Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson has been put into hospice care at his home in Southern California because of complications from dementia.
His family released a statement (via MLB.com:)
"The Anderson family — wife, Carol; sons Lee and Albert; and daughter Shirley Englebrecht — wishes to express appreciation to all friends and fans for the support and kindness they have shown throughout Sparky's career and retirement," the statement read.
"The family is particularly grateful for the respect for privacy the national and local media has demonstrated during this trying period."
Everybody dies someday, of course, but dementia is a form of torture — not only for the sick person but also for family and friends. I've always imagined it as a mental form of ALS. Contemplating Sparky Anderson losing his sharp mind ... it's quite depressing.
Sparky managed the Cincinnati Reds during their legendary "Big Red Machine" period, winning the World Series in 1975 and 1976 with Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and George Foster. Nobody can remember any of their pitchers because Sparky — nicknamed "Captain Hook" — was always taking them out.
He also managed the Detroit Tigers, winning the World Series in 1984 with one of the most dominant teams — they started the season 35-5 — in my baseball memory. Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris were among the stars.
Sparky always seemed older because of his fabulous head of white hair, but he's only 76. Few baseball personalities have ever been as engaging and energetic as George Lee Anderson. The dude could talk and talk baseball like nobody else.
Sparky also had one of the oddest playing careers I've ever noticed; As a rookie, he played a full season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959, batting .218/.282./.249 in — are you ready? — 527 plate appearances!
Presumably, manager Eddie Sawyer kept playing him because of his fielding at shortstop. Also presumably, Sparky never played another moment in the majors because Sawyer only managed one game in 1960. Hey, it got Sparky this Topps card!
In late 2009, he was part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the champion Tigers. Not only were the Tigers fortunate to have Ernie Harwell there for the party, but Sparky as well. You can see signs in this video of him deteriorating. But he's still kind of "there" and certainly full of joy for baseball.
He was such a good character, he even played himself well on TV. They built an entire episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati" around Sparky:
Check out a critique of the WKRP episode (plus video of part two).
This is going to be the toughest part of his life. Here's to more good days than bad.
Late-addition link: For a terrific tale of what helped to shape Sparky, you ought to read this blog post by John R. Finger of CSN Philadelphia.
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