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Spring WITHOUT Sparky : Anderson Managed 26 Years for Reds and Tigers, but Last Year’s Boycott of Replacement Players May Have Signaled His Departure

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 43 springs he could be found in the clubhouses of old stadiums in Florida and Arizona.

Now his home away from home is the clubhouse of Sunset Country Club near his Thousand Oaks home.

Just one of the boys, telling fibs about that 12-foot putt on No. 17, says Sparky Anderson, who, for the first time since he came out of Dorsey High and signed with the Dodgers in 1953 as a middle infielder, isn’t going to spring training.

Even in 1979, after his firing as manager of the Cincinnati Reds and before his hiring as manager of the Detroit Tigers, Anderson went to Florida on a TV assignment for Channel 7.

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The venerable Anderson, 62 on Thursday, resigned after 17 years as the Tiger manager at the end of the 1995 season, a decision with which the Tigers didn’t argue.

There have been no job offers since, but Anderson dismisses speculation that he is being blackballed for walking out on the replacement players of last spring or a perception by some that he isn’t the right manager for a young or rebuilding team.

Buddy Bell is making his managerial debut with the Tigers this year. There have been managerial changes with the Reds, Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees, but Anderson’s phone was silent.

It was if those 26 years and 4,028 games at the helm of major league teams, those 2,194 victories that put him third on the all-time list, those five pennants and three World Series championships, suddenly meant nothing.

“People ask me if I think I’m being blackballed, and my answer is absolutely not,” Anderson said while relaxing on the patio of the modest home that he and his wife, Carol, have shared for 31 years.

“I don’t think I leave the Tigers with any stigma, and to say otherwise, to say I’m being blackballed, would be a crutch, an excuse. I just didn’t fit what people were looking for this winter.

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“I mean, none of the bad clubs would be stupid enough to call because they know I’m not going to jump back into that. I’ve had enough of that in the last few years. To take a bad club just for the money would be thievery.

“I would manage again, but it has to be a good team. If I go back, I just want a chance, but I don’t have to go back, I don’t ever have to go to the ballpark again.

“I’ve given everything I had in 26 years as a major league manager and feel good about the direction I provided and the accomplishments we achieved. A manager is only as good as his players, but there has to be direction. Look at the records of guys like John Wooden, Dean Smith and Don Shula. They had a different group of players almost every year, but established a direction and stayed with it.

“And I believe that I did the same. I took care of my house for 26 years. I set a foundation and didn’t move from it, and I have no need for adulation, no need to be in front of the crowd again. I’ve been there, done that.

“No one is going to be walking around Florida with signs saying ‘We Miss You, Sparky,’ but I believe I share the mutual respect of fans and most of the players who played for me.

“I always told them, ‘You don’t have to like me, I’ll earn that. And you don’t have to respect me, I’ll earn that too.’ I told them, ‘If I don’t earn it, I want you to come to my office at the end of the year and tell me I didn’t earn it, but say it loud enough so everyone on the team can hear you.’ No one ever did.”

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None of that, however, is to say there isn’t a void, that he won’t miss being in Lakeland, Fla., the Tiger training base, or flying north with the team in late March.

“You don’t do something for 43 years and not miss it,” Anderson said. “I can’t kid myself about that. It’s going to be a test, and it’s going to be hard, particularly when the season opens and the games start.

“I’ll be in front of the TV, watching the Angels and Dodgers, but I know there are times I’m going to miss being in uniform, even miss some of the aggravation. No matter how smooth it looked from the stands or the press box, there was never a year that just rolled by. Somebody was always unhappy about something.

“As for spring training, that won’t bother me as much being away. I was never a spring training person. I loved having fun with the writers and fans, but I never understood the emphasis on winning.

“I mean, as long as you were getting the work in, I never understood the reason for keeping score in spring games, and there were times I’d play along if another manager said to me like Chuck Tanner did once, ‘Sparky, I’d like to see how some of our guys run in game situations, and I’d appreciate if you didn’t use any pitchouts today.’

“It probably wasn’t right, but I admit I did it. I mean, my spring training record was almost hideous, but what was the harm? I got so bored in some of those games that I’d go back to the clubhouse three or four times and just relax a little with my pipe.”

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Relaxation came hard during Anderson’s last four years with the Tigers. They were 273-310 in that span, a far cry from his Big Red Machines of the 1970s, and the veteran led Detroit teams that twice won the American League East and finished lower than third only once in a nine-year stretch beginning in 1983.

Eventually, however, economics and the years took a toll. Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson and Dan Petry left, among others. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker stayed, but their skills began to diminish. And over an extended period, there was stunningly little help from the farm system.

Anderson shakes his head, saying that after his arrival, in his 17 years with the Tigers, the system produced only four everyday players: Gibson, Howard Johnson, Travis Fryman and Glenn Wilson. Last year, only six of Anderson’s 25 players came from the system.

“The Dodgers have had the rookie of the year in each of the last four years,” Anderson said. “We had four people come out of our system in 17 years. I never saw anything like it. Thank God, two of our guys [Trammell and Whitaker] hung around for 19 years or I don’t know what we’d have done. Poor Gibby. We had to bring him back and bring him out of retirement.

“I told my coaches last year that we should round up all our [developmental] people and send them to a seminar in Montreal to see how it’s done. The Expos may have trouble keeping their players because of the economics, but they seem to produce another four or five every year. I wish we could have done better the last three or four years, but we just didn’t have the players.”

Under Bell and new General Manager Randy Smith, the Tigers are committed to the developmental process. A Detroit source said the organization felt that Anderson failed to adapt to an industry evolution that features widespread force-feeding of young players, the need for continuing development and instruction at the major league level. Anderson bristled at that suggestion, saying that managing young people, shaping their skills and attitudes, is his strength.

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“If I have a weakness, it’s coping with older players who don’t know how to play or act, and that was an ongoing problem in Detroit because we had to bring in so many players from other organizations,” he said, adding that he does not believe the Tigers’ new emphasis on younger players played into his status.

He does believe that owner Mike Ilitch never forgave him for walking out on the replacement players. Anderson said he can understand Ilitch’s feelings--”Hell, I was the only manager who left”--but doesn’t regret his decision.

“If I had to do it again, I’d do it with more flair and be even more vocal about it,” Anderson said. “It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in my 43 years in baseball. The committee that came up with it should be skinned, dipped in honey and left for the ants.

“I had nothing against the replacement players. In fact, I felt sorry for them because I knew they were being used. I knew the clubs would never open the season with those players, that the people making the decisions weren’t so dumb as to ruin the history of the game by doing that. . . . I didn’t want to be part of it.”

Anderson returned when the season started and said he told club president John McHale Jr. in July that he wouldn’t consider another contract. When reached by telephone, McHale said Anderson “surely wasn’t fired” but added that there was no attempt to talk him into reconsidering his July stance.

“We knew from our discussions in February [when Anderson was considering leaving camp] about the futility of talking him into or out of something once he makes up his mind,” McHale said, adding that Anderson has maintained the highest professionalism in regard to his departure.

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“He handled it in such a way as to spare me from a tougher decision,” McHale said.

Anderson said McHale acted in a comparably professional manner and that no manager could have been treated better by a succession of general managers during a 17-year tenure in which he never had to cope with front office interference or pressure.

“I have nothing but good feelings about Detroit,” he said. “I have no bitterness about anything. The only mistake, if there was a mistake, was mine. I should never have signed the last contract there, never stayed for a 15th, 16th and 17th seasons because I saw nothing in the immediate future that would indicate we could produce a winning team. The last three years were miserable. I’d leave for spring training knowing we couldn’t finish higher than fourth or fifth. If you know that going in, you’re in the wrong place. You’ve made a mistake.”

The major mistakes Anderson worries about now are in the area of club selection. He will be in Cincinnati on opening day of the 1996 season to serve as grand marshal of a parade on behalf of a market chain and the “fans who treated me so well there.”

Anderson agreed only after being assured by new Red manager Ray Knight that Knight wanted him there and didn’t feel he would be upstaged by Anderson’s presence.

“I’ll never forget my first opener in Cincinnati, and I didn’t want to do anything that would take away from Ray’s,” said Anderson, who added that he is also concerned about attending games at Dodger and Anaheim stadiums for fear of creating speculation and stealing the spotlight from the respective managers.

“If I go it will probably be because I’m doing some TV work,” he said.

Anderson hopes to limit his public appearances, but his plate figures to be full.

He recently returned to Detroit to be feted for his contributions on behalf of ailing children through a charity he founded and continues to support.

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There are also 14 demanding grandchildren, their toys sharing house space with letters of admiration from three presidents, a ball autographed by Pope John Paul II and a den full of baseball mementos.

“It’s hard to believe that you can come out of Bridgewater, South Dakota, and meet all these wonderful people and have all this happen to you,” Anderson said. “I’ve been very lucky. The game owes me nothing, and I owe it everything.

“I’m also very proud of the fact that I don’t believe Carol and I have changed in any fundamental way since we met in the fifth grade.”

He meant that they haven’t been spoiled by success. For example, they have only one car, which they share and which Carol may not see much of this spring as her husband heads for the clubhouse at Sunset Country Club.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Sparky Anderson as a Manager

CAREER

*--*

W L PCT 26 Years 2194 1834 .545

*--*

WINNINGEST MANAGERS

*--*

Manager W L PCT Connie Mack 3776 4025 .484 John McGraw 2840 1984 .589 Sparky Anderson 2194 1834 .545 Bucky Harris 2159 2219 .493 Joe McCarthy 2126 1335 .614 Walter Alston 2040 1613 .558

*--*

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

* 28 World Series games managed (7th all-time)

* 16 World Series games won (7th)

* First manager to win 100 games in a season with two teams

* First manager to win World Series in both leagues

* Manager of year in 1972, ‘75, ‘84, ’87

* First to win 800 games with two teams

* Only manager to lead two teams in career victories (Detroit, 1331, and Cincinnati, 863)

* Seven division titles, five with Cincinnati, two with Detroit

* Five pennants, four with Cincinnati, one with Detroit

* Three World Series championship, two with Cincinnati, one with Detroit

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