September 27, 2009

George Anderson, Detroit Tigers Manager 1979-1995

In high school, I wrote a speech called "Why Les Moss Should Be Managing the Tigers." At the time, I wasn't a Sparky Anderson fan because I felt anyone could win with the talent the Tigers has in the '80s — and they only won once. At the time, Sparky had been at the helm for about nine or ten years. And the Tigers were just entering their (initial) decline.

Sparky Anderson managed the Tigers for 17 seasons. That's impressive considering how quickly teams change managers. In the 14 years he's been gone, the Tigers have had Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish, Phil Garner, Luis Puhols, Alan Trammell, and Jim Leyland at the helm of the ship.

Ralph Houk managed the Tigers from 1974–1978 but was not brought back for the '79 season. Soon after '78 ended, the Tigers hired Les Moss to manage. Later that off season, the Cincinnati Reds fired Sparky Anderson. The story goes that during the '79 season, it was becoming clear that the Chicago Cubs would hire Anderson in the off season to become their manager in 1980. The Tigers struck quickly, not wanting to pass up on a great manager — fired Les Moss (27–26 at the time) and brought in the quotable Anderson.

Right away, he promised a World Championship in five years. He soon proclaimed Kirk Harold Gibson, former college football star, to be the next Mickey Mantle. Later, he would call Jim Walewander incredible and move All–Star Lou Whitaker to third base to make room for Chris Pittaro. I won't even mention some of the other moves. I always felt that if he clashed with a player, that player would be on his way out; Steve Kemp, Ron LeFlore, Jason Thompson, Al Cowens, etc. are all examples of players who Anderson jettisoned. As a youngster, I thought it was because they liked being the "star" and Anderson wanted to be the star; now, several years later, I realized it was because Anderson was the boss and that's how it was going to be. Makes sense.

Anyway, old Captain Hook (he single–handedly invented the modern bullpen set–up in the late '70s and early '80s) did get the Tigers to the Classic in the Fall by 1984. The '84 Tigers were incredible. They were good ... and seemed on the verge of winning for a few years. But that didn't happen. They were good for several years, but never a dynasty, as some expected.

Tom Gage, longtime writer for the Detroit News, says it's time to retire Anderson's #11. It hasn't been worn since 1995 when Anderson "retired." I agree with Gage, it's time to pony up and thank some of those players who were so solid in the '80s — Alan Trammell (#3) and Lou Whitaker (#1) deserve consideration. They were the keystone combination from 1978 through 1995. That's a long time together in the middle of the infield.

In high school, my perspective was incomplete. Today, I understand that Sparky Anderson effectively led the Tigers for 17 seasons and deserves to be honored. Yes, he did pull a few starters too early in games, but you can be that Mike Laga, Torrey Lovello, and Chris Pittaro remember #11 fondly, right?

1 comment:

Greg Eno said...

Hey, don't forget Bill Freehan, the "original" No. 11!!

I wrote several years ago that they should do a dual retirement of No. 11 in honor of both Bill and Sparky.