COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – George Lee Anderson’s big league playing career lasted exactly one season – and yielded a .218 batting average in 152 games.
But Anderson’s second act in the majors – as a manager – ran for 26 seasons. And this time, the Hall of Fame came calling at the end of a run that produced three World Series titles and more than 2,000 victories.
“Sparky” had proven that he belonged.
“He was the man who put together some great teams,” said Hall of Famer Tony Perez, who played first base on the Cincinnati Reds’ teams that Anderson managed in the 1970s. “He made us go.”
Born 78 years ago this week on Feb. 22, 1934, in Bridgewater, S.D., Anderson and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was eight. After honing his baseball skills in the Southern California amateur ranks, Anderson signed a free agent contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953. He ascended through the Dodgers system as a middle infielder, learning his craft but also absorbing skills he would use in his future career as a manager.
In 1955, Anderson was the every-day second baseman for the Double-A Fort Worth Cats, whose roster included future big league managers like Danny Ozark, Joe Pignatano, Norm Sherry, Maury Wills and Hall of Famer Dick Williams.
Following the 1958 season, the Dodgers traded Anderson to the Phillies, where he won the team’s second base job in 1959. But after producing just 12 extra base hits and 34 RBI, Anderson was returned to the minors – where he spent 1960-63 with Toronto of the International League before calling it a career.
Anderson took over the managerial reins in Toronto in 1964 at the age of 30, then managed four different minor league teams to pennants over the next four seasons. He served as the San Diego Padres third base coach in their first big league season of 1969, and was prepared to serve as a coach with the California Angels in 1970 before being named the Reds’ manager on Oct. 8, 1969.
Anderson led the Reds to the National League pennant in 1970, and produced another pennant for Cincinnati in 1972 and the NL West title in 1973 before the Reds won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976.
Anderson was dismissed by the Reds following the 1978 season, but hooked on with the Tigers midway through 1979. By 1984, Anderson had led Detroit into the World Series, where the Tigers defeated the Padres to cap a season in which the team began the year with a record of 35-5.
The Tigers won the American League East again in 1987, giving Anderson his seventh postseason berth. He retired following the 1995 season with a record of 2,194-1,834 – a win total that still ranks No. 6 on the all-time list.
Anderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000. He passed away on Nov. 4, 2010.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum