Friday, February 3, 2012

#326 - Sparky Anderson/Reds Field Leaders

Look at all of Sparky's white hair. And those wrinkles on his neck. This is an old baseball guy in what I am labelling as - yes - an action shot. Sparky is 39 years old in this photo at Riverfront. Look at how baseball can age a guy.

There were some question marks for Sparky going into the '73 season. It was only his fourth season but he'd already been to the Series twice. But his best power guy, Johnny Bench, was coming off lung surgery. His fastest guy, Bobby Tolan, though he had a huge comeback in '72 was still a question mark after missing all of '71 with a leg injury. Pitching was spotty and there may or may not have been a big hole at third base. By mid-season he had most of his answers: Bench was fine; Tolan's speed was gone; Denis Menke was pretty much toast but new kid Dan Driessen was able to take his spot and hit the hell out of the ball; and after Jack Billingham and Don Gullett, starting pitching was middling. So they weren't all good answers and by the end of June an under-.500 month had the Reds in fourth place. But they acquired a little guy who'd pitched them tough earlier in the season and Fred Norman went on an 8-0 run as they put together a killer July and August and finally nudged the Dodgers out of first in September. Then it was all Reds and all they had to do to get back in the Series was beat a team that could barely play .500 ball. Oops.

Sparky Anderson was a hustler of a second baseman who was signed by the Dodgers out of high school in South Dakota in '53. He started things off that spring in C ball and hit OK but had a rough time in the field. He spent the next five seasons working up the Brooklyn/LA chain, producing very good defense and some nice averages - .296 in '54 and .298 in '56 - with not much power, although he did hit 35 doubles in '58. That was his third year of Triple A and after it he was traded to the Phillies for three guys. Philly immediately pulled him up and he was their second baseman for all of '59, hitting .218 with 34 RBI's. That was it for Sparky up top and the next four seasons he spent at Triple A Toronto for various franchises. For his minor league career he hit .263.

In '64 Anderson returned to Toronto but this time as a manager. After a winning season there, he moved to the St. Louis system for three years and to the Cincy system for one, establishing a record of 395-295 over that time. In '69 he became a coach with the new Padres and in '70 was signed away as the Reds manager. Sparky had immediate success in Cincy, going to the Series with the Machine. Sparky was famous for his bifurcated system of letting his players play but having a quick hook for his starting pitchers. After his '71 hiccup, he led the Reds to four more Division titles, three NL Championships, and two straight Series titles, all by '78 after which he was canned. Sparky was quickly named manager of Detroit and while the success there wasn't as immediate, it came soon enough as the Tigers rode a fast '84 start into the Series. Another Division title came in '87 and while in Detroit he won two Manager of the Year awards, ironically after none in Cincinnati. Sparky stuck with Detroit through '95 when at 61 he stepped down, leaving behind a lifetime 2,194-1,834 record. Following his managing he did some broadcasting for the Angels through '99 and was inducted into the Hall in 2000. Over the next ten years his health slowly deteriorated until, suffering from dementia, he passed away in 2010 at 76.

Alex Grammas was born and raised in Alabama and after high school and his military hitch was a star in Mississippi State baseball from '47 to '49. That last year he was signed by the White Sox. His next four seasons he spent in the minors playing the left side of the infield and, like his manager, was an OK but generally light hitter (though he did hit .327 in A ball his first season). In '53, after being traded to the Cards, Reds, and back to the Cards, he put up a .307 average with 62 RBI's while playing exclusively shortstop at Triple A Kansas City. The next year he hit the majors, playing the same position as Red Schoendienst's DP partner. His 401 at bats were a career high and after another season as the primary guy he would move to Cincinnati where he backed up Roy MacMillan a few seasons. Following his minor league path he returned to St. Louis in '59 where he was the regular guy for a season before settling into his backup role the rest of his career. He finished that out with two seasons for the Cubs ending in '63 with a lifetime .247 average. Like Sparky, Alex moved right into managing, running a Double A Cubbies club in '64. He then coached for the Pirates from '65 to '69 when he also managed the last five games of the season, going 4-1. But The Pirates were able to wrangle a return out of Danny Murtaugh so Alex moved to Cincy where he coached third from '70 to '75. He then got the managing gig for Milwaukee but after two terrible seasons in '76 and '77 he was done as a manager, finishing with a record of 221-264. He returned to coaching for Cincy ('78), Atlanta ('79), and Detroit ('80-'91) and then retired.

