CHARLOTTE, November 3, 2012 — When Sparky Anderson died two years ago today, baseball lost one of the great ambassadors of the game.
I had the privilege of playing for Sparky for two seasons as a minor leaguer in 1965 and 1966. From a ball player’s perspective, no matter what the level, there is no doubt why he was so successful. Not only was Anderson a Hall of Fame manager, he was a Hall of Famer as a person in every respect.
Sparky Anderson was not an educated man. In a sport known for statistics, he could spout a record number of double and triple negatives into any sentence. Even so, there was never any doubt about what he meant. Even baseball’s most ardent detractors would love the game after being around Sparky.
There was a reason George Anderson was known as “Sparky.” Participate with him in any competitive activity and he would figure out the best strategy to win. Anyone who ever tried to beat him at Hearts on one of our minor league bus trips — that ended at three or four in the morning — knew it.
But the overnight road trips never kept Sparky from being at the ballpark the next day to do his own groundwork. By ten in the morning he would be watering the grass at third to slow any ground balls hit to his iron gloved third baseman.
Or he would be sloping the base paths inward to make bunts roll fair when they trickled down the line at first and third.
In June of 1966, I played left field in all 29-innings of the longest professional baseball game in history that was ever completed in one night. After 7-hours, the St. Petersburg Cardinals lost to the Miami Marlins, 4-3. Neither team scored a run from the 11th inning through the 28th.
After the game, sometime around 3 a.m., Sparky turned to pitcher Bobby Bruns and said, “Brunsie, this is the only way I know of to make Cooperstown…and after this game we just played, I think I have a pretty good chance.”
Anderson wasn’t wrong very often, but this time he was. Cooperstown was definitely in his future. It was just a matter of time.
Nobody had better baseball instincts than Sparky Anderson. Between 1966 and 1974 I only encountered him once. It happened at midseason in 1969 in Atlanta. Sparky was then the third base coach for the San Diego Padres.
When I saw him, he was reading a paper in the hotel lobby the morning before a game with the Braves. When I asked Anderson how he saw the pennant races he said, “Watch out for the Mets. They’re the best team in baseball.”
Predicting the Mets to win the World Series seemed insane. They came into existence in 1962 and had never finished higher than ninth place. In the end, Anderson was right. New York lost the first game of the Series to Baltimore and then swept the next four.
Sparky took over as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1970. “Sparky who?” they asked after he followed Dave Bristol as skipper of “The Big Red Machine.”
It wasn’t until 1974 that I met him again, when I covered the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. At that time there was no ESPN or round-the-clock news coverage, so the All-Star game was the perfect venue to stockpile generic interviews with the stars that would make the news in the final half of the season.
I was assigned to the game as a co-op venture with another station in eastern North Carolina. I would be the cameraman and my colleague would do the interviews, which we would share for the remainder of the season.
On the flight to Pittsburgh, I related my excitement to reporter Lee Moore about the opportunity to be in the presence of the greatest baseball players of the day as well as a chance to see Sparky again.
Moore was impressed with my story, but gave little credence to my enthusiasm about reuniting with Sparky.
We spent the afternoon interviewing players who are now Hall of Famers and still household names: Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Earl Weaver, and on and on.
At the end of the press day, we saw Anderson hitting fungos to Pete Rose at third. Recalling my story, Moore decided to have some fun at my expense. Anderson was oblivious to our presence as Moore walked up to him between grounders and tapped him on the shoulder. I knew what Lee was up to, and I cringed at the embarrassment I was about to suffer.
“Hey Sparky,” said Moore, “This guy says he knows you,” pointing at me.
Sparky turned and without hesitation stuck out his hand and said, “Bobby T! How’re ya’ doin’?”
Anderson looked out to Rose and shouted, “That’s enough Pete. Let’s call it a day.” Then he turned back to us and for the next half hour reminisced about our bus days in the minors.
That was Sparky Anderson.
I love baseball. For me, it is the greatest game that has ever been invented. Sparky Anderson made it greater. The world of sport and baseball needs more people like him.
I am proud to be that member of a small, select group of players who played for him. Baseball is a better game because of Sparky Anderson and he is missed.
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. Taylor played professional baseball for four years including two seasons under Hall of Fame manager, Sparky Anderson. He played all 29-innings of the longest continuous professional baseball game in history. He was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 70 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.
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