Several months ago, I picked up this book at a local bookstore, keenly curious about its content.
As an avid Major League Baseball follower and a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, Sparky Anderson was a man that I had long respected for his contributions to the game. (As a 10-year old, I first saw him on TV during the 1975 World Series, in which he managed the "Big Red Machine" - the Cincinnati Reds - to the world championship. I was impressed by the way he carried himself. Sparky was solid. Four years later, after he was released by the Reds, he was hired by the Tigers as manager. Upon hearing the news, my reaction was: "Why is Sparky coming here?" I would've thought Sparky might have preferred to manage a team in a high profile media place like Los Angeles or New York, were either managerial post available to him. Not Detroit, which, during most of the '70s, finished from the mid-range to the lowest rung of the Eastern Division of the American League. Notwithstanding that, from Sparky's first meeting with the media in June 1979, I had a feeling that he had the best interests of the Tigers at heart and would do all in his power to make it one of the best teams in the majors. Indeed, he promised us a championship in 5 years. And you know what? Sparky delivered. Whenever I think about that magical 1984 season in which the Tigers became World Champions, tears well up. I'll always be grateful to Sparky for giving me one of the happiest moments in my life.)
In reading this book, I learned so much more about Sparky Anderson the man. This is a loving tribute by the author to Sparky, with whom he had a firm, enduring, and special friendship for 3 decades, spanning the entire period of Sparky's tenure with the Tigers up to his death in 2010. As a Tigers fan, I was focused on Sparky as manager. His baseball persona was what commanded my attention. I simply never thought about the myriad other endeavors that Sparky immersed himself in, nor the charities (e.g. CATCH = Caring Athletes Team for Children's and Henry Ford Hospitals) he quietly supported.
By way of example, I want to cite the following passage in this book which profoundly impressed me because it showed how generous and respectful Sparky Anderson was toward all people. (There was no artifice to the man. He was the real deal.)
"Sparky made his point on a bus trip to the airport after a steamy Sunday afternoon game in Texas. Dressed in the coats and ties mandated by Sparky, the players were sweating profusely as the air-conditioning struggled to circulate throughout the bus. Texas sweat seems different from all other kinds. It has a nasty way of penetrating right to the bones.
" 'Hey, driver,' one of the players shouted from the back. 'Turn up the AC.'
"Some of the players gave their teammate a hand.
"A few moments passed and again the player shouted: 'I told you to turn up the AC, driver. It's burning back here.'
"Now the players were hooting and whistling.
"After his third call, Sparky spoke deliberately. 'In case anyone didn't look at the sign above his head, it's Herman. Now Herman is doin' the best he can. So if you wish to say anything else to Herman, I suggest you call him by name.'
"As the players departed the bus at the airport, Sparky remained seated until the boisterous player from the back approached. He grabbed the player by his sleeve and suggested it might be wise to apologize to Herman.
"The player wisely apologized, and Herman smiled at him in return. Herman also thanked Sparky for the consideration he had shown.
"Just one of those things that meant so much to Sparky."
For any reader wanting to read an inspiring, heartfelt story about someone who always sought to do right by everybody and inspire others to embrace "the better angels of their nature", look no further. Read "Sparky and Me." You'll be glad that you did.