When the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984, Sparky Anderson became the first manager to win a championship with both an American League and National League (Cincinnati 1975, 1976) club. But while most associate the fiery, white-haired skipper with the Big Red Machine or the powerful ’80s Tigers teams, it’s important to note that the legendary skipper spent a significant portion of his career in Canada.
Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953, Anderson advanced to the Triple-A Montreal Royals in 1956, where he hit .298 and rapped out 135 hits. After toiling with the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels for one season, the fiery second baseman returned to Montreal to sock 35 doubles and lead the Royals to a league title in 1958. His sole big league season came with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959, before he came back to Canada to man second base for the Toronto Maple Leafs for four seasons.
In all, the heady infielder played six of 10 minor league seasons north of the border. During that time, he was voted the International League’s Smartest Player five times. In 1964, when he was just 30 years old, Anderson accepted his first managerial post with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his autobiography “Sparky,” Anderson admits that his temper was out of control in his first season as a manager.
“I took nothing from no one. I was possessed with winning,” wrote Anderson. “Most of the players on that club were older than me. Still, I was a raving maniac – I mean really wild. I went crazy over everything. I must have been thrown out of 15 to 20 games my first year as a manager. My wife, Carol, used to say that she better get to the game for the first inning or she might not see her husband in uniform.”
After compiling an 80-72 record for the Leafs, he made his way up the managerial ladder to become one of the most successful skippers in big league history. After Anderson was named field boss of the Cincinnati Reds in 1970, the Big Red Machine won National League pennants in 1970, 1972 and 1973 and World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. He would join the Detroit Tigers in 1979 and lead the club to its aforementioned Fall Classic title in 1984. The four-time manager of the year is also the first skipper to win more than 800 games with two major league teams and currently stands sixth all-time with 2,194 big league wins.
It was evident at Anderson’s 2007 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony that he cherished his time in The Great White North.
“People don’t come much nicer than Canadian people,” he said.