[photogallerylink id=40366 align=left]Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson, who led the Detroit Tigers to their 1984 championship, has died at age 76. Family spokesman Dan Ewald said Anderson died from complications from dementia.
Anderson also guided the Cincinnati Reds to World Series championships in 1975 and 1976.
Former Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Milt Wilcox said they didn’t name him “Sparky” for nothing.
“He was old-school baseball. He was the kind of guy that when you went out in the ballpark, on the ball field, he expected you to give your best, and he prepared the team as best he could,” Wilcox said.
“You know, it was Sparky’s saying when he first came to Detroit, it was the way he kinda lived his motto — it was his way or the highway,” Wilcox said.
Long-time Tiger baseball writer and talk show host, Pat Caputo, from 97.1 The Ticket, says Sparky was the ultimate “character with character”.
“I was fortunate enough to be the beat writer at the Oakland Press for the last ten years that Sparky managed the Tigers, and talk with him day after day after day — the funny stories, the malaprops,” Caputo said.
“But there was also a very serious side to him that was very, very competitive. And kind of the combination of the two things made him a unique character, a very successful character, a loved character. And the guy had the biggest heart in the world,” Caputo said.
When it came to the game of baseball, Caputo said Sparky was a genius and was able to get the most out of his players.
WWJ spoke live, Thursday, with MLB Hall of Famer and Detroit Tiger, Al Kaline, who said Anderson was an amazing person, both on and off the field.
“He tought a lot of people a lot of great lessons about, not only baseball, but about live itself,” Kaline said. “He always had time for the fans, and I think they appreciated that here,” he said.
Former Detroit Tigers Public Relations Director Dan Ewald worked with Sparky Anderson for 35 years. Now, as spokesperson for Sparky’s family, he talked to WWJ about a man who he says offered a lot more than a Tiger’s championships.
“Sparky finished as the fifth winningist manager in history. He went into the Hall of Fame — these are great numbers. But, even more important than that, that overshadows all those accomplishments, is the type of person he was. There was never a more concerned person over just human beings than he was,” Ewald said.
When Anderson entered hospice care on Wednesday, his family issued a statement thanking his fans.
“The Anderson family – wife, Carol; sons Lee and Albert; and daughter Shirley Englebrecht – wishes to express appreciation to all friends and fans for the support and kindness they have shown throughout Sparky’s career and retirement.”
Ewald said, “I think they’re at peace knowing what a good husband he was, what a good father he was and that he is now in the hands of God.”
“If Sparky were here, he’d tell them, ‘Hey, now don’t you shed a tear for me. I’ve lived a blessed life, and I want you people to go out and live the same kind of live,” Ewald said.
George “Sparky” Anderson got his nickname in the minor leagues because of his spirited play. He made it to the majors for only one season, batting .218 for the Phillies in 1959.
Anderson learned to control a temper that nearly scuttled his fledgling career as a manager in the minors, and went on to become one of baseball’s best at running a team. And Anderson won with a humility that couldn’t obscure his unique ability to manage people.
“I got good players, stayed out of their way, let them win a lot and then just hung around for 26 years,” he said during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2000.
“To be around me, you have to be a little bit cuckoo,” Anderson said on the day he resigned from the Tigers after the 1995 season. “One day it’s written in concrete, the next day it’s written in sand. I always felt if I didn’t change my mind every 24 hours, people would find me boring.”
Anderson was the first manager to win more than 100 games in the American and National leagues. Anderson’s win total of 2,194 was the third highest when he retired after the 1995 season, trailing only Connie Mack and John McGraw. He’s still sixth on the career list – he won 863 games in nine years with the Reds and 1,331 in 17 seasons with the Tigers.
“Revered and treasured by his players for his humility, humanity, eternal optimism and knowledge of the game,” his Hall of Fame plaque reads.
At Anderson’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service.
Thursday afternoon, many prominent Michiganians were talking about Sparky:
“Detroiters will always be grateful to Sparky for his dedication to the city, demonstrated through his charitable foundation. I will always be grateful for his upbeat and down-to-earth personality, win or lose.” — Senator Carl Levin
“The baseball world lost one of its best with the passing of Sparky Anderson. Those of us who had the privilege to know Sparky personally know how much he loved America’s favorite pastime.”– Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch
“From leading the Tigers to a World Series championship to his charitable work with Detroit’s youth, Sparky made a difference…and he will be truly missed.”– Senator Debbie Stabenow
“Detroit has lost one of its most beloved and iconic sports figures. Sparky’s Hall of Fame accomplishments on the field rank him as one of baseball’s all-time greats. But it is his work off the field and how he touched people in our community that will truly leave a lasting legacy.” — Detroit Lions President Tom Lewand
© MMX WWJ Radio, All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.