Now Playing: Into the Mystic, by Van Morrison. “We were born before the wind, Also younger than the sun, Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic. Hark, now hear the sailors cry, Smell the sea and feel the sky, Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.”
I’d planned today to write about something else – a pattern that had developed at the three newspapers where I’ve worked (that’s all I’m going to say, I’ll tackle that topic another time. And as they used to say in the pro wrasslin’ promos: You won’t want to miss it).
The reason for the change. When I got up this a.m., I read that Sparky Anderson, the former manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, had died. He suffered from severe dementia.
I’m not much of a baseball fan these days. I didn’t watch a pitch of this year’s World Series. The combination of the DH, steroids and an inherent unfairness that favors the richer teams – pretty much stripped my interest in the sport that might have been my favorite as a child.
Even then, I wasn’t a Reds fan. But my Dad was.
The Quiet Man was a big-time baseball fan. He pulled for the American League in general, the Yankees in particular. Though he also pulled for the Cardinals when Enos Slaughter played for them. He loved Enos for many reasons: Slaughter was from Roxboro, near where my dad grew up. And he hustled constantly, running everywhere he went on a baseball field, including to first base after a walk.
But he switched allegiances to the Cincinnati Reds. He loved Johnny Bench. Pete Rose (who also ran to first base after a walk). Joe Morgan. Davey Concepcion. And he really loved Sparky Anderson. He loved his bluntness, his humor, his lack of slickness, his unapologetic skewering of the language.
Not me. I hated the Big Red Machine. Especially Pete Rose (and this was long before he bet on baseball). But I liked watching games with my dad, and in those days there was only one game a week on TV. And the Reds played an awful lot of those. The first major-league game I ever saw came during a family car trip to Houston. It was in the Astrodome. The Reds sucked that year, but I think they won that game. And to a country boy like me, the Astrodome was way cool. To my mom, it was way cold.
Anyway, Sparky brought my dad a lot of pleasure, and the memories of that bring me a lot, too. So I couldn’t let today go without a nod to a guy that always seemed to know it was about the players and not him. When he had good ones, he won. When he didn’t, he didn’t. But he was also a man of character. He got fired in Cincinnati when he refused to fire some coaches. He got pushed out in Detroit in part because he refused to manage replacement players during one of baseball’s strikes.
During the obit this morning on SportsCenter, the sportsreader said ESPN had looked long and hard to find someone to say something bad about Sparky. Couldn’t do it.
Which also reminds me of my Dad.