Motor City Bengals All-Time Detroit Tigers Team: Manager Sparky Anderson

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Oct 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; View outside of Comerica Park as fans leave during the eighth inning in game four of the American League Championship Series baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Today we wrap up our entries into Motor City Bengals All-Time Detroit Tigers team. Last week, we wrapped up the players (view the slideshow to read all of our entries on the team laid out below), but where would we be without a competent manager to lead this team of Hall-of-Famers, should-be Hall-of-Famers, and future Hall-of-Famers?

None other than a Hall-of-Fame manager: George “Sparky” Anderson.

1B: Hank Greenberg

2B Charlie Gehringer

SS: Alan Trammell

3B: Miguel Cabrera

C: Bill Freehan

LF: Willie Horton

CF: Ty Cobb

RF: Al Kaline

SP: Justin Verlander

RP: Aurelio Lopez

Closer: Willie Hernandez

DH: Victor Martinez

Bench: Gates Brown

Born in South Dakota in 1934, George Anderson’s baseball skills took him to the minor leagues, but his lack of skills kept him mostly stranded there. It was during time spent with a AA team in the Texas League in 1955, that the nickname “Sparky” was given to him by a radio announcer who used it to describe his feisty play. The name stuck the rest of his life, but for close friends—Sparky was always called “George.”

Sparky did manage to play one season at the big league level, 1959, but he hit just .218 in 152 games and never appeared as a player in the majors again. After four more years in the minors, Jack Kent Cooke (who would later own the NFL’s Washington Redskins) recognized that his player’s skills did not translate to playing, but understood he exhibited strong leadership traits and made him the manager of his AAA team in Toronto in 1964.

After time in the minors as manager and on big league clubs as a coach, the Cincinnati Reds came calling in 1970. The Big Red Machine under Anderson’s watch began to fuel up in 1972. They were annually in the postseason, becoming World Series champions in 1975, repeating in ’76. Incredibly, when the Reds failed to qualify for the postseason in 1977 and ’78, Sparky was fired.

He would not be unemployed for long.

The Detroit Tigers started their 1979 season with Les Moss at the helm, but lurking in the weeds was Sparky Anderson. The Tigers had a young nucleus of players on the team or in the high minors that seemed on the cusp—much like the Reds a decade before.

Sparky came aboard in June 1979 and promised a pennant within five years. They competed in 1983, but finished second to Baltimore in the AL East before putting everything together in 1984. The Tigers began the year with nine straight wins and an incredible 35-5 start, which has never been approached to start a season since.

The Tigers breezed through the postseason, losing only once in two rounds, and clinched the franchise’s fourth, and most recent, World Series title. In the process, Sparky became the first manager to win a World Series in both leagues and delivered on his five-year promise.

Like Sparky’s prior team, the Tigers aged relatively quickly and rapidly fell back to the pack in 1985 and 1986. They nabbed a divisional title in 1987, but were quickly ousted from the playoffs by the Minnesota Twins.

His teams never seriously contended after that. The Tigers held first place in the AL East for several months in 1993, but were ultimately overtaken by the eventual World Champion Toronto Blue Jays.

With baseball coming back after a strike that wiped out half of the 1994 regular season, playoffs, and World Series—Anderson refused to manager a group of replacement players put together by the owners in an attempt to bust the union in Spring Training 1995. Eventually sides agreed to end the strike and regular players and Sparky returned.

But the damage was done. New Tigers’ owner Mike Illitch was said to have been livid with Sparky for that refusal. When Sparky stepped away from the Tigers after the 1995 season, many thought the 61-year-old would get another opportunity to manage, likely for the Angels who were near his hometown in California, but that chance never came.

Some claim that Sparky had been blackballed from managing by owners angry he turned on them during the strike.

The contentiousness between Sparky and the Tigers never seemed to abate during his lifetime. He rarely came back to Detroit—even missing out on the final game at Tiger Stadium in 1999 and entered the Hall-of-Fame as a member of the Cincinnati Reds in 2000, although he stated many times while in Detroit that he’d enter as a Tiger.

