There was never a problem separating the character of Sparky Anderson with Sparky Anderson, the character.
In a 1998 autobiography written by the future Hall of Fame baseball manager, whose messages were often so mangled by improper use of the English language that it drew comparisons to Casey Stengel, Anderson refrained from telling a bunch of stories about problems he had with star players or arguments he had with front-office management.
He captured it all in just 11 words, on the fifth page: “I ain’t no better than anybody else. And neither are you.”
When news came that the longtime Thousand Oaks resident died Thursday at age 76 at his home from complications brought on by dementia, Anderson’s indelible character was one of the first thing that friends talked about.
“His idea of baseball was the highest ideals,” said longtime friend Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame manager who played with and against Anderson in the minor leagues and managed against his great Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s.
“He believed in the game and represented the game to the highest degree of class, dignity and character. Baseball has lost one of its greatest members.”
Anderson, the first man to win World Series titles in both the National and American leagues, had been suffering from dementia for just the last several months. His family did not release the information about his need for home hospice care until Wednesday.
“When I saw him at Cooperstown in August, he didn’t look well and they had to escort him off the stage,” said Lasorda. “I called him a couple of weeks ago, but he was exhausted.”
When Anderson retired as a manager 15 years ago with 2,194 victories, only two others had more in baseball history. But he achieve managerial success quickly after taking over the Cincinnati Reds, winning 102 games as a 36-year-old in 1970 – after he had already accepted an offer to join the California Angels as a coach under Lefty Phillips, who signed him to his first big-league deal.
Anderson’s Reds won back-to-back world championships in 1975 and ’76 with future Hall of Fame players such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez. After that nine-year run in Cincinnati ended, he had 17 more with the Detroit Tigers, taking them to the 1984 championship on a team that featured Kirk Gibson.
He was fired by the Tigers after the 1995 season, which started late because of the players’ strike, and left Anderson disenchanted with the game. Saying it compromised the integrity of the game, Anderson refused to manage the Tigers with replacement players, which Major League Baseball had planned to do in ’95 before setting their labor issues.
Although he once said that “a baseball manager is a necessary evil,” Anderson managed 4,030 games in 26 years, seventh all-time, making seven playoff appearance and winning five league titles. He is also the only man to lead two franchises in career managerial victories.
Anderson’s Hall of Fame plaque includes the phrase: “Revered and treasured by his players for his humility, humanity, eternal optimism and knowledge of the game.” He also had a sign on his office wall at Tiger Stadium that read: “Every 24 hours the world turns over on someone who was sitting on top of it.”
“Sparky was, by far, the best manager I ever played for,” said Rose, the Sherman Oaks resident who has been excluded from Hall of Fame voting because of his lifetime ban for gambling while he was the Reds manager in the 1990s. “He understood people better than anyone I ever met. His players loved him, he loved his players, and he loved the game of baseball. There isn’t another person in baseball like Sparky Anderson. He gave his whole life to the game.”
Now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gibson said in a statement that Anderson was “one of the most influential people in my career. I’m a better person today because of him and for that I’ll always be grateful.”
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called Anderson “a loyal friend, and whenever I would be dealing with difficult situations as commissioner, he would lift my spirits, telling me to keep my head up and that I was doing the right thing.”
Born in miserable circumstances during the Great Depression in South Dakota on Feb. 22, 1934, the family moved to Los Angeles when he was 10. A batboy for Rod Dedeaux’s baseball team at USC, Anderson starred at L.A. Dorsey High and was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was known more as an infielder who could handle the glove but not the bat, hitting just .218 in his only big-league season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959.
While bouncing around in the minor leagues, which included a season for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, the outgoing and engaging Anderson was tagged with the nickname “Sparky” for the enthusiastic way he played. In his autobiography, Anderson said he “didn’t have a lot of talent, so I tried to make up for it with spit and vinegar.”
John Lowe, the former Los Angeles Daily News Dodger beat writer who works for the Detroit Free Press and covered most of Anderson’s career, called him “an extrovert wrapped around an introvert. With his unceasing flow of wisdom and humor, he dominated news conferences as few could.”
Some of Anderson’s most famous quotes:
== On his philosophy: “My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work.”
== On the chiseled physique of Oakland’s Jose Canseco: “He looks like a Greek goddess.”
== On a struggling player: “He wants to do so good so bad.”
Anderson joined Vin Scully for several years broadcasting the World Series on national radio, and was the Angels’ TV colorman from 1996 to ’98 for then-Prime Sports. There had been rumors of Anderson possibly taking over as the Angels manager, succeeding his long-time friend Marcel Lachemann, but Anderson had heart bypass surgery in 1999. Mike Scioscia was hired in 2000.
Anderson was known to enjoy golfing with a regular group of friends at Sunset Hills Country Club near his home. He would often attend charity events in and around Southern California.
Anderson last appeared at Dodger Stadium on May 23 prior to an interleague game between the Dodgers and Tigers, visiting with managers Joe Torre and Jim Leyland. Those who saw him said Anderson appeared to be in good health.
When Anderson needed a quote to finish his autobiography, published three years after he retired from managing, he picked a simple message: “All I ask of all you young people is that you never make money your one goal in life. Make people your life. And I promise you what a wonderful life it will be. Love life . . . and it will love you.”
At Anderson’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service. He is survived by his longtime wife, Carol, sons Lee and Albert, daughter Shirley Englebrecht and nine grandchildren.
== Anderson’s last visit to Dodger Stadium (linked here)