November 4-Thousand Oaks, CA
Former manager George “Sparky” Anderson, who managed for 26 seasons and won three World Series Championships with two different teams, has died at age 76. According to family members, Anderson had been suffering from dementia and passed away in a hospice in Thousand Oaks, California, a suburb about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Anderson, born in South Dakota, was signed as an amateur free agent by the (then Brooklyn) Dodgers in 1954 and spent five years in their farm system before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He was their second baseman for one season in 1959 but his .218 average resulted in him being sent back down to the minors. He never reached the major leagues as a player again.
Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the minor league Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs, liked Anderson’s energy and made him the Leaf’s manager in 1964 at the ripe old age of 30. Cooke would later go on to own the Los Angeles Lakers and become majority of owner of the Washington Redskins.
Anderson embarked on a successful minor league managing career and worked his way back to the major leagues as a coach for the 1969 San Diego Padres. Anderson was then picked to replace Dave Bristol as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. In his inaugural season of 1970, he guided the team, which became known as the “The Big Red Machine,” to 102 wins and the NL pennant. They would lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, 4 games to 1.
The team continued to thrive under Anderson and the Reds won back to back World Championships in 1975 and 1976. Eventually the Reds would start to falter and Anderson was let go after the 1978 season. He was named manager of a struggling Detroit Tigers team in June of 1979 and worked his magic again a few years later.
In 1984, the Tigers began the season 35-5 and went on to win the World Series. Anderson became the first manager to win World Series in both leagues (Tony LaRussa accomplished the feat again in 2006 when he won a World Series with the Cardinals after guiding the Oakland A’s to the 1989 World Championship).
But “Sparky” apparently became disillusioned with baseball when the 1994 strike resulted in no post-season baseball. He retired after the 1995 season and was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
Sparky was a reporter’s dream with his quotes and observations. When steroids first became headlines in the 90’s, Anderson quipped that players of his era weren’t bigger but they were “drunker.” Other classic lines were:
“We averaged 96 wins my nine years in Cincinnati. We had Bench, Rose, Morgan, Perez, Foster, Griffey, Concepcion and Geronimo. Imagine what I could have done if they (the Reds front office) had given me some players!”
“If I ever find a pitcher who has heat, a good curve and a slider, I might seriously consider marrying him, or at least proposing.”
“He’s (Willie Stargell has) got power enough to hit home runs in any park, including Yellowstone.”