CINCINNATI (AP) - Sparky who? Reds fans were taken aback when Sparky Anderson showed up for his first day as a big league manager, an unknown taking over baseball’s first professional team. Most had never heard of him.
By the time he was done, he was an icon. The sentence-twisting manager with the white hair and schoolboy nickname would win three World Series titles _ including championships in both leagues _ and make it to the Hall of Fame.
Anderson directed the Big Red Machine to back-to-back championships and won another in Detroit during a managing career that spanned three decades. He died Thursday from complications of dementia in Thousand Oaks, Calif., at age 76.
Anderson was the first manager to win World Series titles in both leagues and the only manager to lead two franchises in career wins.
“Sparky was, by far, the best manager I ever played for,” said former Reds star Pete Rose, the game’s career hits leader. “He understood people better than anyone I ever met. His players loved him, he loved his players, and he loved the game of baseball. There isn’t another person in baseball like Sparky Anderson.”
Anderson’s teams in Cincinnati _ featuring Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Rose _ won crowns in 1975 and 1976 and rank among the best of all time. Led by Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell, Anderson won with the Tigers in 1984.
“He was a good guy,” former Tigers pitcher Jack Morris said, choking up over the news. “Baseball will have very few people like Sparky.”
Anderson never tried to overshadow his teams, giving his stars great leeway while trying to stay in the background. At Anderson’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called Anderson a gentleman and dear friend.
“I recall with great fondness the many hours we would spend together when his Tigers came to Milwaukee,” Selig said. “Sparky was a loyal friend, and whenever I would be dealing with difficult situations as commissioner, he would lift my spirits, telling me to keep my head up and that I was doing the right thing.”
The Reds put a photo of Anderson on their outfield videoboard at Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon, honoring the man who led them to their greatest moments.
“In one way or another, Sparky touched the life of every Reds fan,” owner Bob Castellini said.
Anderson’s win total of 2,194 was the third highest when he retired after the 1995 season, trailing only Connie Mack and John McGraw. He’s now sixth on the career list _ he won 863 games in nine years with the Reds and 1,331 in 17 seasons with the Tigers.
He’ll be remembered as much for the little things that made him beloved as for the big numbers that made him a Hall of Famer.
“Being a good baseball player and person went hand-in-hand with him,” said Trammell, the 1984 World Series MVP who is Arizona’s bench coach. “He wanted us to put our dirty clothes in the bin so that the clubhouse guys didn’t have to pick up after us.”