Sparky marvels over visit to Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Cooperstown, N.

Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Cooperstown, N.Y.

Email newsletter signup

– Captain Hook finally took his time, and for a change it was he who was hooked.

”Whew, Man!,” he said as he marveled at Babe Ruth’s big bat.

”The pressure. Oh my God! I don’t believe any of us could have survived that, and he did,” he said, gazing at a photo of Jackie Robinson.

Sparky Anderson, who earned that not-so-subtle sobriquet because of his penchant for quickly pulling his starting pitchers during his great career as a manager, finally made it inside the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Anderson had never wanted to go to the hall as a visitor. He didn’t feel worthy. All that has changed now.

On Tuesday, the 66-year-old former Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers manager strolled the halls with his wife, Carol. A lifetime of baseball unfurled before them, and it will only get more sentimental when Anderson is inducted this summer.

”I didn’t ever want to go into the most precious place in the world unless I belonged there,” said Anderson, who was selected in February by the Veterans Committee for his triumphs with the Reds and Tigers. ”But I would have been sorry if I hadn’t come here.

”It’s the history of this place that boggles the mind. I don’t think people have any idea. I can see why it’s eternity now. I would have been mistaken had I not came and seen it.”

Anderson managed 2,194 victories, third behind Hall of Famers John McGraw and Connie Mack. He is the only manager to hold career victory records for two teams, the only one to have 100-win seasons in both leagues and the only one to win World Series in both leagues.

Great accomplishments. For Anderson, not so great as finally setting foot inside the Hall of Fame.

”We’d been here in Cooperstown several times, but we’d always play an exhibition game, dress over at Doubleday Field and never come in here,” said Dan Ewald, public relations director in Detroit during Anderson’s time with the Tigers.

”Sparky and I came here in 1997 for Tommy Lasorda’s (induction), and he didn’t want to come into the hall. I’m watching his eyes now, and I think he’s like that proverbial little boy who’s got so many Christmas presents he doesn’t know which one to open first.”

Anderson’s three-hour tour was like turning pages in a scrapbook, and much of it was very familiar.

”The best home uniform ever,” he said, admiring a Tigers jersey under glass. ”It’s always been the cleanest-cut one.”

Around another corner was a display of his 1984 Detroit team, which won the World Series, and another of his ”Big Red Machine” teams of the 1970s in Cincinnati that won two straight titles. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose peered out from photos behind a glass case.

”When you go through this place, you realize there’s no way to ever sit down and think how much history has walked through here,” Anderson said. ”I did not know that baseball was already on its way before the Civil War. It kind of scares you.”

Anderson flashed his devilish side when 10-year-old Kevin Harrington of the Boston area asked for an autograph.

”You’re a Red Sox fan? There’s nothing wrong with being a Red Sox fan,” said Anderson, whose Reds beat Boston in seven games in the riveting 1975 World Series. ”Let me tell you why. When they go to spring training, the first song they sing, because I used to sing it to them in Winter Haven, is ‘Wait till next year.’ That’s why you never want to stop being a Red Sox fan. You’ve always got next year.”

Twelve-year-old Kevin Quigley and his 9-year-old brother Brian, Red Sox rooters both, also got an earful.

”One thing,” Anderson said to them. ”Your team is no danger to anybody. But they do have the best fans.”

Anderson, nicknamed ”Sparky” in 1955 by a broadcaster in the Texas League, gazed in awe at the 42-inch, 56-ounce bat Ruth wielded in spring training. And the Negro leagues display stoked more memories.

”In the early 1940s, I saw Satchel Paige pitch while he was barnstorming with the Kansas City Monarchs after the season against Bob Feller,” Anderson recalled. ”He beat Feller 1-0. Going home, my dad said, ‘You might have seen the best.’ Boy, was he something!”

A 10-minute videotape of Anderson’s career was put together by the Hall of Fame staff. An interview with Bench showed what made Anderson so special.

”It means so much to a player to have a manager that treats you like a professional, that values your opinion, and also on a day-to-day basis performs the managerial duties of knowing what the game is doing, how it’s going to turn out, and seeing in advance any kind of problems,” Bench said. ”It’s a lot like a chess game, and Sparky was a chess master.”

Anderson’s visit ended in a room filled with old photos and memorabilia, some of it from his one-year major league career as a second baseman. There was a handwritten record of his 1959 season with the Philadelphia Phillies: .218 average and no home runs, but a .984 fielding percentage.

It brought another big smile.

”I only had 104 hits,” Anderson said. ”Thank God for Hal Lanier because I held the record for fewest hits in a 152-game schedule. Lanier came along and broke the record. I never was so happy in all my life.”

It’s a good bet he’ll be even happier come July 23.

”I imagine walking into the room and seeing Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan,” he said. ”To think that I get to walk in the room now with them, that’s kind of really a very eerie feeling. How did you get to walk into a room with those people?”