April 10, 2015
They Call Me Sparky, Sparky Anderson with Dan Ewald (1998)
Sparky made it to the major leagues as a coach under manager Preston Gomez for the San Diego Padres in 1969. When lifelong mentor and unofficial spiritual guru Lefty Phillips was named California manager for the 1970 season, Sparky made the switch to the Angels.
He never got the chance to put that Angel halo on his head. In one of those magical moments of fate, Sparky's career took a U-turn that not only changed his life, but also baseball's record books. ... It happened suddenly and unexpectedly on a typical autumn California day in October, 1969.
Sparky and Phillips had returned from lunch to the office of California Angels General Manager Dick Walsh. The three were discussing the possibility of trading for outfielder Alex Johnson when Walsh received a phone call. After hanging up the phone, he looked directly at Sparky.
The Reds arranged for Sparky to fly to Cincinnati that evening for a press conference the next morning. The day after the press conference, a headline in The Cincinnati Post read "SPARKY WHO?"
Certainly the headline was appropriate. The new manager of the promising Cincinnati Reds was a thirty-five-year-old lifelong minor leaguer. Nobody knew who George Anderson was. And this Sparky sounded more like a cartoon.
Even Sparky had no idea when he was being considered for the job. The Reds had not yet exploded into prominence. But they were next up on the launching pad. They were loaded with young talent and just a step away from erupting into nationwide notoriety.
"All I could figure is that when I played in Philadelphia, we won 60 games," Sparky said. "When I coached at San Diego, the Padres won 50 games. Bob must have figured I had only 110 wins on my side in the major leagues so I had to have a whole lot more hidden somewhere inside of me." ...
So in spite of the shock of the baseball establishment, Sparky Anderson was off on a career at Cincinnati that didn't end until he set the franchise record of 863 victories. They went along with two World Championships and four National Legue pennants in a span of nine years.