This is Sparky Anderson’s All-Time Team

In many ways, Sparky Anderson belongs to Detroit. He bolstered a young team and shaped them into a World Series champion in 1984, helping several players emerge as superstars. His impact on the Motor City went beyond the diamond: his foundation continues to help children get care in hospitals in Detroit. Fans who met Sparky will never forget him.

If Sparky had only managed the Detroit Tigers, he would be one of the greatest managers in history. But the white-haired Yoda of the Dugout spent nine seasons in Cincinnati before he came wore the Old English D. In Cincy, Sparky established himself as a tremendous leader of men, guiding The Big Red Machine to four pennants and two World Series titles. His years with the Reds are as much a part of his legacy as his 17 seasons in Detroit.

Sparky always liked to remind people that he was just a simple little uneducated fella from southern California, lucky to work in the game he loved. “Let me tell you something,” Sparky said, “ballplayers are the champions, they win the games. All [I] can do is mess things up.”

That modesty may have been a overstated, but it underscores Sparky’s philosophy: get good players and let them play. In his 26 years as a manager, Anderson won 2,194 games, a total that ranked third when he retired and still ranks sixth all-time. He was the first skipper to win a World Series in both leagues, and the first to manager a 100-win team in both leagues. He was criticized by some as a “push-button manager,” but that’s unfair. His ability to manage the egos and players in a clubhouse benefited his teams.

“Sparky knew how to keep our team in balance,” Pete Rose said of his former manager. “He had rules for his stars and he had rules for everyone else, and he didn’t give a damn what anyone on the team thought about it.”

Catcher Johnny Bench saw firsthand how Sparky massaged a pitching staff and managed innings and arms over the course of a long season. His guile with the bullpen, earned Sparky the nickname, “Captain Hook. ”

“We had a great lineup (in Cincinnati),” Bench said, “but every year [some of our pitchers] would get hurt, and Sparky would have to shuffle pitchers in and out of the rotation. He was the first manager to rely on his bullpen so much, he created more bullpen aces than any other manager at that time.”

Anderson was blessed to manage six future Hall of Famers, four in Cincinnati and two in Detroit. But he also knew how to handle the role players, guys way down the depth chart. He loved to write names like Dave Bergman, Tom Brookens, and Darrel Chaney into his lineup. He loved to have professionals in his clubhouse who were ready to compete.

Below I select the all-time Sparky Anderson team, comprised of the best (and favorite) players from Sparky’s career, 25 players in all.

Johnny Bench, catcher

The greatest catcher to ever play the game, Bench won the MVP in 1970, Sparky’s first season as a manager. The big-bodied slugger won it again two years later, and he spent most of the 1970s rewriting the record books for hitting by a catcher. He also had the best arm in the game and he was a Gold Glove winner almost every year.

Tony Perez, first base

The “Big Dog” was the unofficial leader of the clubhouse for the Reds. His amiable personality and steady emotion helped Cincinnati weather the ups and downs of a 162-game season. He was the RBI-man in the middle of the lineup, driving in 90 runs or more in eleven straight seasons. The Reds traded Perez after they won their second straight title in 1976, and when the team foundered the next few seasons, it was his absence that hurt the most.

Joe Morgan, second base

Probably baseball’s greatest second baseman of all-time, Morgan could run, hit, hit for power, field, and throw. He won multiple Gold Gloves, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. He proved that good things come in small packages, belying his 5’9 stature to win back-to-back MVP awards, while averaging more than 20 homers, 100 runs, 50 steals, and 100 walks per season. Along with Bench and Perez, Morgan is one of the three Hall of Famers who played under Sparky during The Big Red Machine’s championship days.

Alan Trammell, shortstop

When Sparky arrived in Detroit in the middle of the 1979 season he encountered this 21-year old skinny shortstop. Trammell, Sparky said, “looked like he couldn’t hit a baseball past the infield.” But Anderson took Tram (and his double play pal Lou Whitaker) under his wing and molded them into stars. Trammell added weight and the home runs started to come. In 1984 he was MVP of the World Series. When he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Trammell spent several moments praising the influence Anderson had on his career. He played 17 seasons under Sparky.

Pete Rose, third base

Sparky had a special affection for the man he called “Peter Edward.” In his years as Cincinnati manager, Anderson left Rose alone, putting his name near the top of his lineup and getting the typical 200 hits and .300+ batting average year in and year out. “There’s no one who wants to play more than Pete,” Sparky said, “and he never lets up, he plays the second game of a meaningless doubleheader the same way as Game Seven of the World Series.” Rose was an outfielder when Sparky arrived to the Reds, but early in the 1975 season with his team needing a boost, Sparky gambled and switched Pete to third base. The move shocked the front office, but it sparked the Reds and they won both World Series titles under Sparky with “Charlie Hustle” at the hot corner.