It wasn’t until after Sparky’s death in 2010 that the franchise finally retired his number 11.

Some knock Sparky’s legacy with Detroit because he only won one World Series and had only two postseason appearances in 17 seasons with the club. It’s worth noting that on the four World Series champions the Tigers have had in their history (’35, ’45, ’68 and ’84) each had a different manager and only Mickey Cochrane won a World Series and took the team to the postseason another year (World Series loss in ’34).

Ultimately, Sparky edged Jim Leyland by one vote for franchise best manager. Although Jim never brought a World Championship to Detroit, fans who remember what this team was prior to his arrival will be forever thankful for the role he played.

Honorable mention goes to Cochrane and Mayo Smith.

Take one final spin through the All-Time Detroit Tigers team by viewing the slideshow. Did we miss anyone? Let us know!

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  • louwhitaker

    I was never a huge Sparky fan. I felt that a truly great manager would have gotten more than one World Series win out of the 1980s Tigers and more than two out of the 1970s Big Red Machine. If I wanted to win one championship–just bring it home this season and to hell with the future–I would have to go with Billy Martin. What he did with the decrepit old ’72 team amounts to alchemy. Things always fell apart for him after he overstayed his welcome, but for a one season shot in the arm, his record is extraordinary.

  • Mark Goldberg

    Sparky’s .516 winning percentage in Detroit is far lower that that of Mayo Smith (.560), Billy Martin (.546), and even the not-so-great Jim Leyland (.540). He inherited a lot of talent from “Less” (Les) Moss and took a long time to win once with it. He certainly overstayed his welcome. He is a Hall of Famer as a result of what he did with a lot of talent in Cincinnati; he survived in Detroit on his Cincinnati reputation.

    Oh, and the greatest closer (fireman) in Tigers history was John Hiller.

  • Christian camlin

    You must be kidding with this list of players as the best Tigers ever.I will go with you on Greenberg,Gehringer &Trammel but that is where we part company.At third base I have Hall of Famer George Kell.Slightly better with the glove than Cabrera whom I would make my DH.& while Kaline was good Hall of Famer Sam Crawford was a monster in right field. He hit 309 life with 1535 RBI’s, 1391 Runs scored 458 doubles& the most triples of any player in the games history with 309.He led the league in runs scored once,In doubles once,In triples 6 times in homers once and in RBI’s 3 times& total bases twice.and he did this all in the dead ball era.If he had played with a live ball he’d probably haver added 300-500 more homeruns.Crawford was the muscleman who made sure that when Cobb got on base he scored. Kaline was very Good but Craword was better.Short schedules were the only reason he missed 3,000 hits by just 39.His first 5 seasons were all 140 or less games.& the rest were only 154 games long.Most of Kaline’s career he played 162 game schedules.just adding 22 games to his first 5 years Crawford would easily have picked up 39 more hits to get 3,000.

    I’ll go with you on Cobb in Center .367 says it all. But willie Horton in Left is a joke.How you picked Horton you could have gone with Harry Heilmann,Goose Goslin,Bobby Veach or Heinie Manush I don’t know.Veach is the only one of those 4 not already in the Hall of Fame.But Heimann stands out with a .342 lifetime batting average& 4 Batting titles.He Drove in 1537 RBI’s besting Crawford by 2 at the time.Heilmann played right but left would have been an easy switch for him.At Catcher Freehan should be in the Hall but played during a pitcher era that lowered his stats.And Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane’s number were inflated by the era he played n But .320 is .320..He led the A’s to 2 titles and then helped carry the Tigers to their first ever World title in 1935.I will agree that sparky should manage.And though I like Verlander He’d be my 5th starer from a Tigers all time rotation.My Aces would be Hall of Famers Don Newhauser& Jim Bunning.Then Probably Virgil Trucks& Either Mickey Lolich or Denny the Jailbird McClain.Then Verlander at 5 with probably McClain as swingman in the spot starter roll. and Hiller is my firemanWith willie Hernandez as my Closer.This is the best group I can find though other could be argued for.

    • Christian camlin

      Oops i said Don Newhauser but I meant his dad Hal Newhouser who is in the Hall.