We finally came across a copy of Dan Ewald‘s book, “Sparky And Me: My Friendship with Sparky Anderson and the Lessons He Shared about Baseball and Life” ($25.99, Thomas Dunne Books, 334 pages) and couldn’t help but think of the many times we were able to just pick up the phone and call the late Hall of Fame manager from his Thousand Oaks home to discuss one thing, and see the conversation go in several other directions.
Ewald, a former Detroit News baseball writer who then worked for the Tigers for 18 years and became Anderson’s right-hand man for 32 years later, wrote several books with Anderson over the years. A copy of “They Call Me Sparky” (1998, Sleeping Bear Press) sits proudly on my shelf, if only so I can show off the inscription on the inside cover. He started the inscription “To ‘Tom'” — yes, with quotes around my name — and finished the note by signing it Sparky. Without quotes.
Comparisons have been made to “Tuesdays with Morrie,” and that’s about as great a compliment as can be for Ewald’s collection of stories that paint a clearer picture of George Anderson that we could have ever known from just spot interviews.
Just a few quick excerpts that jumped out at us:
From page 76:
“A church still stands on a corner of Michigan and Trumbull across from where old Tiger Stadium once stood. It’s a refuge for homeless people in the neighborhood. Throughout the summer and into early autumn, the vagrants sleep on the streets or in the alley behind the church. They sustain themselves with food provided by generous donors. In winter months filled with snow and ice storms, they scramble for shelter in designated sanctuaries or at least in an abandoned building where maybe the wind doesn’t blow so hard.
“These are among Sparky’s regular people. Maybe their lives had just taken one bad turn. Maybe their lack of good fortune wasn’t their fault at all.
“Sparky was always moved by those people who spent endless hours simply staring into space. He studied their faces and watched their defeated motions. It was easy to see that they had given up. Life had become far too difficult.
“He wondered which turn or inexplicable twist of fate had landed them where they were. We often talked about circumstances that might have led us to where they were instead of to the other side of Michigan and Trumbull, where the worst thing that could happen was to lose another ballgame.
“Once each homestand, Sparky popped out of his car to deliver a donation to the pastor of the church. He walked in quickly and left with few words exchanged. it wasn’t necessary for anyone to know that the visitor was Sparky Anderson.
“He lectured his players to look across the street before pulling into the parking lot every day. He wanted them to appreciate the talent with which they’d been blessed. He wanted them to know that these were people, too. If a player was fined for braeking a team rule, often Sparky sent them across the street to put that money to good use.
“It was easy for Sparky to identify with those people. He was always a ‘regular person’ himself. I often drive by where the old park stood. I fill a couple of cardboard boxes with packaged and canned foods to leave on the steps of the front door of the church. Driving home, I think of Sparky. He wouldn’t have cared how much or how little was given. Remembering the ‘regular person’ was all that mattered to him. If his lesson made a lifelong impression on at least one player, then it was worth all the time. I know it made a difference for me.”
From Page 268:
“He once confided he would have liked to have a shot at managing his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. But that was just a dream he knew would never happen ….
“When I once asked for his defintiion of success, he told me of an incident he had with longtime Dodgers radio voice Vin Scully: ‘Success is for the moment,’ Scully said to Sparky. ‘Accept it. Appreciate it. And rememer it will soon be gone.'”
Sparky Anderson was a success story that is gone far too soon for our measurement.
== From Dan Ewald’s website (linked here)
== The Detroit Free Press has a Q-and-A with Ewald from last month (linked here)