I Remember: Special Moments with Sparky Anderson

—I remember the day we were shooting at Children’s Hospital, and as he visited the kids there Sparky was especially enthused. (He had resisted the idea of us taping him with the children, but he finally agreed because we said the publicity would aid his work there.) He told how he had recently been given an envelope by Tiger ace Jack Morris; inside was a personal check for $50,000 for his CATCH Foundation. The pitcher’s only provision was that no publicity be given to the donation. Sparky seemed so pleased, so proud of Morris.

—I remember the time we were shooting a Channel 4 promo in the Tiger dugout at Lakeland. WDIV cameraman extraordinaire Kevin “Shoots” Hewitt was basking in the late afternoon sun, waiting for some film or something to be delivered. Hewitt was wearing cutoff jeans with weird striped tube socks, and had removed his shirt. His then-rather-large beer belly was hanging over the top of his jeans, his back and legs were sunburned a garish red. Sparky looked over at him, and said with his usual flare … “Kevin looks good, don’t he?”

—I remember the summer Sparky took a leave of absence from the Tigers, suffering some kind of emotional letdown after a dive by the team in the second half of the season. I had gone to see him, to discuss scheduling shooting days for the “Sparky” special we had planned at Channel 4, a show that would have to be delayed till the following year. Sparky was inconsolable. He sat behind his desk, his head down, saying over and over “You don’t know what it’s like, you don’t what it’s like, Tommy. Losing like this, you just can’t imagine what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like. You just don‘t know.” I left there worried about him, realizing that the normally ebullient Anderson surely had a manic-depressive side to him. So I was not surprised when he left the team.

—I remember seeing Sparky sleeping at poolside at the Lakeland Holiday Inn during training in 1985. You never saw a more comfortable guy, just completely relaxing in the sun. And I recall the people, one about every ten minutes, who came up and disturbed his reverie, waking him up out of a deep sleep to ask for his autograph. And I particularly recall how he smiled at them each time, and kindly signed their papers, thanking THEM for the opportunity. Then back to sleep he’d go.

—I remember the story about super-golfer Sparky taking five golf balls out onto the back lawn at that Holiday Inn, along with his 9-iron. He hit five beautiful high shots across the back of the motel, with the balls gently falling into the high grass on the far side. Suddenly an old man came out of the back of the motel, walked down towards the lake, and stopped when he saw a golf ball in front of him. Then another, then another. Excited, he picked up every one of Sparky’s five shots, and put them in his pockets. Then he rushed back into the motel, perhaps to tell his wife of his wonderful fortune. Standing about 50 yards away, watching all this with club in hand, Sparky just shrugged and walked back to his room.

—I remember taping some “Tiger Moments” commercial segments with Sparky after practice at Lakeland one day. The entire time he kept pushing our shooting schedule — “I gotta be outta here by noon. Got a noon tee-time, and I can’t be late. Get me outta here by noon, Tommy.” I promised, and we did. But before he left, I introduced him to my parents — Charlie and Virginia — sitting outside our taping room. Just a quick hello, with my Dad telling Sparky how thrilled he was to finally be visiting Lakeland, a place he’d thought about all his life, starting as a boy in the late 1920s and ‘30s. With that, Sparky — who was in SUCH a hurry — pulled out his pipe and tobacco pouch. He filled the pipe, sat down, and talked baseball with my father for the next twenty minutes or so, until he had finished the bowl. Sparky’s hero Casey Stengel, Gehringer, Kirk Gibson, Mantle … I could hear the names they were discussing as we interviewed Alan Trammell in the next room.

Then, when his pipe had been smoked, Sparky got up and excused himself, shook my father’s hand, and finally left for his golf game. Nearly a half hour late. But what he had done for my Dad that day. My parents were thrilled. As was I.

That … was Sparky Anderson. And boy, do I remember…..