Born on February 22, 1934, in Bridgewater, South Dakota, Sparky Anderson would play in baseball’s minor and major leagues before being hired as Cincinnati Reds manager in 1970. He led the team to two World Series championships and later managed the Detroit Tigers, with whom he won the championships in 1984. One of the top overall scorers as a manager, he died on November 4, 2010.
Athletic coach Sparky Anderson was born George Lee Anderson on February 22, 1934, in Bridgewater, South Dakota. Anderson and his four siblings struggled with poverty, living in a house without an indoor bathroom or enough heat. In the winter, to fight the cold, Anderson's father put cardboard over the windows. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1942 in order to find work.
However, Anderson's father, who played catcher on a semi-professional baseball team, took the time away from his busy job to share his interests with his son, including his love of baseball. He supported his son's interest in the sport, especially when Anderson landed a job as batboy for the University of Southern California baseball team.
Baseball quickly became Anderson's life; he even changed high schools because the one he originally attended didn't offer baseball. But while he had a passion for the game, he was recognized more for the positive attitude and energy he brought to the game than for his athletic ability. This quality eventually landed him the nickname "Sparky", which stuck with him for the rest of his life.
After graduation from high school in 1953, Anderson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent. For the next six years Anderson worked his way up in the minor leagues, playing for everyone from the Santa Barbara Dodgers to the Montreal Royals. On April 10, 1959, the 25-year-old shortstop finally made it into the majors, signing as a second baseman with the Philadelphia Phillies. His career as a professional athlete was short-lived, however, lasting only one season. He returned to the minor leagues in 1960.
Major League Coach
While playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs the next year, the team's owner, Jack Kent Cooke, noted Anderson's leadership abilities. In 1964, he was offered the chance to manage the Leafs, which Anderson accepted. He bounced around the minor leagues, managing teams such as the Rock Hill Cardinals and the Modesto Reds, then made his way back to the majors in 1969 as a coach for the San Diego Padres.
In 1969, he was given the opportunity to replace Dave Bristol, the former manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati fans were less than enthusiastic about the choice; the day Anderson was hired, the headline "Sparky Who?" was plastered in the city's local papers, with an accompanying article questioning the appointment of a relatively unknown minor league manager.
Yet Anderson surprised everyone in 1970, when he helped transform the Reds from a low-performing team into one of the most accomplished in the league. In his first year at the helm, Anderson led the Reds to 102 victories and a National League pennant win. The Reds ultimately lost the 1970 World Series to the Baltimore Orioles, but over the next nine years Anderson helped the Reds achieve an 863-596 record, win four pennants and score two World Series titles.
Anderson was fired in 1978, however, after two back-to-back division title losses. The seasoned manager barely missed a beat, taking over the reins of the Detroit Tigers, who he managed until his retirement in 1995. During that time, Anderson helped the Tigers to a 1331-1248 record, one pennant win, and a World Series title.
For his role with the Tigers, Anderson was named American League Manager of the Year in 1984 and 1987. He was also the first manager to win the World Series in both leagues. For his accomplishments, Anderson earned initiation into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. His number, 10, was retired by the Reds in 2005.
On November 4, 2010, Sparky Anderson died from complications resulting from dementia. He is survived by wife Carol, who he met in grade school; sons Lee and Albert; daughter Shirley Englebrecht; and nine grandchildren.
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