Former Reds manager Sparky Anderson dies

Sparky Anderson
Sparky Anderson

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who directed Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to back-to-back World Series championships, died Thursday. He was 76.

Anderson was placed into hospice care Wednesday at his Thousand Oaks, Calif. home for complications resulting from dementia.

"It's a very, very sad day," said Reds radio broadcaster Marty Brennaman. "I think God took him quickly, and that's the way to go. You don't linger on, and when it happens, it happens, and it happens in a short period of time. He's gone onto a better place and he's going to be regaling people with baseball stories up there just like he did down here."

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory released in a statement today, "It is a sad day for Cincinnati.  Sparky Anderson was a true icon of major league baseball.  And in Cincinnati, he will always be remembered as the leader of the Big Red Machine.  More importantly, he was a class act who never stopped being a friend and advocate of Cincinnati.  We will miss him."

Anderson was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 2000, culminating a major league career that included one nondescript season as a player and an historic run as a manager.

He won 2,194 games as a manager, which was the third-highest total in major league history when he retired, trailing Connie Mack and John McGraw. He now stands sixth, also trailing Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. Anderson was the first manager to win World Series titles in both leagues and the only manager to lead two franchises in career wins.

He led Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to World Series wins in 1975-76. He won four National League pennants in Cincinnati from 1970-78, then was fired after consecutive second-place finishes.

"He was a leader, he was very personable with people and every ball player on the team," said George Foster, a member of the Big Red Machine. "He would take time and let them know what their role is and let them know that they are always better than what they are and build them up."

Anderson went to the American League and won there, too, directing the Tigers to a World Series title in 1984 and a division title in 1987. He retired after the 1995 season and was added to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Always affable and ever talkative, Anderson was equally popular among players, fans and media.

"Revered and treasured by his players for his humility, humanity, eternal optimism and knowledge of the game," his Hall of Fame plaque reads.

Anderson had refused to step foot inside the Hall until 2000 because he felt unworthy.

"I didn't ever want to go into the most precious place in the world unless I belonged," Anderson said.

Anderson learned to control a temper that nearly scuttled his fledgling career as a manager in the minors, and went on to become one of baseball's best at running a team. And Anderson won with a humility that couldn't obscure his unique ability to manage people.

"I got good players, stayed out of their way, let them win a lot and then just hung around for 26 years," he said during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2000.

Of course, there was a lot more to him.

"To be around me, you have to be a little bit cuckoo," Anderson said on the day he resigned from the Tigers after the 1995 season. "One day it's written in concrete, the next day it's written in sand. I always felt if I didn't change my mind every 24 hours, people would find me boring."

The only notable thing about Anderson as a player was his prematurely graying hair and his nickname. He was playing for Fort Worth in the Texas League in 1955 when a radio announcer, taken by his feisty play, started calling him Sparky.

The name stuck. He didn't. Anderson made it to the majors in 1959 and singled home the go-ahead run on opening day in Cincinnati, which turned out to be the highlight of his playing career. A light-hitting second baseman, he had 12 extra-base hits - zero home runs - and 34 RBIs in 477 at-bats.

He was back in the minors the next year, and soon realized it was time to think about another career.

He decided to try managing.

That almost flamed out, too. His first job was managing a minor league team in Toronto in 1964. He was overly aggressive in his strategy and argued every close call with umpires, showing a short fuse that soon got him fired. Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam gave him a second chance to manage in the minors, then moved to Cincinnati to build the Reds.

When he needed a big league manager there, he decided to call Anderson, who was shocked to get the chance. The youngest manager in the majors at age 35, he signed the $28,500 contract - by far the most money he'd ever made - and set out to make himself known in a city asking: Sparky who?

"Bob Howsam either had to be nuts or have a lot of savvy," Anderson said. "As it turns out, he had a lot of savvy."

Howsam assembled one of the most talented teams of all time - Bench, Morgan, Rose, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster, Davey Concepcion. Anderson was charged with making it work.

Anderson's plaque in Cooperstown calls him "the crank that turned the Big Red Machine," and his players agree that it fit.

Bench noted that Anderson treated his players respectfully and was always on top of game strategy.

"It's a lot like a chess game, and Sparky was a chess master," Bench said.

In Cincinnati, Anderson also got himself another nickname: Captain Hook, a reference to his habit of pulling a starting pitcher when he got into a jam in a game. He also showed creativity in making lineup changes.

One of the most important moves: switching Rose from left field to third base on May 3, 1975, allowing Foster to play full-time in left. It was the final piece of the Machine, which beat Boston in a dramatic seven-game Series that year, then swept to another title while winning 108 games the following season.

Two second-place seasons led to a surprising firing. The Reds have won only one other NL title and World Series since he left, in 1990 under Lou Piniella. Anderson moved on to Detroit, where he had more longevity and added one more title.

He refused to manage replacement players during baseball's labor dispute in spring training of 1995, angering owner Mike Ilitch. He resigned after a 60-win season, saying the franchise needed a new direction. He hoped to manage somewhere else, but when an offer never came along, he retired.

Anderson is survived by his wife, Carol; sons Lee and Albert; daughter Shirley Englebrecht; and nine grandchildren.

At the request of Anderson, there will be no funeral nor memorial service.

Copyright 2010 FOX19. All Rights Reserved. The AP contributed to this story.