Named Manager of the Year twice in both the NL and the AL, Anderson won more than 600 games in each league and was also the first to win World Championships in both leagues. After winning the NL pennant in his first season, Anderson won five division titles, four pennants, and two world championships with the Reds, only once finishing below second place.
After spending six seasons in the minor league farm system of the Dodgers, Anderson was traded to the Phillies and became their regular second baseman in 1959. In his only big league season, Anderson hit .218 and Philadelphia finished in last place. He returned to the minors and eventually became a manager in the minors with Toronto in 1964. Following four more seasons as minor league manager, he returned to the NL in 1969 as a coach for San Diego. He accepted a coaching post with California for 1970 but then was hired to manage Cincinnati.
Sparky’s Reds won 70 of their first 100 games en route to a 102-win campaign that netted them a division title, and eventually the NL pennant. Anderson would spend nine seasons with the Reds, compiling the highest win total (863) and best winning percentage (.596), of any manager in team history.
He became known as “Captain Hook” for his frequent early removal of his starting pitchers in an era when that strategy was still unusual. It was a policy dictated by necessity. The “Big Red Machine” was based on offense, and often Anderson lacked a quality rotation. Also, many of the Reds’ best starters — Gary Nolan, Don Gullett, and Wayne Simpson — were injury-prone and could not be overworked. But the Reds developed some of the best relief corps in the majors, including Clay Carroll, Wayne Granger, Tom Hall, and Pedro Borbon.
Despite his success as a Red, Anderson was fired on November 27, 1978 after two consecutive second-place finishes. Anderson had objected when team management decided to shake up his coaching staff, so he was let go as well. Anderson decided to sign on with the Tigers, where he won a World Championship in 1984 and a division title in 1987. By the time he left in 1995 he had set franchise records for most seasons (17), games (2579), and wins (1331) by a manager.
In Detroit, Anderson became known for his unbounded optimism and a tendency to overstate his case to reporters. He called Kirk Gibson “the next Mickey Mantle” and handed less-talented players such as Chris Pittaro and Torey Lovullo regular jobs, praising their talents to the maximum, only to see them play themselves back to the minors within months. One Detroit columnist said, “Anderson changed his mind more than his socks,” but at least the manager’s door was always open to the media and Anderson had no problem speaking the truth. He readily admitted that a manager is only good if the players perform well, and openly talked about how easy and fun his job was. It was clear to everyone around Anderson that the enthusiastic manager wanted to enjoy every second of managing and life.
Usually a cheerful man, Anderson suffered a nervous breakdown in 1989 as the Tigers foundered at the bottom of the standings and was forced to leave the team. “I was completely worn out, completely exhausted,” he said. “I had worried so much for so many years about my job that the whole thing just caught up with me.” Overcoming his own worries about whether he would ever be able to manage again, he returned to the team after three weeks.
Sparky stayed at the helm of the struggling franchise until 1995, when he made headlines by refusing to manage a team of replacement players during the player’s strike. Instead, he went on a “leave of absence” during spring training and Tiger ownership allowed him to return when the season started. The Tigers again finished under .500, but along the way Anderson became the third-winningest skipper in baseball history.
Tired of losing, Anderson handed over the reins of the Tigers to Buddy Bell after the season. He nearly made a comeback with Anaheim in 1997, but the Angels ultimately decided to hire Terry Collins. At that point, Anderson decided to call it quits for good, ending a career in which he won 2,194 games — the third-highest total in baseball history behind John McGraw and Connie Mack.