CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 3, 2016 – In every endeavor involving winning or losing, I have never known anyone more competitive than “Sparky” Anderson. Anderson was the first manager ever to win a World Series in both the National and American leagues, capturing the title twice in Cincinnati and once in Detroit.
I was looking for a place to play baseball in 1964 after being released on the last day of spring training by the Atlanta Braves. When I walked into the clubhouse in Rock Hill, S.C., one of the players pointed to a small white-haired man sitting in the corner and said, “That’s Sparky, over there.”
Anderson was only 30-years old at the time, but his hair was prematurely white, making him look exactly the same then as the day he died at 76 in 2010.
“Can I help you?” he asked as I walked toward him.
“I’m looking for a job,” I answered.
“Didja bring your stuff? Can’t try out without your equipment,” Sparky replied. “Ah heck, you don’t need it. We’ll getcha somethin’ ta use.”
Within a half hour, after taking batting practice and some grounders at first base, Sparky walked over and said, “Be back here at 2:30 so you can sign. You’re in the starting line-up tonight. But ya’ gotta bring your own stuff.”
And that was it. Simplest job interview I ever had. For the next two years I played for one of the greatest major league managers in the history of baseball, though at the time, we were both trying to work our way up to the “bigs.”
The following year, the Cardinals released me and I finished the season playing in Tampa with the Reds organization.
Between 1966 and 1974, I crossed paths with Sparky only once, and that was in Atlanta at a game between the Braves and the Padres in 1969. By then Anderson was in the “Show” as a third base coach for San Diego. My reason for going to Atlanta was to say “hello” to my roommate when I was playing in St. Petersburg.
Sonny Ruberto was a great utility player, and what he lacked in skill he made up for in “smarts.” Sparky was able to bring Ruberto along with him as he moved up the ladder, and though Sonny only had “a cup of coffee” (a brief career) in the big leagues, he could still say he made it.
At the end of the season, Sparky became manager of the Cincinnati Reds, a team that was later known as “The Big Red Machine.”
“Sparky who?” was the question most people asked when Anderson got the job because he was still an unknown to almost everyone. Everyone, that is, except those in the baseball world, who knew how determined he was to win.
In his first five seasons with Cincinnati, Sparky led his team to three World Series. Though he lost them all, nobody ever again asked “Sparky who?”
He finally beat Boston in a classic World Series in 1975.
Over his career Anderson won 2,194 games and three World Series on his way to being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. Despite managing 17 seasons in Detroit and nine in Cincinnati, Sparky chose to be inducted in a Reds uniform.
A fellow sportscaster from New Bern, N.C., called me in 1974 and asked me if I would like to go with him to the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. In those days there was no ESPN, and television stations shot interviews on film. The idea was to do an entire series of generic interviews with the best players in the game and then use them throughout the remainder of the season whenever we needed a timely sound-bite.
When Lee Moore called I, naturally, jumped at the opportunity.
While flying to Pittsburgh, I told Lee how much I was looking forward to seeing Sparky again, who, by now, had managed a who’s who of baseball and won three World Series championships. Lee was not impressed.
On media day, Lee and I hustled to get as many interviews as possible until late in the session when Moore caught a glimpse of Sparky hitting ground balls to Pete Rose at third base. We walked over to the first base line and in between grounders, Lee strode up to Anderson and tapped him on the shoulder.
There was no question about Moore’s intentions. He wanted to show me up as a practical joke. “Hey Sparky,” he said with a huge grin on his face, “this guy says he knows you.”
I was embarrassed beyond belief.
Sparky turned slowly around and in one motion dropped his fungo bat and stuck out his right hand. A huge smile came over his face as he said in surprise, “Bobby T! How’re ya’ doin’?”
In that split second the color drained from Lee Moore’s face. “That’s all for today, Pete,” Sparky shouted to Rose and with that we spoke for another half-hour.
George “Sparky” Anderson was not an educated man. He brutalized the English language with double negatives and odd expressions. But he loved his players and never failed to brag glowingly about their skills.
There was never a player who ever suited up for Sparky Anderson who wouldn’t run through a brick wall to win for him…even a lowly minor league baseball player whom Sparky never forgot, no matter how many All-Star he managed and championships he won.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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