Right after a ball game, reporters rush to the manager's office for words of wisdom. Earl Weaver, the Orioles' main brain, loves the attention. But the other night, nobody came to see him for the longest time. And when the first inkstained wretch showed up, Weaver said, "What happened? Sparky kick you out? Everybody went over there first, huh? Well, can't blame you. Be good quotes over there. You can't afford to miss 'em."
There's a new genius on the block.
Sparky Anderson is back where he belongs, on a baseball team's bench - if, ? that is, you can call the Detroit Tigers a baseball team. Billy Martin has been reincarnated in New York and suddenly America's sports reporters are in danger of an ink crises. There ain't enough ink to write down everything Weaver and Martin and Anderson say in an hour, let alone a season.
"Let's go out to the bench," Anderson said the other day. "I talk better on the bench."
Anderson believes he is Casey Stengel born again. In nine seasons as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Anderson helped Rose, Bench, Morgan & Friends to five division championships, four league pennants and two world championships. Ol" Case could appreciate those numbers. What Stengel would admire most in Sparky, however, is the way his mough runs on.
"Mo," Anderson shouted from the dugout to one of his old employes, the Orioles' first baseman, Lee May. "Hey, Mo, I'm getting smart, just like Casey. I've got two wins and six losses - and I'm still talking."
Among other things, Anderson said:
While out of work following his firing by the Reds, he discovered baseball went right on without him. He didn't like that.
In 1977, after winning two straight world championships, he became careless in his managing of the Reds and contributed to them losing a pennant they should have won easily.
The American League is now the best league.
His own career has grown so much that in 1970 he was "kinda awed" to be in the same clubhouse with the Reds, but now the Tigers "are kinda in awe of me." They have quickly learned "I ain't all that smart," though.
Instead of signing up with a big winner, such as the Yankees or Philadelphia, he cholse to work for the tailend Tigers because, "I ain't no vulture or gravedigger." He wasn't looking for bodies to step over to success.
"Certain people are born to lead. If I'd been in a war, I'd be the cat leading 'em."
If you walk Tom Poquette to pitch to Jim Rice, just so you don't insult Carl Yastrzemski, you better double the insurance on your pitcher.
"The good part of getting fired," said Anderson, whose firing was recorded in intimate detail largely because he talked about it in intimate detail to anyone who asked, "was that I realized baseball didn't need me."
"I needed it. Now, Cincinnati is going to win it without me. I really believe that. I'd go to ball games and everybody would be super to me, they'd be really nice, but once the game started, nobody needed me, no body cared about me. It'd get to be 9:30, the game is half over and I'd leave. Nobody cared. I said to myself, "Hold the phone.""
Then, on June 11, that telephone rang with an offer from Jim Campbell, the Detroit general manager. If Anderson's acceptance of a five-year contract from a perennial also-ran organization surprised some people, it was because, "They didn't know me very well."
"I'm not going to sit on a fence like a vulture or a gravedigger," he said (and somewhere Ol" Case must be slapping his thighs in glee at Sparky's mangled metaphor).
"I'm not that way.
Here Anderson twisted his baseball cap sideways, creating a crazy-man look.
"Anyway, if I go to a winner, I'll never know, you'll never know and the world will never know if I'm a fake."
Big smile. Somewhere Stengel is laughing like crazy.
The Tigers have earned their spot in the American League's nether regions. They have no pitchers. Anderson will tell you his team is no good ("It doesn't hurt them to read that in the paper."). After 1980's spring training, however, he promises Detroit will be a fundamentally sound team. That's because he will let them be nothing less.
He has learned his lesson on that. In 1977, he stopped telling the Reds what they were doing wrong. "I got a little careless," he confessed. "I said, "They'll take care of it themselves." And one day John Bench came to me and said, "Skip, now you're not doing it, you're not getting on us for mistakes."
"John was right. I didn't see it at the time, but he was right. I was really careless. We had won the world championship in '75 and '76, and I was at every banquet that winter. I will not lie to anybody. It took me a long time in spring training just to rest up. And that season, we never had a serious injury. We should have won it again. But we were 10 out.
"That was pure careless. We never once got angry. You just lose that little thing. You say, "We got the horses.""
The Reds last season "may have been my best job," Anderson said. "We should never have won 92 games with all the major injuries we had. Without those injuries, we'd have blown everybody out."
Hired from the anonymity of a San Diego coaching job in 1970, Anderson was "awed" to be managing the Reds, "because I knew, from the minute we left camp, we would win by 10 games." The Reds won by 14 1/2 games.
A decade later, the young Tiger - the shortstop, Alan Trammell, was 12 years old in '70, second baseman Lou Whitaker 13 - "were in awe of me," Anderson said. "But that's over with after these first eight games. Here I was, a big name, but now they know I'm just like the rest - not very smart, either."
Anderson doesn't believe a word of that, of course. He admits to filling the air with bullfeathers just for the fun of it. He knows his ability. "I couldn't play,but I was always a leader," he said. Of those mighty Red teams, he said, "I'll always believe I made it happen because of my belief in them."
With a five-year contract, he has time to build the Tigers to respectability. Until then, he is going to talk. One of his benchside themes will be the superiority of the American League over the National.
"If the Reds in 1975 were a great team and they had to go seven games to beat the Boston Red Sox - and the Red Sox didn't have Jim Rice, Mike Torrez, Dennis Eckersley and Jerry Remy - then how good are the Red Sox today?" he said.
"And the Yankees? They beat the Dodgers, who beat the Reds by 10 games. How good are they? If that doesn't tell you this league is the best, what does?"
Speaking of Jim Rice....
"The other night in Boston, it felt like the straitjackets were coming for me," Anderson said. "I'm walking Tom Poquette to pitch to Jim Rice."
With men on second and third and one out, Anderson figured Poquette would at least hit a ground ball that would score the tie-breaking run. If Poquette was retired without advancing the runners, then Anderson would have to walk Rice - thereby bringing up carl Yastrzemski.
So Anderson intentionally walked Poquette.
"I'm not going to insult Yaz by walking Rice to get to him," Anderson said. "If I insulted him that way, I have a strong feeling he would hurt me. He is too great a ballplayer to insult."
What about Rice?
"He's still young," Anderson said, "and he might not know what an insult is."
Anderson laughed out loud at that pile of bullfeathers and said, "On the first pitch, I thought Rice killed my pitcher. He put a bullet past his ear-rowwwrrrr!"
Anderson whipped his hand alongside his ear, twisting his cap backwards now and laughing at the memory.
And as an ink-stained wretch walked away, Anderson called after him, "Don't forget. Call me Walking Eagle."
"Yeah, I'm so full of bullfeathers I can't fly," Anderson said, not using those exact words. Somewhere, Ol" Case was proud.