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Farewell Sparky Anderson

“Players have two things to do. Play and keep their mouths shut.” Sparky Anderson

Man, it wasn’t that long ago that I was writing something like this about Ernie.  If Ernie was the voice of the Tigers for me, Sparky was the team’s face. Earlier in the year, I talked about how Ernie was baseball to me.  Now with Sparky’s passing, it’s time to bid farewell to the man who coached the Tigers through the time where baseball became my favorite sport.  I remember attending a Tigers game with my dad and having Sparky rush by us in the tunnels as he was heading to the clubhouse and thinking how cool that was.  Now, over 20 years later, we’re celebrating the life that was Sparky Anderson.

I’ve read quite a few baseball books and in all of the biographies, every player who I’ve read about who crossed Sparky’s path respected him.  Captain Hook is now criticized for not being the best tactician, but what he could do (similar to what Jim Leyland captured in 2006) was get the best out of what he had.  1987 was the perfect example when the Tigers came back from a poor start and a nearly insurmountable deficit in the final week to capture what was then the American League East title.

The accolades speak for themselves.  He coached in over 4,000 games (4,030) and he won 2,194 of them.  He’s now sixth all time in wins, but when he retired he was third.  He won five pennants and three World Series and he was the first manager to win a World Series in both leagues.  The best way I can put it is Sparky managed his people well.  He knew how to handle a Kirk Gibson and recognized that he couldn’t handle Gibby the same way as he would a Lou Whitaker.

Even more, once the post-collusion era tore up the core of the 1984 Tigers team, Sparky remained.  1991 was kind of his last hurrah when the Tigers finished tied for second but were playing meaningful baseball in September.  Still, after 1987, it was rough going for the team in most respects but Sparky did his best all the way up to his retirement in 1995.

Even after retirement, Sparky was great to listen too.  He didn’t make too many radio appearances but you could tell he always loved his players.  His story about Jack Morris’ game seven shutout in the 1991 World Series is a classic and some of his Kirk Gibson stories were pretty funny as well.

So for the better part of 17 years, the Tigers had one manager.  Since then in the past 15 years, the Tigers have had six different managers.  You wonder if in a year like 2000 where the Tigers contended, whether he couldn’t have pulled a team like that together and gotten the Tigers a surprise playoff berth.

So to sum things up, I was glad to have had Sparky as our coach.  Thanks for all the memories skipper.

“People who live in the past generally are afraid to compete in the present. I’ve got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There’s no future in it.” Sparky Anderson

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