John Castle: Sparky’s class was no actWritten by John Castle | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This death hit me kind of hard.
I usually don’t react too much to deaths of famous people, but the fact is that Sparky Anderson is my favorite Detroit Tigers manager to this day and I remember how he treated me when I was a green reporter back in the early 1980s.
My first boss here at The Daily Telegram was Jim Hoenig, a man I respected a great deal and a man who had a lot of contacts around the state of Michigan.
Hoenig hired me first on a part-time basis back in 1979, never having written a story in my life, save for some in my lame creative writing class in high school.
Each off-season the Tigers go out on a state press tour in the off-season, and I can remember Hoenig telling me about these, where several members of the team plus manager Anderson would stop at places outside the metro Detroit area to familiarize themselves more intimately with media members away from the big city.
The stops would include Jackson, Lansing, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, etc.
During the second winter I wrote for The Daily Telegram came an opportunity to go out and meet the Tiger “tour” as Hoenig offered me the chance to accompany him to a restaurant in Jackson.
Needless to say, I was nervous, never having met any celebrities of note in my short life, and being a long-time fan of the team, I jumped at the chance.
All the while on the ride up there, I was contemplating who might be there to talk to, never in my wildest dreams would I get a shot at talking to Anderson.
After nibbling on some hors d’oeuvres, the organizers of the event announced that we could start rounding up who we reporters wanted to talk to, whether in groups or on an individual basis.
Kirk Gibson was the hot commodity on this trip, and the line for him was long.
I scurried to Anderson’s section of the table, not believing I was the first one there.
The two of us went into a side room and, shaking just slightly, I took out my pen and started asking away.
The guy simply gave me all the time I wanted, being very insightful with his answers and never giving you a standard stock answer to any of my questions, as silly as they may have seemed.
Then to my great delight, I became an even greater Anderson admirer.
As we sat there one-on-one across a small table from each other, Anderson addressed one of my questions when a reporter from another state newspaper, which shall remain nameless, came walking rapidly into the room and he said something on the order of, “Mr. Anderson, I’m …’ and at that point, Sparky stood up, looked at him rather sternly and said, “Young man, can’t you see this other gentleman here (me) has my undivided attention at the moment? You’ll have to wait your turn.”
Sparky sat back down as the reporter walked away with his tail between his legs. He looked at me and said “I’m sorry about that . . . where were we?”
I later learned that he conducted himself the same way with most of the reporters on the winter tour, a much more subdued setting from the mob scene that usually awaited him after a game at Tiger Stadium during his 17-year stint as manager.
You would think that after the years of pressure managing the talent-rich Cincinnati Reds to back-to-back World Series titles in the mid-1970s that he would become annoyed with having to answer questions night after night. You wouldn’t know it by the way he handled the media during the off-season.
He was one of the most respected managers in baseball history, not only by his own teams, but the ones that had to face the Big Red Machine in the ’70s and several excellent Tigers teams that followed those years. He earned that respect by playing the game the way it should be played, by being a mentor to younger players coming up through the farm system and befriending many of his managerial counterparts in opposite dugouts.
Anderson’s health declined quickly from dementia, and he had just been put under hospice care in his home in California just one day before his death at the age of 76.
Sparky became a “grandfather” to more fans than anyone will ever know.
The Tigers organization has a huge hole in it today.
John Castle is a Daily Telegram sports writer.