What Would Sparky Do?

I once asked former Detroit Tiger Dave Bergman what kind of a manager Sparky Anderson was.  He told me, “Sparky didn’t teach us about baseball.  He taught us how to be men.”

As a kid selling souvenirs outside of Tiger Stadium throughout the 1980s, I would watch the Detroit Tigers as they loaded the bus to head out of town for road trips.  Sparky always had them wearing suit and tie and they were clean-shaven and well groomed.  They looked like gentlemen and they carried themselves in a very dignified manner.  There were no tattoos, no body piercings, no jewelry, no long hair.  These were professionals — and everybody who saw them knew it.

Can the same be said for the current Tigers’ squad? 

I was in Cooperstown at the Otesaga Hotel when the Detroit Tigers arrived to play in the Hall of Fame Game back in May of 2005.  They came into the hotel like a rag-tag bunch of amateurs.  They were dressed in sweatpants and knit caps.  They were using foul language and showed little respect for their surroundings.  Later that night, I boarded an elevator with several Tigers players onboard and I could smell marijuana on them.

Alan Trammell was their manager at the time and Kirk Gibson was their coach.  Both were there with the team in Cooperstown.  So was Dave Dombrowski.  It was appalling to see the team of my youth that I revered as such professionals now behaving like a bunch of bums.

Is it the high salaries?  Is it the fact that an 18 year old kid out of high school now can get a $3 million signing bonus before he graduates?  Is it impossible to discipline individual players who are making more than the team itself?

I don’t know.  But I don’t think Sparky Anderson would put up with the garbage that goes on with Major League Baseball teams today.  In his prime, Sparky would let everybody in the clubhouse know who was in charge — and if they didn’t like it, they could leave.

Kirk Gibson, a wild buck in his day to say the least, had the utmost respect for Anderson.  He still reminisces about his old manager telling everybody, “It’s my way or the highway.”  In other words, you better adapt to his way of doing things, or you’re going to be gone.  Talented players with bad attitudes would be relegated to Sparky’s dog house — and once there, it was nearly impossible to get out.

There are some similarities between Anderson and current Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland.  However, I don’t think Anderson would put up with as much as Leyland has and does.  For example, the other day, Magglio Ordonez got picked off first base and he was laughing about it in the dugout afterward.  Is that professionalism?  Should that be tolerated by the team’s management?

How about Todd Jones hosing down fans at Comerica Park on a hot day from the bullpen?  Or wearing a Magglio wig and sliding on the field tarp during a rain delay?  The Tigers may have the talent to win a lot of games — but they certainly haven’t shown the discipline it takes to be champions.

What would Sparky do?  My guess is he’d change the culture of the team first and foremost.  He’d remind everybody that talent only gets you so far and that a team and its players must have character in order to win.

Character.  That’s something even $137,685,196 can’t buy.


One reply on “What Would Sparky Do?

  • Karen Elizabeth Bush

    This entire column brings to mind a 1960s Detroit News photo of pitcher Paul Foytack wearing his new team blazer — a blue blazer with a Tigers logo on the pocket. Under Bob Scheffing’s aegis, the Tigers were told that they would dress for road trips, and the blazer was mandatory. Coincidence or not, 1961, the season that those blazers were introduced, turned out to be a pretty fair year for the team.

    I don’t blame Jim Leyland for laxity as much as I might, were I not also so very tired of having to deal with the overall downgrading of American civilization. I work with university students, and this term I have one class where the entire room — 22 people aged 19 to about 40 — as individuals could not remember EVER having read an entire book. Students, who are roughly the same age as major league ballplayers, arrive at school dressed in costumes that would have had them sent home to change clothes twenty or thirty years ago. When teaching, I personally always dress in a manner that used to be called “business casual.” My immediate supervisor wears sweats.

    If discipline were executed today “as Sparky would do it,” I am firmly convinced that it would show up in the win column. But America — not just baseball — has strayed so far from the standards of professionalism, there are few people left around (even in the front office) who understand the connection between professional carriage off the field and decisive play ON the field.

    I will demur in one instance, however. Albeit on top of everything else they probably were not the best idea, Todd Jones’ antics still are strongly reminiscent of happy tales told of one Norman Dalton Cash. In a tight pennant race, Cash’s more bizarre tricks kept us loose and thus did a lot to support our very real shot at beating the damnYankees.

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