but you have to wonder where the game might be if it hadn't been for Jackie Robinson.
For all intents and purposes, Robinson's breaking of baseball's color barrier essentially made it possible for baseball to expand its horizons to the point where it now has players from just about every country imaginable.
Were there better players than Robinson? Absolutely. But none of them have had their number retired by every single team in the big leagues. And few if any of them are mentioned in history books alongside names like Martin Luther King, Jr.
2. Willie Mays
Even if you're a baseball fan, you love the "Say Hey Kid." You might not know it, but you do.
Where to start with Willie? How about 660 home runs, 12 Gold Gloves, a Rookie of the Year Award in 1951, two MVPs, 24 All Star appearances, and a World Series ring in 1954.
He also happens to be responsible for one of the most famous plays in not just the history of baseball, but the history of sports as well. The one, the only, "The Catch," which you can watch for the umpteenth time to your left.
After his playing career ended, it's hard to imagine anybody being a better ambassador of the game than Willie Mays. He stopped playing in 1973, but he is still beloved by generations of fans who never got the chance to see Willie lace 'em up.
1. Yogi Berra
Honestly, who else could be number one besides the great Yogi Berra?
Yogi is undoubtedly one of the greatest catchers in the history of baseball. In addition to a lifetime .285 average with 358 home runs, Yogi is also an 18-time All-Star, a three-time MVP, a Hall of Famer, and a member of Major League Baseball's All Century Team.
Oh, he also has 13 World Series rings. Ten as a player, three as a manager.
But in addition to being a fine player and a fine teacher of the game, Yogi is essentially baseball answer to William Shakespeare.
If I were to list very last one of Yogi's great quotes, this slide would go on forever. But here are my personal favorites:
"It's deja vu all over again."
"Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded."
"Ninety percent of the game is mental. The other half is physical."
"The future ain't what it used to be."
And of course, "I really didn't say everything I said."