It was "Sparky Who?" in
October 1969 when the Cincinnati Reds hired George Anderson to become
the 44th manager in the history of the club. But by October 1970
everyone knew Sparky Anderson after he led Cincinnati to the Western
Division crown and the National League pennant.
Sparky, however, took little
credit for the success,
preferring to give his players their due. "Eleven other managers in our
league could have won 102 games with these players," Anderson said.
Catcher Johnny Bench, who won
the Most Valuable Player Award that year, thought differently though.
"Something happened last
spring," Bench said after the 1970 Series. "We knew we had a good ball
club, but something happened. It was Sparky Anderson. We call him John,
as in John McGraw."
That good start was only an
omen of better things to come. Before he was fired after the 1978
season, Anderson established a Cincinnati record that may never be
broken. He won 863 games to become the winningest skipper in club
history. His teams won five Western Division championships, four
National League pennants and back-to-back world titles in
1975 and 1976.
Except for 1959 when Anderson
was the starting second baseman
for the Philadelphia Phillies
and one other season when he was a San Diego coach, he spent 16 years in
the minor leagues before being selected as the Reds manager.
After quitting as a player,
he took a cue from former Reds manager Charles Dressen and began managing in the minor
leagues. Starting with Toronto. He was fired after his team finished
fifth, and he switched to the Cardinals farm system in 1965 where he
came under the influence of Bob Howsam, then the St. Louis general
Howsam brought Anderson with
him in 1968 to the Cincinnati organization, installing him as the
manager at Asheville, North Carolina, in the Class AA Southern League.
One year later Sparky was
coaching third base for the San Diego Padres, and Howsam was getting
impatient with Dave Bristol, who couldn't get the Reds over the hump and
into a division championship. When Cincinnati finished third in 1969, a
call went out for Anderson to come to Cincinnati.
From the very beginning
Sparky made quite an impression. His even-tempered personality tended at
times to cloud a perpetual inner drive. "There are some people who would
rather follow," said Sparky. "but me, I'd rather lead. There isn't any
shortcut to success, it just takes plenty of hard work."
national attention - and respect - after the
1970 World Series. He refused to dispute umpire Ken Burkhardt's call of
a controversial collision at home plate. Burkhardt was in the
wrong position to make the call, but Sparky didn't make an issue out of
Later in that same Series he
impressed NBC's Joe Garagiola, who was telecasting the game. That
situation involved Sparky's use of reserve catcher Pat Corrales in the
fifth game. Sparky sent the seldom-used Corrales to the plate in the ninth inning in place
of Hal McRae, a much better
"Why?" Sparky said, when
asked his reason for doing that. "This Series is the dream of every man'
in baseball. He came thousands of miles for this and he may never get
this close again. I think there will be more for him, but I couldn't
Garagiola, himself a former
participant in the World Series, was shocked and impressed. "Here's a
man with troubles. But here, one
of the big moments of his
life, he forgets his own problems to consider the feelings of another
human being. That takes some kind of man."
There's no question, Sparky
Anderson is some kind of man. And Reds baseball history is much richer
because of him.