Sparky Anderson came from a baseball incubator in southern California

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The 1951 American Legion National Champions, representing the Crenshaw Post of Los Angeles. George Anderson is in the front row on the far right. His friend Billy Consolo is third to the left of Anderson. They would work together in Detroit for 15 seasons.

It’s possible that no young boy was ever more wrapped up in baseball than little Georgie Anderson. As a tyke growing up in urban Los Angeles, the kid who would become George – and then Sparky – Anderson, was obsessed with the game. His mother stitched enough patches on the knees of his pants to prove it.

“I was on a baseball diamond almost every day of my life since the day I could run,” Sparky would say years later when looking back on his childhood.

The hours spent on the ball field paid off. He went on to play at top levels of competition as a teenager, was signed to a pro contract, played with the Philadelphia Phillies, and most famously won more than 2,000 games as a big league manager. In 1984 as the field leader of the Detroit Tigers, Sparky become the first manager in baseball history to win guide a team to World Series triumphs in both leagues.

Sparky’s environment was the platform that launched him to a life in baseball. The western neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1940s and early 1950s were a breeding ground that hatched many ballplayers. When he was still sucking on lollipops and blowing out a handful of candles on his birthday cake, little Georgie (as Mama Anderson called him), met a friend who traveled with him on his baseball journey. He was slightly taller but no less scrawny at that prepubescent age. His name was Billy Consolo.

“I first met George when we were in elementary school,” Consolo said later. “We each paid 50 cents to play baseball for a team in Rancho Park (a neighborhood on the west side of LA), and [after that] we were inseparable.”

In addition to Anderson and Consolo, who went on to a big league career as a shortstop, the same neighborhood produced Ed Pamquist, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox, Don Buford, an All-Star outfielder who played for the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles, and the Lachemann brothers (Rene and Marcel), each of whom went on to play and manage in the majors. Another Lachemann – Bill – went on to a long career as a coach in the minor leagues and major leagues. Young George Anderson came from a hotbed of baseball.

Consolo and Anderson played for the team that won the American Legion National Championship in 1951, winning the title at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. 28 years later, the two men would take residence at the same location as manager and coach for the Tigers. Consolo  served as a coach under his friend Sparky from 1979 to 1992, and again for Anderson’s final season in 1995.

There were two things that helped Sparky stand out as a young baseball junkie in LA in his youth: he soaked up every word he was taught, and he always had a fiery attitude between the lines. Small chested and puny, Sparky stood his ground despite playing the demanding position of second base where opposing runners lambasted him with hard slides and spikes. He gave as good as he got, and at the plate and on the basepaths he was a scrappy player who worked harder than almost every one else.

When he was just 13 years old, Sparky was asked by famed coach Rod Dedeaux to be the batboy for the UCLA Bruins baseball team. it was a duty that the baseball-starved youngster gladly lapped up. During his stint with the Bruins, Sparky learned as much as he could from the college coach. Later, he applied those lessons in his 27 seasons as a major league skipper. In LA and in his brief pro career, Sparky learned a lot more than just baseball, though, and he passed that along as well.

“Sparky was like family to me, he was never my manager,” Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan said at a banquet honoring Anderson a few years ago.

Anderson may have morphed from “Lil’ Georgie” into “Sparky” over the years, but his roots in LA and the baseball education he received there never left him.

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