The ranks of Baseball Hall of Fame managers will grow by three today. Many Hall of Fame members will be in Cooperstown to welcome them.
No one would have been more happy to extend a welcoming hand than Sparky Anderson.
Anderson passed away in 2010 at the age of 76. If he were alive today he’d be the dean of Hall of Fame managers and seeing as how he was almost always the most gregarious man in the room, he definitely would have enjoyed ushering Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre into the club.
The addition of Cox, LaRussa, and Torre more than doubles the number of living Hall of Fame managers. The trio joins Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda, two skippers who won 7 pennants between them. The “rookie” Hall of Fame managers captured 17 pennants in their tenures at the helm, earning their place among the greats enshrined in Cooperstown.
When Anderson retired following the 1995 season his 2,194 games were the third most in baseball history, but La Russa, Cox, and Torre each passed him on the all-time list. Sparky would have loved that, he was a fan of all three of the men being inducted today. His closest relationship was with La Russa, who managed against Sparky for 17 years in the American League and considered Anderson to be his mentor.
“He was a tremendous resource who was available at any time of day,” La Russa told USA Today this weekend in Cooperstown. “He believed in sharing, so he gave me everything he knew. He talked, and I listened.
In 2006, when La Russa’s Cardinals defeated the Tigers in the World Series, Sparky was torn. He was disappointed that his former team failed to win the title, but he was thrilled for La Russa, who joined Sparky as the only managers to win World Championships in both leagues.
Shaped by his special relationship with Sparky, La Russa made sure to pass it on, taking other managers under his wing and extending a helping hand to his peers. He counts as one of his best friends Jim Leyland, who next to Sparky is probably the most respected manager the Tigers ever had. La Russa continues to have a connection to the Tigers — he was hired this year to a special position as Chief Baseball Officer by the Arizona Diamondbacks. In that role, manager Kirk Gibson, who learned the game under Sparky in Detroit, reports directly to La Russa.
When LaRussa managed the A’s he requested uniform #10 to honor Sparky (who wore that number with Cincinnati), and when he transitioned to the Cardinals he continued to wear the number to honor his friend and mentor.
Cox only spent four seasons as a field manager in the American League, from 1982-85 with the Toronto Blue Jays. But that happened to be a period when the Tigers and Jays were rivals in the AL East. Though they battled for supremacy in the division, Sparky extended guidance to Cox in the 1980s.
“When you faced Sparky, you knew you were going to have to be on top of your game and you knew you were going to have a good meeting with him. He was the best ambassador the game had,” Cox remembers.
When Anderson and Torre managed against each other it was not at all apparent that Torre would be a Hall of Fame manager one day. In 1977, the New York Mets named Torre their player/manager midway through the season. That year and the next, Sparky’s Reds and Torre’s Mets played each other a handful of times, but it wasn’t until Torre landed a job with the Braves in 1982 that he started to show the promise that would one day lead him to his iconic role as manager of the Yankees. Torre came back to the American League the year after Sparky’s exit from Detroit.
None of the three new Hall of Fame managers was outgoing like Sparky, in fact each of them was known for being a bit reserved, and in the case of La Russa, calculated and aloof. Cox was perhaps the most overt competitor, rarely engaging in backsplapping and friendliness with opponents, while Torre was a respected players’ manager who navigated the tough media firestorm on New York and deftly handled the toughness of Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner. No, the three managers being honored today didn’t have the sparkling personality that Sparky had, but who did?
23 managers have been elected to the Hall of Fame and only six are alive, with three of them entering the Hall on Sunday. It’s a shame that Sparky won’t be there to flash his big smile and slap his manager friends on the back as they take their place with him among the greatest in the history of the game.