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George “Sparky” Anderson got his distinctive nickname in the minor leagues because of his spirited play. He made it to the majors for only one season, batting .218 for the Phillies in 1959.

Anderson learned to control a temper that nearly scuttled his fledgling career as a manager in the minors, and went on to become one of baseball’s best at running a team. And he won with a humility that couldn’t obscure his unique ability to manage people.

“I got good players, stayed out of their way, let them win a lot and then just hung around for 26 years,” he said during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2000.

Anderson’s win total trails only those of Mack, McGraw, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. His overall record was 2,194-1834 and he was a two-time AL Manager of the Year.

“Sparky was one of the greatest people I’ve met in baseball,” Detroit Hall of Famer Al Kaline said. “He was a leader to his players both on and off the field. He was an incredible person and I cherish the time I was able to spend with him.” He had the right touch with superstars, and it came in handy when he led the star-studded Reds to World Series wins in 1975-76.

“He was a people person,” Morgan, a Hall of Fame second baseman, told The Associated Press. “I don’t think anybody else could have managed that team nearly as well as he did. We had a lot of different personalities. Sparky was able to deal with all of us on an individual basis but also collectively as a team.

“Because he was close to you and cared about you as a person, you were always willing to do more for him than you were for somebody else. I never thought of him as my manager. I thought of him as part of my family.”

The only notable thing about Anderson as a player was his nickname. He was playing for Fort Worth in the Texas League in 1955 when a radio announcer, taken by his feisty play, started calling him Sparky.

The name stuck. He didn’t. Anderson made it to the majors in 1959 and singled home the go-ahead run on opening day in Cincinnati, which turned out to be the highlight of his playing career. A light-hitting second baseman, he had 12 extra-base hits _ zero home runs _ and 34 RBIs in 477 at-bats.

He was back in the minors the next year, and soon realized it was time to think about another career.

He decided to try managing.

That almost flamed out, too. His first job was managing a minor league team in Toronto in 1964. He was overly aggressive in his strategy and argued every close call with umpires, showing a short fuse that soon got him fired. Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam gave him a second chance to manage in the minors, then moved to Cincinnati to build the Reds.

When he needed a big league manager there, he decided to call Anderson, who was shocked to get the chance. The youngest manager in the majors at age 35, he signed the $28,500 contract _ by far the most money he’d ever made _ and set out to make himself known in a city asking: Sparky who?

“Bob Howsam either had to be nuts or have a lot of savvy,” Anderson said. “As it turns out, he had a lot of savvy.”

Howsam assembled one of the most talented teams of all time _ Bench, Morgan, Rose, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster, Davey Concepcion. Anderson was charged with making it work.

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