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Home Is Sparky’s Retreat

Sparky Anderson, his foot pressed down on the accelerator, leaned over the steering wheel and let the wind hit him in the face, his trademark snow-white hair blowing in all directions.

A wide smile spread across his sun-burned face as he spun his golf cart around the Los Robles Greens golf course in Thousand Oaks.

Sparky is home. After a long, hot summer of lost players and lost opportunities, the manager of the Detroit Tigers is again the Squire of Thousand Oaks, able at last to sink his golf cleats into his home turf.

“I love it here,” Anderson said. “It’s away from everything. There’s nobody around here and that’s just the way I like it. You know, I’ve been living out here 20 years and I still don’t get the L.A. papers. I just get the local Thousand Oaks paper. If it don’t appear in that Transactions section, I don’t know about it.

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“That’s why, if we have any business to take care of with players in Detroit, I tell them to do it right away because in another 10 days, I forget baseball. I’m out of it.”

For Anderson, it was a good year to forget. Despite winning 87 games, the Tigers, hit with injuries to key players like outfielder Kirk Gibson, catcher Lance Parrish and pitcher Dan Petry, finished 8 1/2 games behind the division-winning Boston Red Sox.

Anderson was at Los Robles on Thursday for one more ceremonial act before heading into hibernation, hosting his annual golf tournament to benefit the Cal Lutheran University baseball scholarship fund. Anderson has lived across the street from the college for two decades, but in the last six years, his association with the school has grown even closer.

Anderson has staged a golf tournament each of those years, raising a total of more than $150,000 for the CLU baseball program.

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This year, there’s more. Anderson is also helping to put together a baseball card show in December and a roast of the Detroit manager is scheduled for January in Westlake, with some proceeds from both destined for CLU.

But that’s it. Period.

The rest of the winter is Sparky’s. And he’s got plenty to do, thank you. The Thousand Oaks home of his 26-year-old daughter, Shirlee, needs painting. His own yard needs weeding. Add time to spend with his sons--Lee, 28, of Newbury Park, and Albert, 25, of Moorpark and two days of golf a week and it isn’t hard to see how quickly a winter can pass.

“I really enjoy working with my hands,” said Anderson, returning to his cart after missing a long putt. “I couldn’t live in Detroit in the off-season. You go to the store there and people mob you. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but I’m really shy. During the season, I know my job. I know I’ve got to build players up to the media. That’s my job. But not in the off-season.

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“In 1975, after we won the championship at Cincinnati, I did something like 21 banquets in 21 cities in 26 days. By the time I got to spring training, I just wanted to rest. That was the last time I did that.”

Just then, a golf cart bearing Cleveland Indian outfielder Cory Snyder whizzed by. Snyder, the former Canyon High star, was one of the celebrities in Anderson’s tournament.

“There goes the best of the young players,” said Anderson as he swung past an oak tree on his way to another green. “They can talk about a Wally Joyner or a Jose Canseco or a Pete Incaviglia. No, no no. This kid Cory is going to be the best, the king of the mountain.”

You look at Anderson, with that shocking white hair and all that relaxation written on his face, and the natural temptation is to ask him when he’ll retire. But then you remember he was prematurely white while in his 30s and heading for the glory years as the manager of the Reds; that even after managing for 17 years, he’s only 52, several years younger than Dodger manager Tom Lasorda.

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But you ask anyway.

“I’ll tell you,” Anderson said, “I savor it more now than ever before. I savor every win, because I know I’m closer to the end. I would like to manage until I die. I could last until I’m 70, but you don’t know what will happen health-wise.”

For a moment, the smile was gone from Sparky’s face. Sure, golfing and weeding and painting are great. It’s nice to get away.

But not too far away.

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