Ted Kluszewski had by far the biggest playing career of any of these guys. A big boy from Illinois, he went to the University of Indiana on a football scholarship where he also played baseball, leading the football team to an undefeated Big Ten championship and hitting .443 as a center fielder his senior year of '45-'46. He was signed later that year by the Reds and in A ball later that summer hit .352 with 87 RBI's in 90 games. After a .377 follow-up in Double A in '47 he made the Reds lineup for good the following year, taking over first base and hitting .274. He upped that to .309 in '49 and .307 with 25 homers and 116 RBI's in '50. By then he had taken to cutting off his jersey sleeves to free up and show off his huge pipes. After a setback in '51 he went on a huge run, averaging 38 homers, 108 RBI's, and .315 over the next six seasons. He was an All-Star every year from '53 to '56. He then ran into a wall that was his bad back and was not able to put up a full season as he moved to Pittsburgh, the White Sox, and the Angels. His last hurrah was in the '59 Series for Chicago when he hit .391 with three homers and ten RBI's in six games against LA. Klu finished up with California in '61 with a .298 average, 279 homers, and 1,028 RBI's. After some time away from baseball he returned to Cincinnati and was the club's hitting coach from '70 to '78, Sparky's duration as manager. From '79 to '86, when he suffered a heart attack, he was a minor league hitting instructor for the Reds. He retired after his '86 episode and passed away two years later from a heart ailment. He was 63.

George Scherger was signed by the Dodgers out of his high school in North Dakota in '40. A second baseman, he put in three seasons at the D level before he then put in three years in WW II. When he returned in '46 he went to B league ball but that was the highest level he reached as a player and the next season he began managing as well. George would play through '56 and finish with a .270 average in the minors. He also managed through that year and from '57 to '60 coached in the Brooklyn/LA system. He returned to managing from '61 to '65 and then moved to the Cincinnati system, coaching in '66 and managing the next three years. He was named first base coach by Sparky in '70 and stayed with him his full time in Cincy. In '79 he returned to the minors to manage, which he did through '82. From that year through '87 he returned to coach up top. After one last season as manager in the minors in '88 he retired to Florida. His lifetime record as manager was 1,312-1,253. George passed away in 2011 at age 90.

Larry Shepard was a pitcher out of Ohio who went to McGill University in Canada. Signed by the Dodgers upon graduating in '42 he won 15 that year in C ball. He then missed the next three-plus seasons for WW II, returning in '46 to win 12 in B ball and the following year 15 in A ball. Despite his upward mobility and apparent success he was 28 that year and prospects were slim for hitting the majors before he was 30 so the next year he started managing as he continued pitching. He went 22-3 in D ball in '48 and the next three years averaged 22 wins as a pitcher at Class C Billings. From then on he focused on relief and managing and in '52 he moved to the Pirates system. He pitched through '56 and finished with a record of 179-84 with a 3.31 ERA. By '58 he was up in Triple A where he continued to manage through '66. In '67 he moved to Pittsburgh to coach and in '68 was named the Pirates' manager. He kept that gig through a pretty good '69 but was fired with five games left that season (and ironically replaced by Alex Grammas). Like all the other guys he joined Sparky in Cincinnati from '70 to '78 as Reds pitching coach and then for a season did the same thing in San Francisco, retiring after the '79 season was over. He finished with a managing record of 168-156 in the majors and 1,232-1,100 in the minors. Larry moved back to Nebraska where he did some consulting coaching to the Lincoln team he had managed in the late Fifties. He passed away there in 2011 at age 92.

This is the first time we get a double hook-up in a while. First for Sparky as a manager:

1. Anderson managed Tony Perez from '70 to '76;
2. Perez and Tommy Harper '64 to '67 Reds.

And as a player:

1. Anderson and Don Cardwell '59 Phillies;
2. Cardwell and Art Shamsky '68 to '69 Mets;
3. Shamsky and Tommy Harper '65 to '67 Reds.

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