Reds fans were taken aback when Sparky Anderson showed up in Cincinnati for his first day as a big league manager, an unknown taking over baseball's first professional team.
By the time he was done, this man with the shock of white hair and schoolboy nickname would produce a mighty list of achievements that featured three World Series titles — including crowns in each league — and a Hall of Fame entry on his resume.
Anderson, who directed the Big Red Machine to back-to-back championships and won another in Detroit, died Thursday from complications of dementia in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 76. A day earlier, his family said he'd been placed in hospice care.
"He was a good guy," former Tigers pitcher Jack Morris said, choking up over the news. "Baseball will have very few people like Sparky. He was a unique individual. He was a character with a great passion and love for the game."
He 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.
Anderson was the first manager to win World Series titles in both leagues and the only manager to lead two franchises in career wins.
His Reds teams featuring Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan that won crowns in 1975 and 1976 rank among the most powerful of all time. Led by Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell, Anderson won with the Tigers in 1984.
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 still sixth on the career list — he won 863 games in nine years with the Reds and 1,331 in 17 seasons with the Tigers.
Always affable, ever talkative and known for a self-deprecating demeanor, Anderson was equally popular among players, fans and media.
"Revered and treasured by his players for his humility, humanity, eternal optimism and knowledge of the game," his Hall of Fame plaque reads.
Morris helped the Tigers win their most recent title. The rugged pitcher choked up during a telephone conversation with The Associated Press from his home in the Twin Cities when he was informed of Anderson's death.
"Wow. He died way too young. I got a lot of phone calls yesterday about the hospice and the dementia, neither of which I knew about. I wasn't prepared for this. I don't know what to say. I'm kind of shocked," Morris said.
"He was a big part of my life, for sure. He had a lot to do with molding me professionally and taught me a lot about perseverance."
Anderson knew all about perseverance.
George "Sparky" Anderson got his 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.
Of course, there was a lot more to him.
"To be around me, you have to be a little bit cuckoo," Anderson said on the day he resigned from the Tigers after the 1995 season. "One day it's written in concrete, the next day it's written in sand. I always felt if I didn't change my mind every 24 hours, people would find me boring."
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