Sparky Anderson Just Keeps on Winning
DETROIT (AP) _ Seventy managers have come and gone in the American League since 1979, but Sparky Anderson remains the top Tiger.
Not even a 6-21 slump that allowed the Boston Red Sox to sail past the Tigers into first place in the AL East could shake Anderson’s rock solid foundation with the Detroit front office.
Anderson, who loves to tinker with his lineup, was given full credit for taking a team of limited talent to the top of the division and keeping it there for nearly three months. Then he escaped blame for the crash.
″In our case, we lost our best pitcher (Jeff Robinson), then our shortstop (Alan Trammell), then our second baseman (Lou Whitaker),″ Tiger general manager Bill Lajoie said. ″Without those three men, then the performance of some of our other players went down. It was too much of a load to carry. We recognize those things.
″You can’t blame one person or manager. Injuries are out of control.″
Anderson, who was fired by the Cincinnati Reds after finishing second in 1978, took over from Les Moss about six weeks into the 1979 season and the Tigers have finished above .500 every year since.
In the meantime, Anderson became the first manager ever to win 100 or more games in a season with two different teams and the first manager to win a World Series championship in both leagues. He is the only manager to guide different teams to playoff sweeps and the only one to win 800 games with two different teams.
Early this season he passed Ralph Houk to become the 10th winningest manager of all time. His goal is to one day pass John McGraw’s 2,840 wins and take over the No. 2 spot behind Connie Mack whose record of 3,776 wins seems as untouchable as Anderson’s job in Detroit.
″Sparky doesn’t need security. No long-term contract,″ said Roger Craig, the former Tiger pitching coach who now manages the San Francisco Giants. ″Sparky is his own security. I think the front office knows this.
″He’s a legend. Nobody in baseball is more dedicated to the game than him. He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame someday.″
Success and dedication, however, don’t guarantee anything these days. John McNamara was one strike away from winning the World Series in 1986. This year, the Red Sox began their move the day McNamara was fired.
″There’s absolutely no security to the job of managing,″ said Joe Torre, who has been fired twice, by the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves. ″Once you’ve put that in your mind, you have to manage knowing it doesn’t necessarily mean anything being good or not.
″Good isn’t really all that important. It’s what the bottom line is anymore.″
Anderson believes the secret of his security, beside his success, is in working for a conservative baseball club. The Tigers are owned by Domino’s pizza magnate Tom Monaghan who leaves the running of the club to president Jim Campbell and Lajoie.
Anderson notes that both Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals, baseball’s other untouchable managers, also work for stable organizations.
″I think it’s a combination of the ownership and the people,″ Anderson said. ″I think that the people have always conducted themselves right. They haven’t cried.
″You won’t see anything about Whitey crying about this year. I’m not crying about it. Tommy Lasorda, before this year, had two seasons in a row when he was fifth. Tommy wasn’t crying about it. I like to think maybe it’s the fact they know how to conduct themselves.
″But I think it also has to do with ownership. I think most of those guys, if you’ll look, come from good ownership. I don’t think they come from where there’s any wild thing going on.″
Bobby Cox, who fired Atlanta manager Chuck Tanner this season, said the reasons for firing managers vary.
″Sometimes a guy like Sparky will take a mediocre club and take it to the top,″ Cox said. ″So, you keep that in your mind when you think about firing people.
″Sparky’s had tremendous success. Guys like him are all great community guys, plus they’re all great managers. They know how to get the most out of their clubs. I don’t think Detroit’s the best ballclub in the American League East. Sparky got the best out of it.″
Anderson did the same thing in 1987 when he brought the Tigers from far back in the pack to win the division championship, wrapping it up with a 1-0 win over Toronto on the final day of the season.
″Sparky did a good job of keeping us positive early in the year when things weren’t going well,″ said Kirk Gibson, whose decision to go play for Lasorda certainly contributed to Anderson’s problems this year.
Anderson likes to chirp about character and chemistry. It can sound trite, but people listen because he gets results.
″You need the Tom Brookenses and the Dave Bergmans, the Hum Babes,″ Craig said. ″Those guys give 150 percent every game. Now, you surround them with the stars like Alan Trammell and Chet Lemon and Darrell Evans, you’re going to win.″
Anderson, who still remembers the shock he felt after being canned by the Reds, knows he enjoys the good graces of the Tiger brass but he never takes it for granted.
″I don’t think anybody is invincible,″ Anderson said. ″I don’t look at it like I can’t be fired. They could turn around and fire me.
″No one will ever be comfortable losing. No human being wants to go out and get beat all the time. But, it will come to everybody, I don’t care who you are. Walter Alston even had a year when he was last, then he rebounded.
″I have two years left on my contract, but it wouldn’t mean anything if people wanted to fire me.″