George Foster, left field

The exact opposite of Pete Rose, Foster was a shy, quiet, almost invisible man, but he swung a dangerous bat. A devout man, Foster played the game with grace and precision, and he avoided controversy. In 1977 he slugged 52 homers and became the fourth Reds’ player to win the MVP under Anderson.

Chet Lemon, center field

When the Tigers acquired Lemon after the 1981 season, Anderson originally placed his new man in right field. At that time, Sparky was sure that Kirk Gibson was the center fielder of the future. But by July of 1982, Lemon was ensconced in spacious center field at Tiger Stadium. With uncanny anticipation, a quick step, and a steady glove, Lemon caught practically anything hit to the middle of the outfield for Sparky for the next nine seasons, earning one All-Star selection. He drove Sparky crazy with his bad baserunning and those head-first slides into first base, but Anderson loved Chet’s passion for the game.

Kirk Gibson, right field

Sparky probably had more shouting matches with Gibson than any man who ever played for him. As a young player, Gibby was a wild stallion, untamed and rough around the edges. He bristled when Sparky would bench him against lefthanded pitching, and he erupted when he struck out or made a mistake. Anderson coaxed patience from Gibson, helping him harness his great raw ability. Eventually Gibson learned at the foot of his mentor and went on to win Manager of the Year honors, the only man to play under Sparky who did so.

Cecil Fielder, designated hitter

No one loved to talk about a player more than Sparky. He famously pumped up his players with praise, never shying away from an opportunity to prognosticate on a player’s future. But not even a loudmouth like Sparky had much to say about Fielder when he arrived in Detroit for the 1990 season. That year, after spending time in Japan, Fielder emerged as baseball’s most accomplished slugger, belting 51 homers. “Big Daddy” led the majors in RBIs his first three seasons with Detroit and played six years for Sparky.

Tony Phillips, spare part

Few managers loved to tinker with their lineup more than Sparky. He liked to give most of his regulars a day off each week, and he believed strongly in keeping his bench players sharp. Phillips was not your typical bench player, he was a spare part that could be plugged in almost anywhere. After he arrived in Motown as a free agent in 1990, Sparkly soon realized Phillips could play almost anywhere. The switch-hitter played third, short, second, left, center and right field, and even DH in his five years in Detroit. Those were the most productive seasons of his long career, as Tony averaged 100 runs, 154 hits, 12 homers, 14 stolen bases, and 104 walks for Sparky’s Tigers.

Darrel Chaney, utility infielder

There are guys who can play shortstop and guys who can play second base, and then there are a few guys who can play both pretty well. Chaney could play both equally well and his arm was strong enough that he was a good third baseman too. He didn’t hit much at all, but he was patient and could draw some walks, and he was a switch-hitter, which proved useful. Chaney didn’t play much for the Reds, but he was Sparky’s favorite utility infielder in Cincinnati, spelling Joe Morgan, shortstop Davey Concepcion, and filling in at third base when needed.

Dave Bergman, pinch-hitter and first base

“As long as David played for me,” Sparky said in an interview with me in 2002, “he came to the ballpark every day and was ready to play. He was as prepared as any player I ever managed.”

Bergman was no superstar, heck he wasn’t even an all-star, but he was a valuable player with skills that proved crucial for his teams. He was a lefthanded batter with a short, compact swing. He had once won a batting title in the minor leagues. Bergman was one of the best defensive first basemen in the game, with great range to his right and a glue-like glove. He could also play the outfield in a pinch. In 1984 his epic extra-inning, game-winning home run against the Blue Jays was one of the biggest hits of that championship season. Bergie played nine years for Sparky, serving as his trusted defensive replacement, once-a-week starter, and pinch-hitter.

Gary Pettis, outfield and pinch-runner

The fastest man to ever play for Anderson, Pettis only spent two years under Sparky, but he won the Gold Glove both years for his stellar play in center field. He topped 40 stolen bases both years he was in Detroit under Anderson.

Lance Parrish, catcher

The muscular catcher came of age under Sparky, going from young prospect to All-Star catcher in a few years. Sparky was wrong about Parrish’s weight lifting (he tried to get the big man to stop his weight room regiment), but he grew to accept it and Parrish was his cleanup man on the 1984 champions. Like Perez’s exit from Cincinnati, when Lance left Detroit it served to mark the end of Sparky’s best years in the city.

