Baseball lost one of its greatest ambassadors last week when George “Sparky” Anderson left us.
He was best known as a Hall of Fame manager who won three World Championships, two in Cincinnati with the Reds and one with the Detroit Tigers.
Sparky did have a little bit of a Phillies connection. His lone big league experience came with the Phillies in 1959. He played 152 games at second base and batted .218. He wore #45.
Found the following in the 1959 Phillies Yearbook: “Runner-up as the Most Valuable Player in the International League, Sparky Anderson came to the Phillies in a trade that cost Rip Repulski and two minor league pitchers. A slick gloveman, and a swift customer on the base paths, Sparky has youth, speed and hustle. A second sacker with great competitive spirit, high hopes are held for Anderson.”
Sparky didn’t make it as a major leaguer but he certainly did as a manager. Sparky was a genuine person who was friendly with anyone. Oh, he could bark but being nice to people was first.
When you are a PR person in baseball, you get to know the other team’s manager a little. But, I experienced firsthand about him as a person during the 1975 World Series, a true fall classic that the Reds won in seven games over the Boston Red Sox, 4-3.
The National League was without a PR person for the Series. So, I was “lent” to the NL by Bill Giles. Sparky and his players were great to deal with during that tense Series. After all, I was a total stranger.
“You let me know if there is anything you need,” I remember him telling me before the start of the Series. For the Game 1 pre-game introductions, some players were wearing red jackets in the dugout and some weren’t. I thought it would look better if everybody looked the same, so I barked, “jackets off, please.” Led by Sparky, off came the jackets. Nobody bitched or asked, “Who is this clown telling me what to do?”
I sent Sparky a letter after the Series, thanking him for all his cooperation.
Lo and behold, on November 3, I received a hand-written letter from him:
“Thank you so much for your letter. But you shouldn’t be thanking me. I should thank you for all the help you gave me and our players. You did a great job. You were so patient with all of us.
“Larry, now that it is all over, I really realize what a great thrill it was to win the World Series. If I can help you in any way this winter, let me know.”
Sparky may have batted .218 as a major leaguer, but as a human being, he batted 1.000.