By Carol Cain
Senior Producer and Host
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters”
If you’re blessed in life, you’re able to make a difference as you reach out and help folks along the way.
But a handful of folks — like George “Sparky” Anderson, the late manager of the Detroit Tiger whose number is being retired Sunday at Comerica Park — are in a league of their own.
Sparky touched thousands upon thousands with his kindness as the larger than life leader known for keeping it simple just had that special way.
My story is but one of the thousands of stories being re-told this weekend.
I first met Sparky when I was a high school intern working at United Way.
He was manager of the Detroit Tigers, brought in by United Way to inspire CEOs and cajole donors in the downtown Detroit hotel to donate at the fund-raising event.
I was charged with trying to secure an interview for its newsletter.
As I entered the room, there was an endless sea of well-known writers – Pete Waldmier, Bob Talbert and Joe Falls — standing around Sparky and peppering him with questions about the team.
I politely waited so I could get in a question or two on the community for my story.
It was a disaster for a young intern hoping to make her mark as it was winding down and obvious there was no way I was going to ask my question. The entourage with Sparky in the middle began making its way to the door.
I was literally pushed aside with my blank reporter’s notebook when an arm reached out and pulled me into the fray.
“Don’t let ’em intimidate you,” Sparky said, laughing. “What do ya want to know?”
I was so stunned, I don’t recall what I asked, but got enough to write my article.
Our paths crossed a few times after thanks to Dan Ewald, the former public relations man for the Tigers who was like a son to Sparky . Ewald was with Sparky when he succumbed to dementia last year.
With Ewald’s assistance, I secured one of the last interviews with Sparky for WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters.” He was living in Thousand Oaks, Calif., but came back to his beloved Motor City and his CATCH charity golfing event each summer.
Watch the exclusive Michigan Matters interview from 2008.
I smiled during that interview which took place in 2008 as I took note that Sparky didn’t look much different from the first time we talked – an advantage of being prematurely white.
Unlike many who enjoyed success in this area and left for sunnier pastures,. Sparky kept his ties to Detroit and CATCH, the organization he began in 1987 to raise money for sick and at-risk kids.
CATCH has rung up over $4 million for Henry Ford Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
As I sat with Sparky that hot summer day, we talked about the Motor City. He was manager for 17 years — longer than anyone in Tiger history.
I asked what he was most proud of about his time in the Motor City.
“CATCH. It’s the single best thing I ever did in Detroit,” Sparky said. “Detroiters give more charity dollars than any other city you can name. Not just my charity, but all charities.”
“Sparky loved Detroit,” said Dan Ewald. ” He loved how the people here are fighters. He particularly loved the kids. What he did for the underprivileged kids of the city with the creation of CATCH is truly amazing. What other sports celebrity ever came to this city and left the city far richer than it was before his arrival? Sparky loved baseball, but loved his fellow man even more.”
It was his unflinching love of Detroit, helping and skills as a baseball leader many will mention as folks talk about him as his receives this honor.
But I’ll never forget how the plain talking manager went out of his way to help a shy 17-year-old and made her feel as special as the CEOs and celebrities in the room.
Bless you Sparky!
Carol Cain is Senior Producer and Host of WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters. Read her columns on business and politics in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached via email or by calling 248-355-7126.
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