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.