Understated to the End
Despite my slight leftwards tendencies, one of my favorite presidents is the first George Bush. He wasn’t a flashy guy. He simply knew what job he had to do and then got it done. Unfortunately for him, parts of his legacy wound up being attributed to Clinton but the smoldering wreck currently being dealt with in Mesopotamia shows just how impressive his foresight was. Bush was an understated guy and it was that understatement that eventually cost him his job.
If I had to pick one guy in baseball who reminded me of George H. W. Bush, that guy would be Sparky Anderson. Sure, he was a great manager and the first one to manage a team to a World Series title in both leagues. Ultimately it was Anderson’s understatement that made him a success but that same quality led to his undoing.
For better or for worse, Sparky Anderson always found a way to keep the focus elsewhere. When you’re dealing with the kind of egos Sparky had to deal with, though, that type of personal understatement is a necessity. Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench. The name, The Big Red Machine, says it all. He found a way to keep those personalities in check. But when he followed up the big wins with mere second place finishes, it wasn’t enough for the Reds and his understatedness made him a perfect scapegoat. It’s like 1991 for Bush. Sure, he may have guided the US through the Gulf War but what have you done for us lately?
Although things didn’t end quite the same way with the Tigers, Anderson’s understatement was still his undoing. When he left the Tigers in 1995, Sparky had to feel more than a little disappointed that no one came calling. And for a guy who did as much for baseball as Anderson, it’s a reflection on his humility that he refused to step foot in the Hall of Fame until 2000 when he was inducted.
Understatement seems to be the trait that follows Anderson throughout his career and his life. Even in death he requested that no funeral or memorial be held. I guess for me, though, Sparky is one of those guys who, despite his natural avoidance of the spotlight, still defined baseball as I was growing up. He’s a guy who knew what job he had to do and then got it done.