Remembering Sparky Anderson
We were young and full of ourselves, the way college boys can be. Invincible, of course. Light emanated from us. Energy seemed to stream from our fingertips.
I worked at a United Parcel Service delivery center off Soto Street southeast of downtown to help myself through college. Every year UPS would have a couple of Dodger days, and happily, every year one option seemed to be against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine on a Sunday afternoon.
I’d buy maybe a dozen tickets, invite a group of my similarly over-testosterone filled college mates and make a day of it. Sexist pigs that we were, the girlfriends would gather at an apartment pool complex, preparing a postgame feast for our happy return.
The guys would jump in a couple of vans and head to Dodger Stadium. The seats weren’t great -- in the upper deck down the right-field line -- but the time was.
We’d feed off each other. Probably have a beer too many. Stand up and lead the crowd in chants against the hated Reds. Boo anything Cincinnati did that was remotely positive.
They were our great rival at the time, but one you had to respect. And even if you despised Joe Morgan’s arrogance and Pete Rose’s fire and Johnny Bench’s perfection, you had to give it up for manager Sparky Anderson.
He reeked class. It was hard to admit, of course, but unavoidable. He was smart, charismatic, competitive, and still, full of class. The Reds were the giant thumb holding down the Dodgers’ greatness in the early ’70s, but Anderson was a worthy foe.
If the Dodgers beat the Reds -- as we happily always seemed to do on those UPS Sunday afternoons -- we would joyously return to the apartment complex. It would have been a party anyway, but made all the sweeter having defeated Anderson and his Reds.
He won two World Series titles with the Reds, then another with the Kirk Gibson and the Tigers in 1984. It was six years after that title, I first met Anderson.
I was covering the Dodgers, spending six weeks in Vero Beach, when my sports editor asked me for a feature on this Detroit wunderkind, Cecil Fielder.
I made the two-hour drive across central Florida to Lakeland, to what was then a run-down old stadium. Anderson’s office was small and cramped and unbefitting for a manager of his stature. He had never laid eyes on me, but welcomed me into his shoe-box office.
In truth, I knew precious little about Fielder. He was from the other league, and less appealing, had been playing in Toronto.
When I asked Anderson about Fielder, I mispronounced his first name. Anderson did not correct me, but incorporated his first name in his response, politely letting me know it was pronounced Ses-sil.
I was both slightly mortified at my ignorance, and deeply appreciative of how Anderson had handled the situation. I have forgotten a thousand moments covering baseball over the years, but I’ve always remembered that one.
When I learned Anderson had passed Thursday, I quickly thought back to that quiet moment in his humid little office, when he showed a bit of kindness to a complete stranger, and wished I could send him some of that life that emanated from us so many years ago.
-- Steve Dilbeck