He was the first and remains one of only two managers to lead teams in both leagues to World Series championships, has had his uniform numbers retired by two teams and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Yet a new book about Sparky Anderson, written by his best friend, Dan Ewald, tells some stories that I find more interesting than anything Sparky did in 26 years of managing.
“Sparky and Me,” published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press and available in book stores May 8, is a terrific tale of the long-time relationship between Anderson and Ewald, former public relations director of the Detroit Tigers, one of the teams Anderson managed.
The book basically relates the lessons Ewald learned from Anderson about baseball, life and people. Most chapters end with an Ewald sentence or paragraph about the lesson he learned on that chapter’s subject.
We should all have teachers like Sparky.
But Ewald, who wrote three other books with Anderson, relates a couple of post-career endeavors that Anderson passionately pursued and that had nothing to do with baseball.
Ewald tells the first of these non-baseball stories in a chapter titled “Shopping with Sparky.” It is not about Anderson’s shopping for clothes and shoes.
Ewald, who served as Anderson’s business representative for more than 15 years until he died in 2010, tells about a supermarket trip the pair made to the local Albertson’s near the Anderson home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. When they were finished, Ewald writes, they had bought enough food “to feed half the neighborhood.
“Moderation, to say the least, never was one of Sparky’s virtues,” Ewald writes, then describes the scene when they got home:
“Carol, he shouted proudly as she slowly walked down the stairs, “I saved $8.42.”
“He sounded like a little boy who has just found a quarter he forgot that he’d stuck in the secret pocket of his pants.
“It wasn’t about the money. Most of the time he never looked at the price of any item. It was about his sense of accomplishment, a feeling of self-worth. It was coupon Thursday in the local paper that day, and Sparky had made sure to clip each one before we started on our rounds. ‘I’m the master when it comes to shopping,’ he proudly claimed. ‘Self-taught. Ain’t no one better. Just ask all the girls up at the market.’”
When I read this passage, I had to show it to my wife. “Read this,” I told Ellen, “and tell me what you think.”
She read it and exclaimed, “It’s you.”
I always liked Sparky, and learning that about him gave me another reason to like him.
On the other hand, I have never had any interest in another of his favorite pursuits: looking for, finding and washing lost golf balls.
Ewald writes that one day the retired manager called him and announced that he had set a record at his local golf club. When Sparky mentioned the number 82, Ewald exclaimed, “You shot an 82?”
“No, you dumbbell,” Anderson replied. “You know I can’t shoot 82. Eighty-two balls, Daniel. Eighty-two balls. No one will ever come close to beating that.”
“As much as Sparky loved to golf and socialize at the club,” Ewald writes, “nothing provided as much pleasure as the hunt for lost balls.
“He groped through thorny bushes till his arms dripped with blood. He wandered desolate out-of-bounds areas like he was a professional hiker. He dipped down into barrancas into which he often tumbled. He fished his hands through streams and too often found himself near a rattlesnake nest.
“No obstacle was too intimidating to prevent his daily challenge.”
Anderson would take the balls home, Ewald writes, wash them, scrub them if necessary, then give them to his friends, that is, all except the balls with scratches or smudges. Those he would save for his own use.
Sparky, Ewald tells us, also gave some of the clean balls to his son, Lee, but unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t write about the time in the 1970s, when Anderson was managing the Cincinnati Reds and enforcing a strict appearance rule, that he ordered that son out of the house because he refused to cut his long hair.
As the backdrop for the book, Ewald uses the conversations they had during his three-day visit to Anderson a few weeks before he died. Perhaps Lee Anderson didn’t come up in their talks, but the incident and its aftermath would have been worth mentioning, adding another dimension to the understandably positive stories Ewald tells about Anderson.
The author does write about the way Anderson induced David Wells, a free-spirit pitcher whose pitching he liked, to remove his earring when he pitched.
In a conversation Anderson had with Wells when the Tigers signed him in 1993, the manager told him, according to Ewald, “You know, David, a lot of people think I’m old-fashioned. They don’t think an old man like me can keep up with the times. It’s like that earring sticking in your ear. A lotta people think I don’t go along with all of the changes in society. I wanna tell you I don’t care what a man likes to do or how he likes to dress. If you wanna wear an earring that’s strictly up to you. In fact, you look pretty good with it.”
“A smile the size of a giant jack-o’-lantern covered David’s face,” Ewald writes, then continues quoting Anderson:
“But not when you’re wearing a big-league uniform. A uniform is a uniform. That’s why it’s called a uniform.”
“The earring never appeared when Wells pitched for the Tigers,” Ewald notes.
When he died in November 2010 of complications from dementia, my first thought was how there had never been a manager who was better or as good for baseball writers as Sparky was. If a writer in need of a story walked into his office, when he left, he had one.
Sparky had a knack for knowing when a writer needed a story, and he always provided the necessary fodder.
“Instead of the tense, suspicious and somewhat combative relationship with the media that many baseball managers seem to bring to the job,” Ewald writes, “Sparky whipped them with jokes and kindness.”
Then he quotes Anderson as saying, “They got a job to do and I got a job to do. If you’re slick enough, you can lead them guys into makin’ your job a whole lot easier. And besides, sometimes those guys do a better job than me.”