Sometimes it's not a lengthy resume of past success that gets one a job, it can be intangible qualities the separates one candidate from another. Such was the case in 1970 when the Cincinnati Reds hired little known Sparky Anderson to become their manager, feeling his managerial style would best compliment their players and offset his lack of managerial experience. Their hunch proved correct as the Reds achieved immediate success and Anderson began a career that would make him one of the most successful managers in baseball history.
As is the case with many managers, Sparky Anderson had a brief and non-distinguished playing career. He toiled in the Dodger minor league system for six years before being traded to the Phillies in 1959. Philadelphia gave him the starting second baseman's job, but Anderson was hardly up to the task batting a lowly .218 and driving in just 34 runs without a home run for the last place Phils. That would turn out to be his only big league opportunity as he returned to the Minor Leagues and eventually gave up his playing aspirations for managing, taking a Minor League job with Toronto in 1964. He skippered for a total of five Minor League years and then returned to the Major Leagues as a coach with the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969. He was set to begin the 1970 campaign in a similar post with the California Angels, but also interviewed for the vacant Reds managerial job.
Cincinnati had finished third in the National League (NL) West in 1969 and boasted a world of talent with players such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. Reds General Manager Bob Howsam liked what he heard from Anderson in their interview and decided to roll the dice and hire Sparky. "I'll always gamble…if I believe in the man I'm gambling on. I needed a leader, somebody to get all that ability out of our players" said Howsam. Anderson's special rapport with his players began right away. "I remember that day in spring training when he told me, I'm here to win, and I want you to help me. Right then he had everybody. We wanted to win for Sparky," recalled Perez. The gamble paid off as Cincinnati stormed out of the gate winning 70 of their first 100 games and ran away with the NL West Title in Anderson's first year at the helm. The Reds then swept the Pirates in the Championship Series to bring Cincinnati its first pennant since 1961 and secure a date with the Orioles in the World Series. A controversial home play call hurt the Reds in Game 1 of the Series and they never recovered dropping the Fall Classic to Baltimore in five games.
Cincinnati slumped to a fourth place tie in 1971 but, bolstered by the acquisition of Joe Morgan from Houston, Sparky returned the Reds to winning ways in 1972 and once again won the pennant. But in the World Series they ran into a young, upstart Athletics team, and Oakland went on to edge Cincinnati in seven games, winning their first of three straight World Championships. Another division title was won in 1973, but the Reds were upset by the underdog Mets in the NLCS. Still Cincinnati had found a winning formula, powerful offense and a starting pitching staff that did just enough to turn it over to a bullpen used to perfection by manager Anderson. He was dubbed "Captain Hook" for his many pitching changes, and manipulated the relievers masterfully to get the matchups he wanted. An example of his authoritative managing style was that pitchers were not allowed to speak to him on his mound visits so that his thought process would not be swayed. "Players have two things to do. Play and keep their mouths shut" said Sparky.
In 1975 the Reds, ignited by a regular season lineup change of moving Pete Rose to third base and inserting George Foster in left field, returned to glory winning 108 games, capturing the NL West Title, and sweeping the Pirates to advance to the World Series and face the Red Sox. In one of the most dramatically played series in baseball history, Cincinnati bounced back from an emotional sixth game loss, and came from behind to beat Boston in a seventh game and win the Fall Classic for the first time since 1940. The Reds followed up their 1975 championship season with a splendid 1976 campaign, winning another pennant and sweeping the Yankees in four straight in the World Series. "The Big Red Machine" of 1975 and 1976 is often mentioned when discussing the greatest teams of all time. The Reds slipped to second behind the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978, and following the 78 season Anderson was fired after refusing managements suggestions for changes on his coaching staff. He left behind in Cincinnati team records for wins (863) and winning percentage (.596).
Sparky returned to managing in 1979, taking over the American League's young and improving Detroit Tigers. He proceeded to lead the Tigers to the next level and brought Detroit its first division title since 1972 when the Tigers roared out to a 35-5 mark and cruised to win the AL East. Detroit had little trouble with Kansas City in the ALCS, sweeping the Royals, and then pounded the San Diego Padres in five games to capture the World Series. Detroit won another division title in 1987 and came within a game of another in 1988, but then fell on hard times losing 103 games in 1989. It was Anderson's first losing season since 1971, and a year Sparky suffered a nervous breakdown and left the team for a period of three weeks. Detroit's lack of success continued into the 1990's and Anderson left the Tigers following the 1995 season. He flirted with a managerial comeback with the California Angels in 1997, but eventually retired from managing for good.
Sparky Anderson's career managerial record is one of the finest ever and perhaps the greatest of anyone who piloted teams in both leagues. He stands third all time in wins (2194), behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw, and 23rd in winning percentage (.545). He won seven division titles, five pennants, and three world championships. He was the first manager to win 800 games with two teams, Cincinnati and Detroit, and the first to win 100 games in a season and win Manager of the Year in both leagues. He was elected to The Baseball Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 2000.