Sparky is gone. The skipper who was called “Captain Hook” for going to the bullpen early and often during his illustrious major league managerial career is no longer with us. George “Sparky” Anderson was quite a man. While baseball has lost a giant, Detroit and Cincinnati have lost a genuine superstar. For Detroit and Cincy, Sparky was baseball. Anderson was the first manager to win World Series titles in both leagues and the only manager to lead two franchises in career wins. In Cincinnati, he will forever be remembered as the manager who harnessed the Big Red Machine and guided them to greatness. And much like the earlier loss of the beloved Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, Sparky’s passing marks another sad day.
No one could match Sparky for his managerial enthusiasm, knowledge and love of the sport. Will Tieman, voice of Michigan State University basketball and president of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association summed up his feelings this way:
“Sparky Anderson was truly a baseball hero. He was idolized by players, coaches and fans, and even we members of the media admired him for his openness and honesty.”
For me personally, I still recall the day in 1979 when talk show host Ron Cameron dispatched me to pick up Sparky from Tiger Stadium, following a day game, to be a guest on Cameron’s WXYZ Radio “Sports Talk” show. Expecting only to pick up the new Tigers manager, Sparky brought along his close friend, Tigers bench coach Billy Consolo. There they were, these two baseball minds, awaiting my arrival at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
It was a wonderful June Saturday evening and the conversation in my car between Sparky, Billy and I was one to remember. We discussed their arrival in town, their passion for baseball, and, of course, the great fans in Detroit. Through the years, I would cover Hall of Famer Sparky and the Tigers as a sports writer for the Detroit Monitor newspaper and as a sports broadcaster on WCAR and WBRB. There was hardly a time when the skipper would not make time for us reporters, whether it was following a tough loss, an exciting win or at a social event like owner John Fetzer’s annual winter party at the Detroit Athletic Club.
Sparky always found the time to talk to everyone. Much like Harwell, he treated everyone he met with courtesy and the same respect. We will all miss his warm smile, folksiness, love of baseball, family, and those special “kids” of his in Michigan children’s hospitals.
And as a practicing Catholic, I remember how proud he was for the opportunity, along with coaches Consolo and Dick Tracewski, to meet Pope John Paul II on his papal visit to the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck, the heart of the Polish community.
God rest in peace, dear skipper. Baseball misses you already!