Born on February 22, 1934, in Bridgewater, South Dakota, but raised in California, George Lee “Sparky” Anderson was a longtime baseball manager who spent 17 years with the Detroit Tigers. Anderson played for several years in the minor leagues and played one major league season for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959. His .218 batting average, 104 hits, 34 runs batted in, and 0 home runs made him an average infielder, and this ended his career prematurely. He turned his attention to managing, where he leveraged his leadership abilities and knowledge of the game into great success.
After coaching in the minor leagues for five years, Anderson joined the staff of the San Diego Padres in 1969. In 1970, he was hired as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and went on to win 102 games in his rookie year, only to lose in the World Series. After winning back-to-back World Series with the Reds in 1975 and 1976, Anderson was fired by the team after two straight second place finishes.
In an unusual mid-season move, he was hired as the new manager of the Detroit Tigers on June 12, 1979, the Tigers hire Sparky Anderson to be their manager.
With the arrival of Anderson, the ailing Tigers’ fortunes began to change. In 1984, the team captured the hearts of baseball fans throughout the region as they opened the season with a record 35-5 start, going on to win the World Series against the San Diego Padres in five games. Anderson was regarded just as highly as the players in this victory. The team would follow up that success by becoming American League East champions in 1987. Anderson retired from the Tigers and Major League Baseball in 1995 with 2,194 wins and a .545 winning percentage.
Anderson was a great mentor and teacher, inspiring his players to perform at their peak levels on every play. During his career in Detroit, he managed numerous outstanding players including Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson, Guillermo Hernandez, Lance Parrish, Darrell Evans, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Chet Lemon and Cecil Fielder.
Anderson’s quick wit and passion for the game earned him the admiration of the Detroit media, and during his time in Detroit he co-hosted his own local sports show. Anderson’s passion also extended into the broader community, with his founding of CATCH, a charity whose work benefits children at Henry Ford Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
Sparky Anderson died on November 4, 2010 at the age of 76. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. He was honored by the Detroit Tigers throughout the 2011 season with a patch on the players jerseys, a flag with his famous nickname flying over the park, and his number 11 commemorated on an outfield wall in Comerica Park.
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