Dave Bristol enjoyed success (298-265) during three-plus seasons managing the Cincinnati Reds. There was some surprise when General Manager Bob Howsam replaced him after the 1969 season with a name that evoked the headline “Sparky Who?”
George “Sparky” Anderson’s most recent job was as third base coach for the new San Diego Padres. As a player he held the distinction of having the fewest hits with over 500 plate appearances in one season in major league history as the second baseman with the 1959 Phillies. He was paid $7500 for 104 hits and a .218 batting average in his only big league season.
The Reds won 70 of his first 100 games in 1970, and he remained through 1978 when he was fired because he wouldn’t dismiss coaches no longer desired by the front office. This was the era of the “Big Red Machine.” He inherited a fine team that got much better through trades and promotions that resulted in the 1975 and 1976 World Series titles.
Back in 1995 I was present when he both educated and entertained the Dayton Agonis Club. At that time he was finishing his career managing the Detroit Tigers where he won the 1984 world championship. He recalled coming to the Reds where a great catcher had some advice for the new skipper.
“Keep your legs out of the aisle and don’t trip anybody, and we’ll make you a smart man,” as the South Dakota native and longtime southern Californian quoted future legend Johnny Bench.
“I knew I was taking over a great team. I told our coaches that if we simply allow this team to perform and have fun, we’d win our division by ten games. I don’t think they believed me but we won by 14. If you are blessed with talent, let them win. Don’t stop them. That’s what all the great coaches have done,” Anderson analyzed.
The night I saw and met Sparky it was obvious he was still the same humble guy as when he arrived in Cincinnati, evidenced by the fact that he still lived in the same house. “You need to be nice to people and it will come back many fold. Know who you are and be proud of it. Don’t kid yourself.”
Anderson wasn’t wearing a championship ring because he never did. “Lefty Phillips (scout, manager) was my biggest influence and he never got one. If he couldn’t wear one, neither should I.”
“If we’re successful in any endeavor it’s because of others. I have a rule for our rookies. When a guy gets his first hit or pitches his first game, I will tell him to call the coach who influenced him the most on the way up and share that moment with him.”
Sincere words from a sincere man. George “Sparky” Anderson, 1934-2010.
Next week: Meeting hockey great Gordie Howe in 1975. My first SDN byline.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Ross’ columns are in contention for a third consecutive annual citation by the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors.