If you were to ask his writer to construct a mind image of what a manager looks like, sounds like and acts like, this writer would immediately think of Sparky Anderson. Of all the managers that the Fan has witnessed in a lifetime of watching ballgames, Anderson and Ralph Houk came closest to the ideal of what a manager is supposed to be. Managers are supposed to be tough and at times gruff. They are to be feared. But at the same time, there was a pathos that a player felt that made them want to bust their tail for the two men. Both were warm and easy going with the press. Both seemed like the kind of man you'd want for a father.
And to be sure, whenever there is a large family, there will be some of the children who think the dad is an SOB. Just ask David Wells about Joe Torre. But a manager like Anderson goes beyond just being a father figure to his players. He becomes the adopted dad of an entire fan body. He will always be loved as such in Cincinnati and in Detroit. A man like that becomes a signpost that we hang our lives on. And it goes beyond simply the two towns he managed in. Can any serious fan in this country who loves the game of baseball really say they didn't like Sparky Anderson? His life became an extension far beyond his local construct.
Losing Anderson is difficult for some reason. It hurts. Sparky Anderson started his career at the age of 36. Yeah, he was a really young MLB manager. Which seems absurd now because he always seemed sort of gray and wrinkled. But he was just starting out with the Reds when this Fan was in high school. We both had our entire lives ahead of us. With youth comes possibility and an endless tomorrow. But now Anderson is gone and this writer feels that much older. Our baseball father died yesterday. And not only does that sadden this writer to know his crinkly smile will no longer appear on this earth, but it also feels like another blow to the time-marching race life sometimes becomes. See ya, Sparky. Thanks for everything.