Jack Morris, starting pitcher

There’s not much that Detroit fans don’t already know about Morris. He started on opening day every season for a dozen years, threw a no-hitter, won more games than anyone in the 1980s, and won three games in the postseason in 1984. He won three more titles after leaving Detroit as a free agent. Outside of the brief time he had Seaver in Cincinnati, Sparky never trusted a pitcher more than Morris, who joined his former manager in the Hall of Fame.

Tom Seaver, starting pitcher

The Reds acquired Seaver from the Mets in a blockbuster trade during the 1977 season. It was a latch-ditch effort to catch the Dodgers in the division race, but too late. Seaver was still very much a superstar when he pitched for Sparky. He pitched his only no-hitter for the Reds, and he went 30-13 in 56 starts for Anderson. He’s one of the six Hall of Famers who played for Sparky: Bench, Perez, Morgan, Morris, and Trammell being the others.

Dan Petry, starting pitcher

A solid #2 behind Morris, Petry’s career mirrored Sparky’s tenure in Detroit. The Tigers hired Sparky in mid-June of 1979, and three weeks later, Petry made his major league debut. Sparky and pitching coach Roger Craig helped “Peaches” evolve into a power pitcher and an All-Star. He won 15 games or more in four consecutive seasons for Sparky from 1982-85.

Don Gullett, starting pitcher

Many of the starting pitchers for the Big Red Machine were decent little arms, but nothing exciting. Gullett was an exception, he arrived as a hard-throwing phenom, and like Petry, made his big league debut under Anderson’s eye, except he did it in 1970. Gullett averaged 14 wins for Sparky and the Reds from 1971 to 1976, despite missing time with shoulder problems. He won four postseason games in the 1975-76 championship seasons.

Frank Tanana, starting pitcher

The only pitcher on this team who didn’t win a championship for Sparky, Tanana started more games for the grey-haired manager than anyone other than Morris. He went 96-82 in eight seasons for the Tigers and Anderson, but his biggest moment came on the final day of the 1987 season. That day, at Tiger Stadium against the Blue Jays, Tanana twirled a 1-0 shutout to clinch the division title.

Clay Carroll, relief pitcher

The man they called “The Hawk” (because of a crooked nose) was one of the first great relief pitchers in Cincinnati during the Big Red Machine years. Carroll set an NL record with 37 saves for Sparky in 1972, when he appeared in 65 games for “Captain Hook.”

Willie Hernandez, relief pitcher

Few pitchers have been as near-perfect for a whole season as Hernandez was for Anderson and Detroit in 1984. That season, Willie saved 32 of 33, and pitched in an incredible 80 games with a 1.92 ERA in more than 140 innings. They just don’t use relievers like that anymore, but Sparky rode Willie’s left arm all the way to the Fall Classic. He saved 55 more games the following two seasons.

Pedro Borbon, relief pitcher

Borbon was known as one of the meanest players in baseball, a scowling, moody man from the Dominican. The strong righty often sulked alone in the Reds’ bullpen on days when he wasn’t waved into the game. He loved to pitch and he loved it even more when he closed out a Cincinnati victory. Borbon was in the bullpen for all nine years of Sparky’s tenure in the Queen City, averaging 56 games, 97 innings, and a 3.32 ERA with 60 wins and 74 saves.

Aurelio Lopez, relief pitcher

Like Borbon, Sparky had a bumpy relationship with Lopez, who pitched for Anderson for seven years in Detroit. Lopez could do silly things, like drink a case of beer on a cross-country flight or eat half a dozen tacos before a game. He often struggled with his weight and other health issues, but Lopey still managed to be one of the better relievers in baseball during his prime. Sparky preferred to use his best relievers for multiple innings, and Lopez averaged two innings per appearance for his manager. He saved 85 games in his stretch with the Tigers.

Rawly Eastwick, relief pitcher

Though his career was brief, Eastwick twice led the National League in saves under Sparky. It so happened that he did it in 1975 and 1976, when the Reds won the World Series both seasons. A tall righthander with a good knee-high fastball, Eastwick often entered the game in the eighth inning and got our or more outs to preserve a Cincinnati win.

David Wells, pitcher and prankster

Every team needs someone to keep the clubhouse loose, and that’s a role the irreverent David Wells played for much of his career. The pudgy lefty was coming off an injury-marred season when he signed as a free agent and came to Detroit in 1993. But that April, “Boomer” went 4-0 and endeared himself to his new manager and his teammates with his competitive nature on the hill. Wells and Kirk Gibson became good buddies over the next few years in Detroit, as the southpaw went 26-19 for mediocre teams under Sparky.