So long, Sparky

As many out there in reader-land likely already know, Sparky Anderson – Hall of Fame manager – recently died, due to complications from dementia. I feel obligated to say something about Anderson having written a book on baseball managers that covers Anderson (among others).

A few general observations:

He’s younger than you think. He was one of those managers, like Earl Weaver or Tom Kelly, who looked older than he was. Anderson was only 35 in his rookie managerial season when he took the Reds to the World Series (in which he faced Earl Weaver, who was only slightly older than Anderson. 1970 had the youngest managerial match-up of any Series since 1935, back in the days of player-managers).

When Anderson retired he was still only 61 years old. Ron Washington will turn 61 in just three years. Phil Garner and Dusty Baker are now 61. Bill Buckner turns 61 next month. But Anderson looked like he was 61 when he was 35.

His baseball teams played a style of baseball many sabermetrically-inclined fans would approve of. His teams slugged the ball, were willing to draw walks, and accepted strikeouts as they came.

In fact, in the regular season games he managed, his teams drew 1,656 more walks than they allowed. Only John McGraw, Joe McCarthy, Joe Torre, and Earl Weaver had bigger walk differentials. Anderson’s teams had a home run differential of +404, which is also among the best. Meanwhile, in among non-homer hits, his teams’ differential was only +53 – barely two a year. That’s nice but certainly nothing historic. They out-OBPed their opponents because of walks and slugged in the guys who got on. That’s why his teams scored more runs. It also didn’t hurt than Anderson generally did a good job putting good OBP hitters at the top of his order for the heart of his lineup to slug in. The really impressive differential for his teams was strikeouts though: -2,935 Ks, which was easily more than the next two largest managers combined.

Getting good offense was key because that’s how Anderson’s teams won. Think for a second: what great talents did Anderson ever have on the mound. Well, he had a season and a half from Tom Seaver. Both Gary Nolan and Don Gullett were great talents, though neither arm could stand the strain of pitching on a regular basis. Anderson otherwise had workhorses like Jack Morris. A fine pitcher, but not really a great talent.

Some random facts:

Though his Big Red Machine is justifiably famous as maybe the greatest offense ever, Anderson’s six largest margins of victory in his 4,000+ game career all came in Detroit. In fact, three of them came in one month. In 1993, the Tigers shellacked the A’s 20-4 on April 13. Just four days later, they did a-whumpin’ on the Mariners, 20-3 (tying Anderson’s all-time high for biggest margin of victory with a 17-0 win in 1991). Finally, on April 24, the Tigers stomped the Twins 17-1.

Yeah, it was a good couple of weeks for Anderson.

Anderson may have especially appreciated the stomping of the Twins, because in May of 1992 they gave him the biggest loss he ever received: a 15-0 bombardment. Actually, three of Anderson’s six worst losses all came at the hands of Tom Kelly’s Twins. It makes sense that Kelly’s Twins would manhandle Anderson’s squads as they did. No prominent rival manage gave Anderson as much trouble as Kelly. Anderson managed at least 100 regular-season games against six rivals. Here was Anderson’s record against them (ordered by number of games he had against them):

Manager	        W	L	Pct.
Tony LaRussa	92	83	0.526
John McNamara	93	56	0.624
Gene Mauch	76	58	0.567
Walter Alston	55	67	0.451
Bill Virdon	61	41	0.598
Tom Kelly	43	59	0.422

That’s just regular season games. Anderson also lost to Tom Kelly’s Twins in the 1987 ALCS in five games, despite the fact that Anderson’s Tigers were the clearly superior team on paper.

If Kelly was Anderson’s worst nemesis, then John McNamara was his favorite whipping boy. McNamara got his revenge, though: he’s the guy who replaced Anderson as Reds manager in 1979.

Anderson once lost a game in which his team scored 15 runs (16-15 to the Cubs on what I assume was a windy day at Wrigley on July 28, 1977), and once got the win in a game where his team didn’t score at all. That was also in Chicago: Anderson was the victorious manager when the White Sox had to forfeit the second game of a doubleheader before it began to due to the Disco Demolition Night-inspired riot.


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Dave Kern
12 years ago

Nice article,  However, Jack Morris was certainly more than just a fine pitcher.

Dave Studeman
12 years ago

Yes, Morris was a fine pitcher who was also a workhorse. That combination is worth a lot.

Steven Booth
12 years ago

Back to Sparky- I loved when he announced for the Angels- I learned more about baseball from his off-the -cuff ramblings than thirty-five years of Tim McCarver.

My early baseball days- trips to Cincy meant the Dodgers would lose

My friend Brian is a Tigers fan, he would never shut up in 1984.

Goodbye Sparky

john rosenfelder
12 years ago

jack morris belongs in the hall of fame.

Michael Caragliano
12 years ago

Everybody will think about the Yankees losing Sheppard, Steinbrenner and Houk in a span of about ten days, but think of what the Tigers have lost in a litle over a year: one of the top five ballparks ever (the last section of Tiger Stadium came down last September), one of the top five broadcasters ever (Mister Harwell), and now one of the top five managers ever. That’s a lot of history. Rest easy, Sparky.

12 years ago

Yeah, I was living in Anaheim during one of the summers Sparky was announcing.  Seemed weird to have him in the booth…he just didn’t sound like other color guys but he said things that you never heard anywhere else.  I remember his voice was so quiet on the broadcasts it was hard to hear him.  Disagree on McCarver though…he may not always be Saber-inclined, but he’s a real pro.

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