Book Review: They Call Me Sparky, by former Tigers Manager

Baseball memoirs line the shelves at many libraries, both brick-and-mortar and digital. But, all memoirs are not made equal.

Just as not all baseball managers are made equal.

From 1979 to 1995, George “Sparky” Anderson occupied the hot seat as manager of the Detroit Tigers. For many of those years he had the team in contention, and they were winners. But in some ways, even just as important, was Anderson’s ability to connect with his players, the media, and fans.

If you’re looking for a good book to add to your baseball library, or something for your summer reads at the cabin or the beach, “They Call Me Sparky,” written with Dan Ewald for Gale Cengage, and published in 1998, is for you.

“They Call Me Sparky” is an entertaining memoir that provides an intimate glimpse into the life and baseball career of the legendary baseball manager, Sparky Anderson. Penned by the man himself, this captivating autobiography takes readers on a compelling journey through the highs and lows of his remarkable career, offering a unique perspective on the game of baseball and the inner workings of a driven and passionate individual.

The book begins with Sparky’s humble beginnings in South Dakota and traces his journey from a young boy with big dreams to becoming one of the most respected and successful managers in Major League Baseball history. Anderson’s writing style is engaging and straightforward, just like his managerial approach, making the book accessible to both die-hard baseball fans and casual readers alike.

The heart of “They Call Me Sparky” lies in Anderson’s years as a manager. He shares captivating anecdotes about his time managing the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers, teams he took to the pinnacle as world champions. Sparky’s insights into his managerial strategies, the challenges he faced, and the triumphs he achieved, reveal a man who was not only skilled in the game of baseball but also deeply passionate about his players and the sport itself.

Anderson’s accomplishments are legendary. He won five pennants and three World Series titles. He led his teams in Detroit and Cincy to seven division titles. He was the first manager to lead teams in both leagues to 100 wins, and to championships. He’s also the only manager to lead two teams back from 10 game deficits to finish in first place. Say what you will about Sparky having some of the best players on his rosters: he could “spark” a team to come from behind too.

One of the book’s most compelling aspects is Sparky’s ability to instill a sense of camaraderie among his players. He was known for being a players’ manager, treating each individual with respect and understanding their unique personalities and motivations. Anderson’s leadership style, affectionately known as “Sparkyball,” emphasized teamwork and positivity, which resonated with his players and often led to remarkable success on the field.

“They Call Me Sparky” delves into the complex world of baseball strategy, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at how the decisions of a manager can profoundly impact a game’s outcome. Sparky’s accounts of managing during crucial moments in high-stakes games reveal the immense pressure and responsibility he faced, which helps readers appreciate the mental fortitude required of a successful manager.

Read of the remarkable Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, when Anderson witnessed Kirk Gibson triumph on the big stage, following earlier struggles as a phenom who heard boos at Tiger Stadium.

Beyond the diamond, Anderson’s autobiography also explores the personal challenges he encountered throughout his life. From overcoming self-doubt to dealing with the loss of loved ones, Sparky’s resilience and determination shine through in every chapter. His unwavering commitment to his family and his passion for the game serve as an inspiration to readers, illustrating that success is often the result of hard work, dedication, and unwavering belief in oneself.

Despite the book’s numerous strengths, some readers might find that “They Call Me Sparky” occasionally lacks a deeper exploration of certain events or personal moments. While Sparky provides glimpses into the key moments of his life, there are instances where further introspection would have enriched the narrative and allowed readers to connect more intimately with the man behind the iconic persona.

Let’s face it, if you bleed Tiger orange. Or if you have a seat from Tiger Stadium in your man cave. Or if you named any pet in your household “Sparky,” then “They Call Me Sparky” is a must-read to gain insight into the life and career of one of the sport’s most legendary figures.

Sparky Anderson’s candid and warm storytelling invites readers to step into the shoes of a brilliant baseball mind and empathize with the struggles and joys that come with a life dedicated to America’s pastime. Whether you are a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, the Detroit Tigers, or simply a lover of baseball history, this memoir will undoubtedly leave you with a profound appreciation for the impact Sparky Anderson had on the game and the lasting legacy he left behind.