Sparky Anderson

Sparky Anderson: 1934-2010

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Sad but, in light of what we learned yesterday, not unexpected news: Sparky Anderson has died.

Anderson won three world titles, five pennants and seven division titles. He won 2194 games with the Reds and Tigers. He was the first manager to win a World Series in both the NL and the AL. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000, and he most certainly deserved it.

As the obituaries come in over the next day or so, you’ll see a lot of references to Sparky’s nickname, “Captain Hook,” which referred to his practice of yanking his starters way earlier than most managers did in the early 70s.  But, as Chris Jaffe pointed out in his excellent “Evaluating Baseball Managers” book, Anderson should be remembered more for something else: ushering in the five-man rotation. The sea change from pitchers going from three-days rest to four days took place rather quickly between 1975 and 1976 when Anderson started giving his pitching staff — which was far weaker than the Reds’ formidable lineup at the time — extra days off.  They happened to win the World Series both years, leading to most teams aping Anderson’s move. It’s kind of strange that a guy who rarely if ever managed good-pitching teams was a trendsetter in this regard, but that’s how it went, for better or for worse.

Personally speaking, Sparky was the manager of the team I grew up with.  I vaguely remember Ralph Houk and — for a millisecond Les Moss — but Sparky was the man in Detroit during my formative years as a baseball fan.  I wasn’t sure what to make of him at the time. People talked about him being fiery, but we all saw Billy Martin and Earl Weaver on TV being way crazier than Anderson ever was.  He had a reputation for being a bit loopy, what with his constant overpromotion of young talent, but we always had Ernie Harwell to put that stuff in perspective.  I’m guessing my 7-10-year-old perspective on Anderson would be a lot different than a similarly situated Reds fan, but to me he was kind of like a fun uncle.

But not one you dismissed.  Anderson obviously got results. And he was unquestionably respected by fans of the teams he managed. Maybe no more so than in early 1995, when he refused to manage replacement players during the late stages of the baseball strike. While the word “union” has become a dirty one to a lot of people over past 30 years, that’s not so in Michigan, and you can bet that Sparky’s stand was really damn important to baseball fans there.

Anderson was one of the great ones. It’s sad that his health declined so precipitously that baseball couldn’t give him a more fitting sendoff, but he’ll certainly be remembered by baseball fans of my generation and before.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 16: Starting pitcher J.A. Happ #33 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 16, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Did you know J.A. Happ is in the thick of the American League Cy Young Award race? Of all the contenders, he may be the biggest surprise, even ahead of Drew Pomeranz. Happ leads the league with 17 wins and only has three losses to go with it. He’s holding a 3.05 ERA and a 133/44 K/BB ratio in 150 1/3 innings.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Happ was struggling to stay in a starting rotation. In 2011, his first full season with the Astros, he finished with a 5.35 ERA. In 2012, he put up a 4.79 ERA with the ‘stros and Blue Jays. The next year? 4.56 followed by 4.22, both with the Jays. Then, with the Mariners, he continued the mediocrity with a 4.64 ERA before he was traded to the Pirates.

Under the tutelage of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, Happ turned his career around. In 11 starts in Pittsburgh, the lefty had a microscopic 1.85 ERA. That came with significant improvements in his strikeout and walk rates. Even the ERA retrodictors like FIP and xFIP, which had so often agreed with his uninspiring ERA’s, agreed that he had thrown like an elite hurler. So that’s how we arrived at J.A. Happ, Cy Young Award contender.

Among AL starters, Happ is fifth-best in ERA behind Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, Aaron Sanchez, and Steven Wright. However, his 17-3 record is equaled only by Rick Porcello. As there are still a significant number of voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America who consider won-lost record, Happ is sitting in a good position and will be even better if he can cross the coveted 20-win threshold. He’ll get a bit of a boost as well if he can help the Jays return to the postseason for a second consecutive season.

Happ’s Jays will host the hapless — and Happ-less — Angels on Thursday evening. He’ll take on veteran Jered Weaver in a 7:07 PM EDT start.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez) @ Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer), 7:05 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler), 7:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 7:15 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo), 8:10 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves (Matt Wisler) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray), 9:40 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Ross Stripling), 10:10 PM EDT

Let’s play the “how long has it been since the Cubs won the World Series?” game!

1908 Cubs
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It started with a no-good St. Louis Cardinals fan being a troublemaker. That no-good Cardinals fan was Drew Silva, who began things innocently enough, noting that, despite their dominance this season, any team can theoretically beat the Chicago Cubs in a short series because that’s just how baseball goes:

Cubs fans started giving him guff for that, so Drew gave some back:

And with that it was on like Donkey Kong (a super old video game which was not invented for another 73 years after the Cubs last won the World Series). I tweeted this:

And with that, my followers went crazy. Here’s a sampling of some of the best ones:

And, for that matter . . .

Too soon. Unlike the last Cubs World Series title.

Like I said, this was just a sampling. I’ve retweeted a ton more on my timeline and those I didn’t retweet can be seen in the replies here. My favorite one may have been “literally the invention of sliced bread,” which debuted in 1912, but I can’t find that tweet.

Please, Cubs fans, have a sense of humor about this. You have a wonderful ballpark that is not named after a third tier mortgage company, a grand history that is fantastic even if it hasn’t featured any championships and a future that is as bright or brighter than any other team out there. Maybe even come up with some of your own in the comments! History is fun! As is self-deprecation! What I’m saying is don’t be salty about this sort of thing. Salty is a bad look.

In other news, the Morton Salt Company was incorporated in 1910, two years after the Cubs last World Series victory.