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Sparky Anderson's Election to the Hall Was a Safe Bet

March 01, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

A former manager who was essential to the Cincinnati Reds' World Series titles in 1975 and '76 and bet on baseball was elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

Although George "Sparky" Anderson's gambling pursuits have not been as aggressively investigated or well chronicled as those of one of his former players, he has never denied that he bet Kirk Gibson $10 in the dugout during Game 5 of the 1984 World Series that San Diego's Goose Gossage would intentionally walk him.

Gibson bet $10 that Gossage would pitch to him.

Gibson won the bet, and the Tigers won the World Series, after he all but put the game out of reach with a three-run homer--his second of the night--in the bottom of the eighth of an 8-4 victory.


Those home runs are as much a part of baseball lore in Detroit as the one he hit four years later in Dodger Stadium off Oakland's Dennis Eckersley--no one can ever claim that Gibson's heroics were accomplished against rag-arm relievers--are in Los Angeles.

They also guaranteed a third World Series championship for Anderson, who remains the only manager to have won in both leagues. Only four other managers have won pennants in both leagues.

Anderson managed in five World Series. It would have been seven--putting him in an elite class with Walter Alston and behind only Casey Stengel with 10 and John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack with eight each--if playoffs hadn't been introduced after 1968, preventing the leagues' best teams from proceeding directly to the World Series.

If those were not enough reasons to elect Anderson to the Hall of Fame, consider this: In an era when most owners gave less thought to firing their managers than they did their gardeners, he managed the Reds for nine seasons and the Tigers for 17.

The only American League manager to preside over the same dugout for more than 17 seasons was the Philadelphia A's Mack, who owned the team.

The few critics that Anderson had discounted his success in Cincinnati by emphasizing that the Big Red Machine was, well, a machine, with such future Hall of Fame players as Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Pete Rose, who was a Hall of Fame player even if he might never be in the Hall of Fame.

But if Anderson ever felt a need to prove himself, he did it with the '84 Tigers. They were unquestionably an outstanding team, with players such as Gibson, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Willie Hernandez, but, although you could make a case for Morris and Trammell, none might even be invited to Cooperstown for any reason other than to see his manager inducted.

As a manager, Anderson wasn't all that different from a good gardener, someone who knew when to tend and caress but also when to weed and prune.

"Sparky Anderson was really someone who understood the role of the manager in handling players," Tim McCarver wrote in his 1998 book, "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans."

"He was their mentor, friend and father figure, but, when he had to make a move, he was willing to become their enemy. He was so quick at yanking pitchers that they called him 'Captain Hook.' He didn't take back talk from anybody."


To his close friends, Anderson has always been just plain George.

To everyone else, he was Sparky, a nickname he earned as a kid because he invariably was the spark plug for his teams, including Dorsey High.

Now Dorsey is considered a football school, with recent alums such as Keyshawn Johnson, Karim Abdul-Jabbar and Lamont Warren. It was known more for baseball when Anderson went there. It might be the only high school to produce three major league managers--Anderson and the Lachemann brothers, Marcel and Rene.

Another great manager to come out of an L.A. high school is Fremont's Gene Mauch, who won almost 2,000 games. The first major league game Anderson managed, in 1970 with the Reds, was against Mauch's Montreal Expos. Mauch had already been a manager for 10 years by then.

"Enjoy the moment," Mauch told him that day, "because you'll never pass this way again."

Something else Anderson heard during that first season that he never forgot came from Alston, who told him, "You don't have to be in the middle of traffic, telling everyone how important you are. Leave that to the pretenders. They won't be around long anyway."

Anderson always preferred that his players receive credit instead of him. He didn't have a victory cigar, just a pipe that he puffed on after every game--win or lose.

The only time I can remember him calling attention to himself was at the beginning of his final season, in 1995, when he refused to manage the Tigers' replacement players during the strike. Other managers threatened to walk out, but he was the only one who did it. He went home to Thousand Oaks and played golf until the strike was settled.

Tiger officials were so perturbed that there was speculation he wouldn't be asked to return when, or if, the season finally began. Anderson didn't care. He was adamant.

"There ain't no place in our game for replacement players," he said.

To everyone except the Lords of Baseball, and perhaps his Dorsey High English teachers, he was a hero.


Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address:

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