Today's passing of Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson at age 76 brought to mind a couple of things.
First off, did you know that Sparky once wore a Washington uniform? During spring training 1964, Sparky was in spring training in Pompano Beach, FL with the expansion Senators as a "special coach," according to the media guide. He wore uniform #45 that spring. I asked him about it years later and he explained that he was managing the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League that season, his first shot at managing at age 30. The Leafs had an agreement with both the Senators and Braves whereby both teams would offer players on loan to Toronto, and he spent time that spring with both Washington and Milwaukee scouting potential players.
The other thing I thought of was his appearance at the 1983 SABR Convention in Baltimore. He had agreed to be the keynote speaker at the luncheon that year at Towson University. Detroit was in town and he showed up and took the podium after being introduced.
Sparky spoke for about an hour, and I doubt anyone in the room could follow his presentation. He wandered all over the place, talking about baseball in the minors, the majors, his struggles as a player, what inspired him, old war stories, but with no sense of where he was going with it. It was entertaining nonetheless, in kind of a Casey Stengel-esque way, and finally he finished, and got a standing ovation. He actually started crying, he was so touched by the response, and got up and said he was donating his fee back to SABR, which got another standing O.
My Saturday broadcast partner Dave Johnson says when he pitched for the Tigers in 1993, everytime he passed Sparky in the clubhouse, Anderson looked at him with a look that said "Who are you?"
Sparky Anderson had a remarkable career as a manager, and was most deserving of his Hall of Fame status. The players who played under him all speak well of him, and his impact on the game is undeniable.